PRESENTING PRINCESS SHAW
Israeli artist Kutiman creates his work by mashing up the audio tracks of various Youtube clips into meticulously sound-edited symphonies. Normally each instrument plays its fair share. Then he finds Samantha Montgomery Shaw—an African-American woman living and working in New Orleans, with neon-red hair, braces, a strong face, and numerous Youtube videos that start with lines like “Hello, lovers.” But after her schtick, she performs a capella songs she wrote herself. Her mechanics might shake, but that’s the whole pull. She provides Kutiman with his latest muse. The movie makes the curious decision not to disclose the relationship between Kutiman and director Ido Haar, but it seems to go like this: after Kutiman began working on an extended project to create musical backing for Shaw’s songs, Haar traveled to New Orleans and documented Shaw in her day-to-day life under false pretenses. She thinks he’s just profiling video-bloggers from across the counter. So he sees her working at a nursing home, then performing to empty clubs on open mic night, and eventually moving to Atlanta, where she renews attempts to come to terms with past traumas. And Haar’s right there at the exact moment that Shaw’s existence is rewritten by her inclusion in Kutiman’s latest work—providing us with one of those before/after moments that Americans enjoy so much. The director’s primary idea is to structure his whole film like a trip down a Youtube link-hole: Formats and forms mingle together at a rapid pace, with at-home footage of Kutiman and archival film of his exhibitions mixing democratically with Shaw’s documented life and her uploaded videos. The payoff, of course, is the intersection—the moment when Shaw-the-performer and Shaw-the-person get to share a cathartic moment of success. One of the last clips we see suggests that her life went back to its troubled normalcy after the experience with Kutiman. You leave wishing that Haar would’ve stuck around to find out.
FRI 4.29. SOMERVILLE THEATRE. 9:30PM. NOT RATED.
LO AND BEHOLD: REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD
Werner Herzog considers the internet as an expansion of man’s consciousness in ten delineated chapters, from “The Glory” (scientific and technological advancement) to “The Dark Side” (which considers traumatic levels of trolling) to “The End of the Net” (when it happens, his experts suggest, most of us will die right off). Maybe it looks like investigative journalism—the director interviews innumerable experts and luminaries from the world of information technology, and they provide insightful comments on all of the subjects he broaches—but it’s all filtered through his famously grandiose mindset. He sees the internet as an outlet for the human spirit at both its bravest and barest, and therefore he thinks in terms of “most”: He wants to show you the biggest threats within cybersecurity (maybe we’re in a cyberwar already), the greatest hackers working today (he interviews Kevin Mitnik in search of tall tales), or the humans most endangered by a digital culture (a trip to disconnected farmland reveals a collective of people allergic to the radiation emitted by cell phone towers). One section considers the coming proliferation of actual robots, with footage depicting humanoid machines plastered with sponsorship stickers from Amazon and Shell. You might expect corporate intrigue, or at least corporate criticism, but Herzog barely cares to ask that question. He’s not interested in the financial structures that advance cultural digitization. He’s more interested in asking what will happen once those structures inevitably bottom out. You might ask if artificial intelligence has the capacity to upend world economies. He considers things more lyrically: “Does the internet dream of itself?”
SAT 4.30. BRATTLE THEATRE. 5PM. NOT RATED.
It opens with clips of a woman pulling home movies out of a shelter. And for most of the runtime, that’s what The Anthropologist’s three directors provide: a record of one family’s travels, with their best selves turned on for the camera. The subject is anthropologist Susie Crate (she’s focused on the effect that climate change has already had on traditionalist cultures) and her teenage daughter Katie (who agrees with her Mom’s politics but often seems annoyed by her work). The former takes the latter along for every field trip, be it Siberia, Peru, or the South Pacific for Christmas. Intersecting those clips are interview segments with Mary Catherine Bateson, daughter of famed mid-century anthropologist Margaret Mead. She has tenure, and so she digresses as she sees fit: At one point she speaks about the science of psychological change, and later she pontificates about how cool it is that President Obama’s mother was an anthropologist. Three generations of interconnected women give their take on the work that defines their lives, while the three directors try to create a sense of cultural exchange between their varied eras: On the soundtrack is a cover of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” then it’s “Don’t You Forget About Me,” and after that it’s EDM.
SUN 5.1. SOMERVILLE THEATRE. 5:15PM. NOT RATED.
BEYOND THE WALL
The statistics that open Beyond the Wall might not be surprising, but they ought to startle you anyway. Of the 9 million people released from US jails each year, 75 percent have a history of substance abuse problems. And 95 percent of that 75 percent will relapse once they’re out. In profiling Louie Diaz—a substance abuse counselor and reentry specialist who does work at the Middlesex House of Corrections, and dedicates his life to aiding struggling ex-convicts in Massachusetts’ Merrimack Valley—Beyond the Wall introduces us to a few such men. Some of them recover, some of them return to old habits, some of them don’t survive the length of production. The filmmaking spans across roughly three years, and it skews wherever it likes, from direct-address interview to fly-on-the-wall footage to contextual text on screen. But in the meantime it creates a detailed portrait of local subcultures, like the barbershop scene in Lawrence and Lowell, or the halfway houses spread across the subregion. As a narrative, it’s a tragedy: Relapses occur without notice, supportive structures as provided by the state appear nonexistent, and when death does come, it’s an expected guest. An unofficial and unintentional companion piece to High on Crack Street: Lost Lives in Lowell—which has a 20th anniversary screening at IFFBoston this year, at the Brattle on May 4—Beyond the Wall serves as a document of peers we’ve already forgotten.
SUN 5.1. SOMERVILLE THEATRE. 7:30PM. NOT RATED. DIRECTOR BESTOR CRAM, DIRECTOR JENNY PHILLIPS, AND WRITER/EDITOR ANDY KUKURA ARE EXPECTED TO BE IN ATTENDANCE.