Donna Summer achieved a level of fame and adoration that few singers have been able to attain. “Love To Love You”, “Last Dance”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” were all major hits and became anthems for sexuality, indulgence and feminism. Despite her incredible celebrity, Donna Summer had always been an enigma. Fiercely private, when she wasn’t on stage Summer was off-limits.
Directed by Roger Ross Williams and Summer’s daughter Brooklyn Sudano, Love To Love You, Donna Summer gives viewers a peak at the real woman behind the iconic image. The documentary is comprised with archival footage from performances, television appearances and home movies along with a few scenes of Brooklyn Sudano in present day interacting with her family. There is no real narration, instead Summer’s story is told primarily through audio interviews with family members and some archival interviews from Summer herself. The film does address her religious beliefs and the controversy surrounding them during the 1980s.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer isn’t as revelatory as it promises to be and leaves the audience with more questions than answers. Donna Summer was and continues to be an enigma and although this documentary gives us a look at her celebrity and personal life, it does so in a fairly biased and roundabout way that will ultimately leave viewers unsatisfied.
Love To Love You, Donna Summer had its US premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film Festival and will be released by HBO in May.
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.
Not all bank robbers are like the ones you see in the movies. Many are petty criminals, just average folks, who are in a financial bind and the idea of a quick payout is just too alluring to pass up. That’s what happened with Johnny Williams. After a stint in jail, he tried to make ends meet for him and his wife Carol as an independent carpet cleaner. When a 1983 car accident sidelined him, he found himself in desperate need of money. Just a few years later he began one of the “longest running strings of unsolved bank robberies in the history of the FBI.” 56 robberies from 1986 until 1994. A slip up landed him and his partner-in-crime Carol in the hoosegow. He got life and she got 20 years.
Directed by Colin Barnicle, Carol & Johnny begins shortly after Johnny Williams was released from jail in 2021. He’s integrating back into society, checking in with his parole officer and living in a halfway house. Carol has been out for years. After suffering from a medical mishap, she continues to thrive with the help of her family and is determined to tell her life story by way of the documentary and a book.
The documentary interviews both Carol and Johnny, as well as the former FBI officer who tracked and finally caught Johnny. It shares the couple’s individual life stories as well as Johnny’s incredible criminal career. The film depends a lot on a “will they or won’t they” element regarding a potential reunion between Carol and Johnny. What the film does effectively is demonstrate that there are two sides to every story and that not everyone is a reliable narrator. It’s not a terribly engrossing film but a good watch for those who enjoy stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations.
Carol & Johnny premiered at the 2022 Nashville Film Festival.