Movie Monday: Oscar nominated doc shorts at Texas Theatre

Oscar countdown

Be proud if you’ve seen all the major nominees for this year’s Oscars, but impress your watching party by throwing down some knowledge when this category comes up. The Texas Theatre helps round out those slightly obscure awards by featuring this year’s crops of documentary shorts. And the nominees are The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, God Is the Bigger Elvis, Incident in New Baghdad,  Saving Face and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom. The theater screens ‘em all save for God, but that’ll be enough to make an informed decision and give you the edge on that Oscar pool.

DEETS: The Texas Theatre, 231 W. Jefferson Blvd. 7 p.m. $9. TheTexasTheatre.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Snap shots: ‘Bill Cunningham New York’ turns the camera on fashion’s most influential paparazzo

LENS ME A SHOE | The Times photographer documents foot fashion in ‘Bill Cunningham New York.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Maybe Project Runway’s to blame, maybe The Devil Wears Prada, but for the past few years there has been a surplus of documentaries about the fashion industry, with profiles of designers like Valentino (Valentino: The Last Emperor), Yves Saint-Laurent (several in fact), even young designers (Seamless) and Vogue magazine’s editor (The September Issue). (By contrast, I can only recall one fashion doc from the 1990s: Unzipped, about a young designer named Isaac Mizrahi.) Is there really that much to say about dressmaking?

Maybe not, but while Bill Cunningham New York fits broadly within the category of fashion documentaries, its subject is unusual because he eschews the trappings of haute couture even as he’s inextricably a part of it — a huge part, really.

If you don’t read the New York Times, you might not recognize Cunningham’s name, and even if you do read it, it may not have registered with you. For about, well, maybe 1,000 years, Cunningham has chronicled New York society with his candid photos of the glitterati on the Evening Hours page. At the same time, however, he has documented real fashion — how New Yorkers dress in their daily lives — with his page On the Street, where he teases out trends (from hats to men in skirts to hip-hoppers allowing their jeans to dangle around their knees). Anna Wintour may tell us what we should wear; Cunningham shows us what we do.

“We all get dressed for Bill,” Wintour observes.

What makes Cunningham such an interesting character is how impervious he seems to the responsibility he effortlessly wields. He loves fashion, yes, but he’s not a slave to it himself. He scurries around Manhattan (even in his 80s) on his bicycle (he’s had dozens; they are frequently stolen), sometimes in a nondescript tux but mostly in jeans, a ratty blue smock and duck shoes, looking more like a homeless shoeshiner than the arbiter of great fashion. He flits through the city like a pixie with his 35mm camera (film-loaded, not digital), a vacant, toothy smile peaking out behind the lens, snapping the denizens of Babylon whether they want it or not.

One of the funniest moments is when strangers shoo him away as some lunatic paparazzo, unaware how all the well-heeled doyens on the Upper East would trade a nut to have Cunningham photograph them for inclusion in the Times. Patrick McDonald, the weirdly superficial modern dandy (he competed as a wannabe designer on the flop reality series Launch My Line a few seasons back), seems to exist with the hope that Cunningham will shoot him. And shoot him he does.

Many artists are idiosyncratic, even eccentric, but Cunningham is supremely odd by any standards. He lives in a tiny studio near Carnegie Hall filled with filing cabinets cluttered with decades of film negatives on the same floor as a crazy old woman, a kind of urban variation on Grey Gardens. He knows tons of people but most of them seem to know very little about him. By the time near the end when the filmmaker, director Richard Press, finally comes out and ask him outright whether he’s gay, Cunningham arches in that prickly New England way, never really answering outright, though he says he’s never — never — had a romantic relationship. Things like that were simply not discussed by men of his generation.

In some ways, we never really know any more about Cunningham at the end than any of his friends do, and perhaps even him. Cunningham comes across as defiantly non-self-reflective. He lets his work do all the talking for him. And that work has a lot to say on its own.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

MN Catholics’ new effort: Like Netflix, but with gays’ love in the horror category

On numerous occasions we’ve asked you to pay some focus to Minnesota, where Maggie Gallagher and the rest of the National Organization for Marriage have so obviously been laying the exact same kind of framework for a potential ballot initiative that they did prior to launching efforts in California, Maine, and elsewhere. Speaking engagements have been booked. Salvatore Cordileone, the so-called “father of Prop 8,” has been tapped. Local bishops have placed Op-Eds in local papers. NOM’s been running ads telling citizens that they have the right to vote on marriage. NOM’s also currently sticking their organizational nose into the state senate and gubernatorial elections, knowing that since there’s no direct I/R procedure in Minnesota, they need to change the legislative and executive makeup as much as they can before they move forward. All of this in hopes of getting out ahead of the pro-equality side, should basic human rights every be put to a majority vote in the North Star State.

Now, via The Courier newsletter of the Diocese of Winona (no relation to Judd), we learn that the state’s Catholic coalition is getting even more aggressive in gearing up their troops for a potential fight. In fact, they are actually sending anti-equality DVDs to every parishioner, turning many family movie nights into a cinematic call to arms:

Within the next week or so, you will receive a letter from me and a DVD. The bishops of Minnesota are alarmed by the continuing attacks on the institution of marriage, and we are taking action. First, we want every Catholic to know the church’s teaching about marriage. From the beginning, the John-Quinnchurch has taught that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman. It is a sacrament, instituted by Jesus Christ to provide the special graces that are needed to live according to God’s law and to give birth to the next generation.

There are several current attacks on marriage. The most threatening now are efforts to legalize “same sex” or “gay” marriage, that is, marriage between two men or between two women.

The DVD provides more detail about the Church’s teaching on marriage and about the possible effects that a same sex marriage policy would have in our state. When they arrive, I hope that you will read the letter and watch the DVD. Then, I hope that you will become one of the thousands of Catholics who have contacted legislators and told them that marriage is a lifetime relationship between one man and one woman. Any other kind of relationship simply is not a marriage. This is our time to stand up and defend marriage as a unique institution that, from the beginning of human history and in every culture, is the union of one man and one woman for the propagation of the human family and the upbringing of children.

Same sex marriage [Diocese of Winona, MN]

In a way we gays and lesbians should be flattered. Our lives are just so important that a major religious group is seriously making movies about our benign existences. Andy Warhol predicted everyone’s 15 minutes of fame — The Catholic church of Minnesota is delivering as much to all gays.

But mostly, it’s just creepy. If they asked to see our wedding videos, most of us gay folk would probably show them. But this feels like they snuck in our house and seized the footage, then re-edited it in a dramatic way that’d impress even the “Real Housewives” producers. It feels not only offensive, but also invasive. Like an underground game of telephone (or television, as it were), where propagandistic whispers have replaced actual discussion, religious condemnation has replaced religious freedom, and where “The Blind Side” in DVD players is anything but “Precious.”




Good As You

—  John Wright