The Mill Valley Film Festival (https://www.mvff.com)

This year many of the films at the festival are available for streaming. So far I have watched two fabulous ones and one interesting but not compelling one. One of the must-sees is: “Born in Chicago”. It’s the story, in part, of how The Great Migration from the Deep South brought the blues to Chicago. The subtext, of course is how Black musicians such as Muddy Waters , Howlin’ Wolf and others rose to fame because of white venues and how much easier it was for their white prodigies to gain the spotlight. The film’s focus is music, so very little is said about the performers personal lives. And that’s good.

The other film I strongly urge you to watch is “Paper &Glue”. If you were lucky enough to see J.R’s “The Chronicles of San Francisco” two years ago, you are familiar with the kind of work that he does. Or if you saw “Faces Places”, JR’s journey through rural France with Agnes Varda in 2017, even more so. But this one will knock your socks off: we follow JR and his crew to Tehachapi maximum security prison, to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the worst slums of Paris, and the border wall between Mexico and the United States. We see footage (could be recreated–not sure) of JR’s early days as a young graffiti artist and how a found camera changed his art life. The film is also about the role of art in changing lives and communities in nearly unimaginable ways. And there are women in it–that presence lacking in “Born in Chicago”–understandable given the era, but still refreshing to see in more modern times.

Not as strong as the other two (no doubt a much lower budget), but interesting enough is “Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez”. If you are a big Underground Comix fan you will especially enjoy some of the interviews, some with colleagues such as Robert Crumb and Terry Zwigoff and others. The work was usually controversial and it was often difficult to decide if the imagery was satiric or just offensively hyperbolic machismo, but interviews with sex expert/iconoclast Susie Bright frame it in a feminist perspective. Other “experts” are interviewed, but all in all they just go on too long–too much tell and not enough show. But there’s no question that he was a very talented artist who belongs in the pantheon of artists of any genre. This is a loving film that could use a bit of editing.

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