By Anne Brodie
Mary Harron’s Daliland on Salvador Dali’s later years in New York and Spain isn’t a great movie – but it’s great fun. It’s 1974, a happening time in Manhattan’s elite arts and social circles. Dali (Sr Ben Kingsley) and his tempestuous muse/wife Gala (Barbara Sukowa) are ensconced at the St. Regis Hotel for their twentieth winter. Dali parties around the clock, attracting top glamazons, high society, and bold print names who eat up his caviar and guzzle his champagne, and interfere with Gala’s plans for him. He must paint enough to fill a show in three weeks’ time. If he has nothing to sell, he and Gala are financially ruined. It’s partly his fault – his lavish hospitality is the stuff of fables, but he can’t pull himself away from Amanda Lear, Alice Cooper, Donyale Luna and models, musicians, and other attractive hangers-on. And he can’t focus on painting. Gala hires fit young gallery assistant James (Christopher Briney) whom Dali renames San Sebastian – he becomes a trusted confidant to both. Sadly, Dali’s naivete and poor judgment are ruining him. He’s entirely dependent on Gala and San Sebastian – who discovers Gala’s sending his money to her young lover, Jeff Fenholt (Zachary Nachbar-Seckel), an egomaniac who plays Jesus Christ Superstar on Broadway. Passages concerning Dali’s imagination and highs and lows are told in dreamscapes, he’s mocked, adored, out of control, and in his childlike state, unable to fend for himself, especially against the tricky woman he loves. Ezra Miller offers a restrained and powerful early-days interpretation of an already troubled Dali. It’s dazzling, outre, and when the fun runs out, tragic, oh so tragic. Co-stars Rupert Everett, Suki Waterhouse, and engaging trans actor Andreja Pejić as Lear. In theatres.
You know the work of graphic designers Aubrey “Po” Powell and Storm. Their London design studio Hipgnosis created arguably the most famous and iconic album covers in the history of vinyl. Their photographs and designs became cultural touchstones, first as covers on albums for Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, 10cc, Paul McCartney, and Peter Gabriel featuring naked toddlers climbing a stairway to heaven, a simple prism and rainbow against a black backdrop, a statue they planted on the peak of Mount Everest, a giant pig floating over the Battersea Power Station, the Pyramids, red balls on a cracked desert, timeless, stunning, singular images that went from covers to clothing and art installations, familiar and powerful. Po and Storm started out in Cambridge, UK in 1964 making covers for local prog rockers Pink Floyd – their friends Dave Gilmour, Roger Waters, and Syd Barrett. They moved to London and set up shop during London’s Golden Age of Music and blasted their way to the top of the art and design world. Anton Corbijn’s wonderfully visual and insider doc Squaring The Circle (The Story Of Hipgnosis) tells the story, of the influence of hallucinogens on their art and business, and the pop scene and the biggest music stars of the day who queued up for their own landmark Hipgnosis covers. Lots of great details about celebrities, design quirks, happy accidents, and tragic events. Food for the eye and soul and of course for music lovers. In theatres.
The NFB documentary Beyond Paper is an unexpectedly emotional primer on what paper means to humans, as a means of communication, recording history, spilling our innermost thoughts, drawing loved ones, animals, designs, graphs, family trees, lineages, charts, lists – the endless functionality and “home” of paper is under siege. Filmmaker Oana Suteu Khintirian’s thoughtful and far-reaching ode to paper carries an air of finality. Paper is going away, like the dodo, out of the here and now. Digital is the reality. Children aren’t taught cursive in school, their lives have always been digital. Khintirian, a Romanian immigrant to Montreal, and her mother tell about a traumatic cultural event in their lives, the conflict arson fire that destroyed the ancient library of Bucharest, where her mother worked. Experts, computer geniuses, say that’s all well and good except that the digital world lacks the essential texture, through which we find authentic connection. Digital information is imperfect but pushes progress forward. But what about the ancient underground desert libraries of Istanbul and Mauritania and their ancient books of ephemera, art, journals, faith notes, literature, and history? What about the magnificent libraries at Harvard, San Francisco, Milan, and Copenhagen? Decorated faith works? The Book of Kells? the Bible? the Koran? And letters? Khintirian raises the troubling notion that letters of our ancestors will not be readable, therefore, of no value because they are cursive. Digital renders the human archive of no value. Those of us who grew up in paper i.e. everyone in the last couple of millennia are at the end of an era. We meet a paper collector whose barn floor collapsed under the 70-tonne weight of his garbage dump finds, and discover that in 2004 Google attempted to digitize every book but stopped in 2012. Writers predicted all of this over the years. What about digital archives? Future digital programmes might not be able to access past digital saves. So paper carries weight. It is too nostalgic, textural, sensual, and humane to lose, and digital too cold and unreliable to keep. Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema.
Tom Holland executive produces and stars in The Crowded Room, a 10-part series based on the story of Billy Milligan, the first US citizen to be acquitted on rape charges due to dissociative identity disorder a.k.a. multiple personality. The project, based on Daniel Keyes’ book The Minds of Billy Milligan has been a long time coming. James Cameron originally co-wrote the screenplay to direct called A Crowded Room shelved due to a lawsuit. Directors Joel Schumacher and David Fincher took it on variously for Matthew McConaughey, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, and John Cusack, and in 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio. The cast led by Holland includes Will Chase, Lior Raz, and Amanda Seyfried as a professor undertaking extensive interviews with “Danny Sullivan” to aid investigators and lawyers. Word of warning – the series is deeply disturbing. It’s Manhattan, 1979 and Danny is a high schooler living with his mother and abusive stepfather; he moves into a mysterious mansion owned by a battle-scarred Israeli who runs a tight ship homing lost teens, and puts the fear of God into Danny’s stepfather. One day Danny and fellow boarder Ariana (Sasha Lane) take a gun to Rockefeller Centre to carry out a murder. Ariana fires the shots but Danny is charged. He has a tough time in prison, and when under investigation, reveals the dark details of what led him there, what he did when his illness was upon him, and the resulting mayhem. It’s tough watching. If you’re looking for fun, distraction, and comfort viewing, this isn’t it, however, the case consumed the media when it came out. Apple TV+
Fun with Amy begins anew on June 13 on Netflix. Schumer’s special Amy Schumer Emergency Contact taped in Los Angeles serves up her witticisms and social observations that are always on point and accurately reflect our culture. Her fans agree, she’s greeted with a standing ovation before landing on audience member Libby to whom she addresses multiple parts of the first act. A nice gesture that happens to get repeat laughs. Schumer’s confessional ways continue starting with the fall out – and off – from a recent laser facial, her plastic surgeon encouraging her to plump up her already plump cheeks, her back hump, and short waist. Her delivery, in that signature monotone, with its wondering feel, and its effectiveness in driving her points home with no-fault genteel sarcasm. She doesn’t mention Sen. Chuck Schumer her second cousin or the political travails that currently plague America and worry observers around the world. She’s a one-of-a-kind entertainer who maintains a kind of modern elegance and doesn’t bite too hard.