During her time at the White House as First and Second Lady, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson recorded an audio diary chronicling all of the major events that happened. Everything from John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to her husband President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inauguration, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Act and her own personal endeavours including her Beautification Campaign and environmental efforts. Lady Bird Johnson was a staunch supporter of her husband and LBJ often leaned on her for her wisdom and the recordings reflect their strong bond.
Directed by Dawn Porter, The Lady Bird Diaries is based on the ABC podcast In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson and Julia Sweig’s book Lady Bird Johnson: Hiding In Plain Sight. The approach to this documentary is very simple. There are no interviews or commentary, just Lady Bird’s audio recordings matched with archival footage and illustrations. There are a couple interjections, including some insight from a longtime personal assistant. But otherwise this is Lady Bird telling us her stories.
Porter do a great job crafting a collection of highlights which range from major historical events to Lady Bird’s personal triumphs and struggles. I quite enjoyed hearing stories and watching footage of the LBJ family personal life including Lucy and Lynda’s weddings and the births of their children. LBJ himself looked so happy being a grandfather. While the documentary is inherently biased because it is coming from just one perspective, I appreciate that it didn’t shy away from some heavy subject matter like the Vietnam War and a confrontation with Eartha Kitt at a White House luncheon.
The intention with this documentary is clear. Lady Bird Johnson’s legacy should be recognized and the person to bring her back into the spotlight is Lady Bird herself.
The Lady Bird Diaries had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will premiere on Hulu at a future date.
If it’s true that sex researcher Shere Hite revolutionized how we view women’s sexuality, then why isn’t she better known? A new documentary by director Nicole Newnham brings writer Shere Hite back into the spotlight where she belongs.
When The Hite Report was published in 1976 it caused a major stir. Hite had canvassed hundreds of women with a series of intimate questions about their sex lives and how they personally achieve orgasm. Women responded back anonymously and Hite collected these quite illuminating responses into a book. The biggest takeaway from the responses: intercourse was not the primary way women reached orgasm. Hite received nothing but vitriol from men and from the press for her research. Pushing back against the patriarchy and revealing the truth about women’s sexuality made her a controversial figure. As her notoriety grew, Hite began to withdraw, eventually to leave the US behind and never look back.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite features extensive interviews with those who knew Shere Hite best as well as archival clips of her many appearances in the media. The film effectively brings Shere Hite back in the limelight and serves double duty as both a biographical documentary and a scathing expose on how women are treated by the media.
The Disappearance of Shere Hite premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
It all started with a pinky finger. One day Michael J. Fox noticed one of his pinky fingers was randomly twitching. That twitch progressed to more involuntary movements in his body. His body became something foreign to him. Something he was fighting against instead of working with. The loss of control was worrisome. In 1991 when Fox was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s, a degenerative disease that affects body movements. He spent the next several years hiding his condition, choosing to conceal his hand or constantly keep it in motion to distract from what was really going on. As one of the biggest names in pop culture at the time, thanks to his roles in Back to the Future, Teen Wolf and Family Ties, it must have been difficult to grapple with this new condition while also wanting to continue thriving in his career. There is so much more to Michael J. Fox than his Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Directed by Davis Guggenheim, STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie blends biographical documentary style and narrative storytelling to paint a portrait of an extraordinary man. The film contains a lengthy sit down interview with Guggenheim and Fox, footage of Fox’s present day life with his wife and family, re-enactments and archival clips. I was particularly impressed with the film’s transitions and how they found just the right clips to match the narrative. Fox is depicted as an empathetic figure but not one who wants or needs your pity.
STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie will stream on Apple TV+.
STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
“Cults are living creatures that feed on people’s anxieties. If you are too pure and sincere, you may end up in a place that is different from where you had set out to be in the first place.”
In the 1980s, Japan experienced an occult boom, an after effect of the Cold War and a result of the growing disenchantment in the country’s government. It was during this time that self-imposed guru Shoko Asahara transformed his yoga school into a doomsday cult: Aum Shinrikyo (“Supreme Truth”). Hundreds of members followed Asahara’s every word and command. What started off as a quest for spiritual enlightenment took a deadly turn. After a disastrous run for local government, Asahara soon transformed AUM from a cult into a terrorist organization, one that would ultimately be involved in the deadly Tokyo subway sarin attack of 1995.
Directed by Ben Braun and Chiaki Yanagimoto, AUM: The Cult at the End of the World examines the complicated history of AUM and its leader Shoko Asahara. Interviews with former members, including a high ranking monk, loved ones who started a Victims Association and those affected by various sarin attacks, really drive home just how dangerous this cult was in its time. Cult documentaries have gained a following in recent years and anyone fascinated with mind control and cult mentality will find a lot to be horrified by in this film. Apparently AUM is a touchy subject in Japan and the directors made it their mission to handle with delicate topic with great care.
AUM: The Cult at the End of the World premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Actress and model Brooke Shields achieved a level of fame that is unparalleled today. From the late 1970s and through the 1980s, Shields was a recognized face on television, film and advertising. From adolescence she was considered one of the most beautiful girls in the world. Unfortunately, this lead to her becoming one of the most sexualized children in all of entertainment history. Shields garnered controversy with her ad campaign with Calvin Klein and provocative roles in films like Pretty Baby (1978) and Blue Lagoon (1980). Powerful men in the industry took advantage of Shields’ beauty, fame and passive nature. And behind Shields’ controversial success was her mom and manager Teri Shields, who believed that her child really special and that Brooke should be shared with the world.
Director Lana Wilson’s Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields is an eye-opening documentary about Shields’ extraordinary life and the dangers minors face in the media. Produced by ABC News Studios, this doc will be released in two one-hour segments. The first hour is incredibly uncomfortable to watch. Although its clear there was backlash even then about Shields and how her mother was handling her career, it’s still shocking to see just how much these industries were allowed to get away with. It shines a much needed light on some hard truths. The second half explores Shields’ adult years including her two marriages, her battle with postpartum depression and how her career evolved over time. The biggest surprise is when Shields reveals that she was raped at the age of 20 by someone in the film industry (who goes unnamed).
Talking heads include Shields herself and her close friends including Laura Linney, Drew Barrymore and Judd Nelson. A one time watch at best.
Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.