Photojournalist Amanda Mustard takes on the daunting task of confronting her grandfather about his long history of his sexual abuse of minors all while chronicling the process. In her documentary Great Photo, Lovely Life, co-directed by Rachel Beth Anderson, Mustard has difficult conversations with her mother, her sister and various other victims. It’s clear that the pain her grandfather inflicted on his victims is deep and that this journey is just one step forward.
Cycles of abuse are complex and the road to healing comes with many roadblocks. And this becomes evident in the film. Not only is one big finger pointed at the abuser but there are also many conversations about how his family and community may have played a part in allowing the abuse to continue. One would expect this documentary to be a difficult watch—and it is—but because Mustard makes her family so vulnerable to examination we can’t help become invested in her story and her mother’s story. It’s difficult to analyze the effectiveness of this documentary because each viewer will have their own reaction. Expect to be put on a roller coaster of emotions.
Great Photo, Lovely Life had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival and will be released by HBO later in the year.
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.
Set in 1960s Boston, Eileen stars Thomasin McKenzie as the title character, an assistant working at a juvenile detention center. Eileen spends her days taking care of odds and ends at the prison and her nights by taking care of her alcoholic and emotionally abusive father. When psychologist Rebecca (Anne Hathaway) joins the prison staff, Eileen is smitten. Rebecca is blonde, well-dressed, well-mannered and speaks in a lilting Mid-Atlantic accent. Eileen and Rebecca form a close bond that turns sinister as they take an interest in a local criminal case.
Directed by William Oldroyd and based on the novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen is a solid drama with two very captivating leads. McKenzie and Hathaway play off each other much like Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett do in Carol (2015). There are somethings about the film that worked and some things that didn’t. The LGBTQ storyline is left ambiguous which is a bit of a disappointment. There is a tonal shift that takes this from dramatic love story to murder mystery. Earlier scenes hint at something being afoot but the story’s twist will still catch viewers by surprise. New Zealand born actress Thomasin McKenzie really nails the Boston accent. She doesn’t overplay. Instead it’s a bit more subtle and natural which Massachusetts locals, like myself, will appreciate.
Eileen premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Update: Eileen has been acquired by NEON and will be released theatrically in Fall 2023.
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.