TOP 5 MOVIE MOMENTS OF 2009

[Article originally appeared: : http://www.westviewnews.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=708:top-five-favorite-film-moments-of-2009&catid=43:articles&Itemid=170]

Where the Wild Things Are
The children’s book “Where The While Things Are” came out the year I was born, 1963. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, this was the seminal book of my childhood. I have such vivid memories of it. When I recently picked up a new copy of it and read it to my own five-year-old son, it felt as though no time had passed since I had last looked through its pages. Even though it’s the sparest of stories, Maurice Sendak’s illustrations are so potent, so powerful, that the story not only comes to life but seems epic somehow. Spike Jonze’s adaptation, fully endorsed by the author, expands greatly on the book. A good adaptation ought not be too dedicated to the original source but rather take the essence of the story, find the soul, and express it through the visual media. In order to put “Wild Things” on the screen, Jonze and Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay, went deep into his hero’s anguish and came up with a cathartic and beautiful story about a boy, Max, who is terrified of abandonment. His solution is to create a world of monsters where he is the king. The monsters are grizzly, smelly and full of bombast but also insecure to their core. Like Max, all they want is a someone who will love them and take care of them. In the meantime, sleeping in a pile will have to do.

Every Little Step
A Chorus Line will forever remain the most important musical I’ve ever had the good fortune to see. I remember going to a matinee performance at the Public Theater in the late summer of 1975. My parents were members of the Public and, thank God, they took me and my sister along to see this edgy new musical which depicted the lives of Broadway chorus dancers in a language and raw physicality that had never been presented before. The production would soon go to Broadway and change the very definition of what a Broadway musical could be. This documentary, “Every Little Step”, centers on the casting of the 2008 revival. Through the process of auditioning a new cast, the documentary becomes a mirror image of the play. The original creators who are involved in casting the revival are desperately searching for those rare performers who can embody the characters created by the late Michael Bennett, whose absence is felt in every moment of this moving documentary. Read more

film review: WILLIAM KUNSLER — DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE

Directed by Emily Kunstler & Sarah Kunstler
Edited by Emily Kunstler
Cinematography by Brett Wiley & Martina Radwan
Original Music by Shahzad Ismaily
Released by Arthouse Films
USA. 87 min. Not Rated

[Article originally appeared: http://www.westviewnews.org/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=676:our-man-kunstler&catid=43:articles&Itemid=170]

I received an invitation to an advanced screening of William Kunstler:

“Disturbing the Universe at the Cinema Village”. The invitation came from the Center for Constitutional Rights, an organization Kunstler co-founded in the mid-60’s. This documentary was directed and produced by Kunstler’s daughters Sarah and Emily who were still teenagers when Kunstler died in 1995 at age 76. [I should disclose that I had a passing acquaintance with both daughters in the 1980s when we all attended the same summer camp in Vermont; they as campers and myself as a counselor.]

The film is something of an homage to their father, and also clearly a catharsis. In between the traditional talking heads, which include Alan Dershowitz, Phil Donahue and Bobby Seale to name just a few, the two daughters revisit a number of sites where several of his most celebrated cases played out. Some very moving moments exist amidst all the colorful anecdotes. One such moment is when they are standing outside the walls of Attica Prison almost 40 years after 2,000 prisoners rioted and took over the prison and where, by the time the prison was re-taken, the death toll included nine hostages and twenty eight inmates. All of the bullets were shot from New York State law enforcement weapons, something which had been covered up initially. Sarah and Emily stare at a memorial outside the prison walls which only lists the hostages who were killed – the next moment all the names of the slaughtered prisoners appear on the screen, the first time such a list has ever been published. Footage of Kunstler inside the walls just hours before the blood bath shows a man who saw the prisoners as human beings, and ones whom were being denied basic human rights. Through this experience as well as his work with the Chicago Seven, the Black Panthers and the Native Americans at another stand-off at Wounded Knee, Kunstler’s radicalization was complete. Years later, as he settled into family life on Gay Street here in the West Village, he took on less and less popular cases including the Central Park jogger defendants and the assassin of Meir Kahane. Among his critics in those days were his two young daughters. “Disturbing the Universe” doesn’t try and re-make Kunstler into a saintly defender of the constitution, just a complex man who attempted to bring racism into the bright harsh light of day.