Austin Film Festival 2010 Day Five. A few documentaries.

Austin Film Festival Day Five Rundown

October 25, 2010

1) Raging Boll

2) Rubble Kings

Well, the conference is over and now it's all about the films. I am very excited about tomorrow nights "127 Hours" and Wednesday's "Black Swan," but tonight's screenings felt a bit more special. These are smaller films without the names attached to sell them immediately and I love that I get to push them out there.

1) Raging Boll (d. Dan Lee West)

Ewe Boll is an odd figure to discuss. Either you have never heard of him, or you hate him. Those seem to be the only two camps. He is considered by many to be the Ed Wood of this generation. This comparison is unfair to Mr. Wood. Yes, he was inept but he had a joy and a desire to do something great and really work at it. He lacked any real skill, but his limited output and budgets prevented him from developing. Basically he was like a child making a hand made birthday card for his mother. It might have been terrible, but there was so much joy and love in his process and so much excitement at the project that you kind of feel for the guy.

Boll, on the other hand, has an ability to raise money and produce finished films that is absolutely astonishing (he self produced a $60 million dollar movie). This is especially impressive considering that he creates artless, flat, and uninteresting films that use shocking imagery simply to evoke an emotional response with no desire to develop those emotions or add any deeper meaning.

George Lucas once said that you can create emotion by putting a puppy on the freeway. Yes, you get emotion, but not much more. That is what Boll does. He is only capable of achieving a raw emotional reaction with no weight or significance behind them. He is also known for fighting his critics (literally), challenging other directors to fights (for no apparent reason), and calling himself "the only true genius in film today" (again, for no apparent reason).

That is what makes this film so remarkable. It shows all of this plus the actual person and, in the end, allows you to choose what he is.

To me he is a carnival barker/ pro wrestler. He is a wildly intelligent man with a PhD in Literature from an actual respected university, has an unprecedented ability to raise money, and a tireless work ethic. However, his ambition, hubris, and thin skin negates all that. Instead of working and perfecting his style or growing as an artist all he does is finish films. This is a shame because there is some potential in his work. He could be good, he chooses not to be. I had to "fortune" to see his opus "Postal" in one of the six theatres it played in nation wide. They show footage from the premier and, including Boll, there were 16 people present, which was a packed house compared to the 5 at my screening. I really can't describe it other than to tell you that I didn't so much see it as it just kind of happened to me.

The film begins with an interview with Boll in which only his answers are heard. For most of the movie he is the only person who speaks. This allows him to present what he wants the world to see and, for all the bullshit that surrounds him, he comes off rather well. He is a guy who, like me, grew up loving films and wanting do make his own.

You see him, you see his family, you hear about how he found reprieve from isolation through film, you see the relentless study and cataloging of the films he grew up loving, you see him as a person you would have a beer and conversation with.

Then the ambition gets in the way. He raised a SHIT TON of money, slowly at first, then in greater quantities, and started churning out movies. They were not well received, yet he kept going and growing more ambitious.

All of this culminates in an open challenge to his internet critics to an exhibition boxing match. What was supposed to be fun turned ugly when the guys showed up expecting to be part of a show, and ended up in a fight. For all the humanity he gained, it's difficult to like a guy when you see a guy vomiting in the street and being put on an oxygen mask after getting the shit kicked out of him by someone who left out the fact that he was an amateur boxer in his youth.

There is one moment that pulls the curtain back. At one point Boll wonders why the "internet nerds" don't like him. He points out that he is an outsider who makes video game movies, so he should be championed by them. He says that because of that, "I'm the reason they have no excuse to try it themselves." He is an interesting man who has gone off the rails a bit, but somehow retains his humanity and, in an odd way, shows us that lack of talent shouldn't be an obstacle to achieving our dreams.

But there is no attempt by the filmmaker to tell you how to feel. It shows what happened and allows you to make up your own mind. "Raging Boll" is what good documentary filmmaking should be. It plainly presents the information and allows you to make up your mind. The editing, the music, the use of title cards, and the rawness of Boll's portrayal show an absolute expert filmmakers hand at work. Even if you don't like documentaries, or have no interest in Boll this is a fascinating story that is told impeccably well and is very much worth your time.

2) Rubble Kings (d. Shan Nicholson)

This is both an interesting and frustrating movie. The subject matter is fascinating and generally well executed, but the film itself feels kind of sloppy and loose.

Rubble Kings traces the rise of gangs in New York in the 1970's. New York was going to hell. The ghetto was spreading, the poor had lost their hope, and things were bleak. From this rudderless community an army of gangs arose. They started as clubs and morphed into something else.

This presents the life cycle of those gangs. What started as a way to protect your neighborhood became more dangerous, then violent, then deadly, then something new and different. From the violence and wreckage a voice for peace and unity arose. As one gang member said, "We were in the ghetto because we created the ghetto," and some people tried to change this, to bring pride, a sense of ownership and responsibility, and unity their community. Through all this hip hop culture was born.

I wanted to like this more than I did. It is a good movie and is generally put together well, but there are technical problem. The music and narration switch too quickly and disrupt the flow, the structure feels non existent (it's as if they decided half way through editing what they wanted it to be about, and went about to make it that instead of figuring out what they wanted first), and the pacing is way off.

There is a lot of fascinating information here, but the presentation doesn't deliver it as cleanly as I would have liked. Too much feels repetitive, and half the time you are left wondering where you are going and how you got where you are.

Were this cleaned up it could be an excellent doc, as it is we are left with a good film that doesn't quite live up to it's potential.


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