Room 237 (2012)

Named after the creepy hotel room in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, this quirky indie documentary takes a left-field approach to film analysis. Stitching together footage from Kubrick’s considerable ouvre and recontextualising it to pick apart The Shining, various Kubrickites examine the supposed hidden messages contained in Kubrick’s terrifying tale of madness. It could be a recipe for disaster, but given the great director’s notoriety for poring meticulously over every little detail, it works surprisingly well.

Off-the-wall theories include one guy’s argument that The Shining is an apology from Kubrick for ‘faking’ the Apollo 13 moon landing footage. While that’s undeniably out there, more traditional analysis – like a look at how the director used shapes and fades to create patterns on the screen – are more difficult to rubbish, and provide a greater understanding of just how much thought Kubrick really did put into his celluloid masterpieces.

Despite the frequently outrageous claims offered up, there’s little room for mocking the theorists, and director Rodney Ascher is content to let them recite their hypotheses without judging either way. The result is a rich tapestry of ideas that speaks just as much about our continued obsession with The Shining as it does about film obsessives with too much time on their hands. Kubrick would be proud. And probably a little baffled. 4/5

Via Out In The City

The Imposter (2012)

Most documentaries are obsessed with truth. That is, getting to the bottom of it, uncovering hidden facts or exposing terrible deceits. Not so The Imposter. Under the sure hand of Brit director Bart Layton, it’s a film about truths, plural, Layton’s gorgeously-shot jaw-dropper of a documentary chipping away at the notion of subjective truth, and the lies we tell ourselves and each other.

Needless to say, this is brain food cinema. At the centre of it all is a case so bizarre that it’s almost the dictionary definition of ‘stranger than fiction’. In 1993, 13-year-old Texan boy Nicholas Barclay went missing. Three years later, his family received a phone call from Spanish authorities informing them that they had him in their custody. The teenager sent back to Texas, though, looks nothing like the Nicholas the Barclays remember – which doesn’t stop them welcoming him into their home as their long-lost son anyway.

It’s a story that boggles the mind. “It sounded like something that couldn’t possibly have taken place in the real world,” Layton says of the case. As remarkable as the story is, though, Layton’s delivery of it surpasses all expectations, because this is no ordinary documentary.

For a start, the reconstructions are masterfully handled, shot through a noir-ish haze and affording the film a vital thriller edge. Cleverly playing around with documentary conventions, Layton weaves the interview material (he speaks with all of the Barclays and the titular ‘imposter’) with this reconstruction footage, creating something fast-paced, slick and totally involving.

One half talking heads doc, other half gripping thriller, Layton’s stylised approach could easily have turned into a bubblegum conceit with little substance. Luckily, the director uses his impressive visuals intelligently, doggedly digging at those bigger issues – the ones regarding truth and lies. The result is as bright as it is entertaining.

To reveal any more about the film would spoil its numerous surprises. Suffice to say, it’s populated with a cast of memorable characters (hangdog PI Charlie Parker seems to have stepped right out of a ‘40s noir), and screeches toward a conclusion that will have you asking just as many questions as Layton’s film answers.

If it were a Hollywood thriller starring Nicolas Cage, we’d be writing The Imposter off as implausible rubbish. As it is, Layton’s film is one of the finest documentaries of the year – and one of the most riveting real-life thrillers you’ll ever see. 4/5

Via Grolsch Film Works

20 Coolest Movie Documentaries

Crumb (1994)

The Documentary: Following underground comic artist Robert Crumb and his family.

The Cool: Let’s take a look at the credentials: Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Bad Santa) directs, while David Lynch (yes, the David Lynch) produces. Crumb is also intrinsically cool thanks to Crumb himself, who proves to be a compelling subject.

Strange But True: Zwigoff spent nine years making this film, living on an income of $200 a month and suffering terrible back pain that almost drove him to suicide.

Taxi Zum Klo (1980)

An invaluable snapshot of ‘70s gay life, this racy re-release from 1981 is a shocking, raunchy, bare-boned delight. Meaning ‘Taxi to the John’ in German, Taxi Zum Klo earned its stripes as a scandalous, underground pseudo-porno back in the ‘80s, and retains much of its power to flabbergast even today.

Frank Ripploh directs and stars as the bearded gay teacher who leads a double life – by day he’s an adored educator of children, by night he’s a drug-loving, promiscuous playboy whose boundaries are as sturdy as pink crepe paper. Ripploh’s night life consists solely of hitting up hedonistic highs – meeting men in toilets and plucking strangers from the street. But when he falls in love with Bernd, can Ripploh survive the limitations of a monogamous relationship?

Clever, candid and uncommercial, much of Taxi’s ability to rivet stems from its sly blending of fact with fiction. While it’s shot in a straight forward documentary style, and includes everything from real-life people to hardcore gay sex, it’s near impossible to separate the real from the fabricated. With all those involved in the making of the film now dead, it’s a captivating conundrum.

Where Taxi works best, though, is as an intriguing time capsule that offers important insight into a time gone by. It’s plain to see why the film was so outrageous to an ‘80s audience. In this era of Shortbus orgies and 9 Songs orgasms, Taxi’s ability to shock now comes from its depiction of casual, unprotected sex in a pre-AIDs setting – in particular a graphic scene in which Ripploh engages in water sports with a man he barely knows. An opportune reminder of how much has changed in the intervening 30 years, Taxi makes for a rough, ready, disarmingly intelligent ride. 4/5

Via Out In The City

Am I Black Enough For You? (2009)

“I’m not telling you who Mrs Jones is,” winks ‘70s soul star Billy Paul. “’Cos she ain’t my wife.” Perched in the back of his limo, the bespectacled, baseball cap-wearing pensioner is referring to ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, the adultery-themed debut single that rocketed him to stardom in 1972. But when Philadelphia International Records insisted on ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’ as a follow-up, the backlash was immediate.

Why? Well, Swedish director Göran Olsson never really explains. Chasing after Paul as he tours Brazil and Paris with his manager/wife Blanche, there are discussions of racism, and we’re repeatedly told what a ‘career-killing’ mistake the single was. Except it wasn’t. Sure, he’s no household name, but Paul still accrued a vast collection of hits, while his continued performances to this day prove that he remains very much in demand. Even a chat with Kenny Gamble, the author of many of Paul’s top tracks, fails to enlighten.

Based on a muddy argument it may be, but Olsson’s documentary manages some rock-out moments anyway. Paul is a sprightly, cheeky charmer, shamelessly stripping off layers in the heat of a musical moment, while wife Blanche is a hoot, testing hip-hop hats on her grizzled hubby like a fussy mother hen. Visually it’s top dollar, too – Olsson matching Paul’s husky crooning to moody urban landscapes.

But the director can’t resist jamming the breaks whenever Paul takes up a mic, turning his opus into a live greatest hits recording that totally sacrifices pacing. Shame, because Paul is worth more – his past encounters with drugs and the KKK are grazed in song-supporting montages, but Olsson is reticent about grilling for the goods. So, black enough? Mm-hmm. Brave enough? Not quite.

Anticipation: A documentary about the dude who sang ‘Me and Mrs Jones’? Could be good. 3

Enjoyment: That’s a pretty natty set of pipes. 3

In Retrospect: The old fella’s still got it, but you’ll wish you knew more about him. 2

Via Little White Lies