Homeless in Japan

The creator of Life Where I’m From has put together an enlightening video series of videos on homelessness in Japan. You don’t expect to see much homelessness in Japan, but if you visit any city you’re sure to see men sleeping in subway stations or parks.

I remember bringing this up when I lived in Japan and most Japanese told me that these people just like living outdoors as it was like camping. I never quite bought that.

Lo and Behold

Werner Herzog’s documentary Lo and Behold shows the history of the Internet and provides insights, some I’d heard and others I hadn’t, about the Internet’s growth and it’s effects.

I found the segment interviewing a man who had an alternative version of the Internet and the actual look at the earliest equipment and its presentation by a man who was one of the computer scientists who invented the Internet 1.0. Herzog interviews his subjects well asking all the questions I wanted to know and finding people whose contributions and work are crucial to technology today. I liked seeing the people behind the bytes and bits.

Lo and Behold would a good film for technology students, though you don’t need to be an insider to follow it.

Homme Less

 

This documentary follows the life of a fashionable, savvy New York model/photographer who has become homeless. Though he does photo shoots for international fashion magazines, rubs shoulders with the beau monde, and seems to have a fair amount of connections, this middle-aged man has no home. Unbeknownst to his friend who gave him an apartment key, the film’s hero sleeps on his friend’s rooftop. He has a locker at the Y, uses coffee shops as offices (not a bad thing), and somehow manages to look well heeled and even entice young 20-something women into bed. (He’s not mentioning that he’s homeless.)

The film was unique as is the subject, Mark, who had a lot of bravado, and was able to publish photos in a lot of publications. It wasn’t clear why he was homeless. He got checks and made deposits of $50,000 or more. I know that doesn’t go far in New York, but sleeping under a tarp and using an old gallon milk jug for a toilet in January in New York sounds like a horrid way to live. The hero alternated between being interesting, annoying and perplexing. He hasn’t figured out why he’s homeless and I couldn’t either.

The film’s website and promotional materials allude to how this film shows how poverty is encroaching on the middle class. Yet Mark is a talented and resourceful enough guy to have taken a different, less dreamy career path. He could live elsewhere and make enough money to put a roof over his head.

I’m glad I saw the film, but I can’t say it’s a “Must-See.” If you run across it, give it a watch, but don’t go to a lot of trouble to see it.

Chronicle of a Summer

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I’d heard the term “cinema verite” and like many wrongly thought that referred to a film that’s extremely realistic. It turns out that’s not exactly right. For my classic movie resolution, I watched Chronicle of a Summer by the inventors of cinema verite, two French sociologists. Cinema verite is a sociological film that forces people to come to the truth. Released in 1961, captured on black and white film, which adds a filter of reality that color couldn’t strangely enough, Chronicle of a Summer sets out to prompt real people to come in contact with truth through interviews and discussions that begin with the simple question: Are you happy? The directors behind the film are Jean Rouch, an engineer turned ethnological filmmaker who mainly worked in Africa and Edgar Morin, a sociologist based in Paris.

With two directors, the film does have two distinct moods. Viewers can feel when the somber, analytical Morin is in charge or when the more playful Rouch has the reins. The film begins with a woman agreeing to interview people on the street asking subjects whether they’re happy. It turns out that in Paris in 1960 few were. Still the film gets under your skin. Though neither director has gone to film school, the creative shots grabbed me and did feel very real. At times the film just shows people, working in a factory, eating lunch, walking down a street. They’re shown in their individualism in a way that’s compelling and fresh. I liked some of the subjects more than others. For the most part, the subjects came off as sincere and they presented a snapshot of life in 1960. I found the ending simple and powerful. Rouch and Morin gather their subjects for a screening of the film followed by a discussion. We hear their reactions whether they thought some people were exhibitionists or authentic, whether the whole endeavor was true to life or indecent. People were honest and through this scene were elevated beyond just being “performers” or “subjects” to being co-creators. Chronicle of a Summer is a Criterion Collection film and as usual features some worthwhile bonuses. The best was an insightful interview with Faye Ginsberg, who worked with Jean Rouch after he made this film.

Tim’s Vermeer

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I saw this nifty film on my flight back from China. Tim’s Vermeer is a documentary about a friend of Penn Jennett, the magician, who has always loved to tinker and invent. Tim Jenison, who has a software company and earned buckets of money creating various kinds of software, gets fascinated by Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. Vermeer made no records of how he worked and his paintings intrigued Tim because they have such an illuminated, photographic quality. As an inventor, Tim knows a lot about optics and lenses (and all sorts of engineering sorts of things). He believes that Vermeer must have used optics to paint and he goes about trying to replicate Vermeer’s technique.

The film demonstrates camera obscura’s and explains the inventions of the day. Narrated by his old school pal, Jennet, the film follows Tim through the lengthy process of recreating Vermeer’s studio and getting the lens apparatus to work. Tim is not a painter, but with this technique, which is quite cool, that’s not a hindrance. David Hockney appears in a few scenes to comment on whether Tim’s on the right track, whether this method might be right.

It’s fun to see a smart amateur take on such a project.  It’s a short film and Tim is very down to earth. I cheered him on as he explored this fascination with Vermeer.

The Men Who Made Us Thin

This is a fascinating documentary on how Western culture got hooked on diets and the idea of being thin when we really didn’t need to in the 1950s. An insurance executive pretty much changed what “thin” means and convinced healthy people they were fat. The result is perpetual dieting for many that doesn’t work and can just make us gain weight.

Well worth watching.