Tag Archives: documentaries

7 More Ways to Get Sher-LOCKED

If you are patiently–or not-so-patiently–waiting for the next season of the BBC’s Sherlock, consider this:  a keyword search for “Sherlock Holmes” brings back over 900 results in the Library catalog, while a subject search for Holmes, Sherlock (no quotation marks needed) nets you another 600+ results. This means you have plenty of material to obsess over focus on during the show’s hiatus (that is, when you’re not on Tumblr reblogging otters who look like Benedict Cumberbatch).

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Original meme by Red Scharlach. Image reposted at RadioTimes.

Given the large number of written pastiches, plus the fact that the character of Sherlock Holmes has appeared in television and film more than anyone else except Dracula, this shouldn’t surprise you at all. You may, however, find yourself overwhelmed by your good fortune: where, with so many adventures to choose from, should you start?

Here are seven suggested points of entry*, in various formats:

1. Sounds familiar…

To bridge the classic and contemporary fandoms, you might want to try the audio book Sherlock1The Rediscovered Railway Mysteries and Other Stories. Author John Taylor uses the conceit of a locked cedar chest that contains Watson’s notes on cases that, for various reasons, were never made public. These tales, which feature the science of ballistics, stolen goods, and a baffling murder, stack up favorably with Amazon reviewers. But, of course, with audio books, it’s the narrator that makes or breaks the story…and our narrator, in this case, is none other than Otterface Whatsisname. Try not to break your fingers while making the catalog reservation, okay?

2. Across the pond

sherlock2American versions don’t always ruin everything. Exhibit A: Watson and Holmes vol. 1: A Study in BlackJon Watson’s internship at Convent Emergency Center in Harlem gets a lot more interesting when the mysterious S. Holmes shows up shortly after the victim of a vicious beating is brought in. Intrigued by what he learns from Holmes, Watson tags along on what seems, at first, to be a simple kidnapping case, then blossoms into a far more sinister conspiracy. A gorgeous color palette of blacks, browns, and purples (with some luscious golds and icy blues for contrast) enriches a comic that is incredibly faithful to Conan Doyle’s vision (Irregulars, fetching haberdashery, and all).

3. Media Studies 101

Rather than start a knock-down, drag-out argument over which actor made the finest manyfacesSherlock**, make the time to familiarize yourself with The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes. This documentary covers eighty-five years of stage, film, television, and radio portrayals of the master detective, and is narrated by Dracula Saruman Sir Christopher Lee. At a run time of only 48 minutes, you can have yourself up to speed on the topic in the space of a lunch hour. And because you can download the film to your portable device, you can still have lunch outside, if you like.

4. Worth the wait…

company holmesLaurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger–two authors you can trust on this topic–invited a group of well-known contemporary authors to write new stories inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle’s original work. The result, In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, is definitely worth putting yourself on the waiting list for it. Contributors include Michael Connelly, Cornelia Funke, Jeffrey Deaver, Sara Paretsky, and Harlan Ellison, so you know King and Klinger took this project very, very seriously. Tied together with a terrific introduction, and the promise of a second volume to come, this short story collection should be on your don’t-miss list.

5. Three pipe problems

If your vocabulary organically includes terms like “heteronormative,” “deconstruction,” or21st century holmes “paradigms,” you will most likely enjoy Sherlock Holmes for the 21st Century, a fascinating bundle of scholarly essays. Contributing editor Lynette Porter has assembled a collection of work that examines the relationship between a broad spectrum of cultural themes (which include sexuality, fandom, information literacy, and tourism) and the recent Holmes canon. The connections the authors draw between present and past iterations of the consulting detective make for a fascinating look at how, in each generation, we create the Sherlock we need, want, and–perhaps–deserve.

6. Get ’em while they’re young…

death cloudYA readers keen on historical fiction might enjoy Death Cloud, the first in a series of teenage Sherlock Holmes mysteries authorized by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. If you can imagine the highly functioning sociopath as a bored, bright youngster on holiday, the concept isn’t at all far-fetched. While staying with relatives over the summer, young Sherlock makes a friend, confounds his tutor,  and encounters a mysterious cloud that’s followed by a series of puzzling deaths. Obviously somebody has to investigate, and who better than Holmes? Fun historical fiction that functions as a gateway to the real deal.

7. And, inevitably, tea

While visiting the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, Julia Carlson Rosenblatt and her dininghusband got the idea for a dinner showcasing food from Conan Doyle’s era. That dinner, held on June 2, 1973, paved the way for Dining With Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Cookbook. The foodies in the fandom will appreciate this Herculean effort, which is clearly a labor of love by people who did their homework (with the help of the Culinary Institute of America). Every recipe is either tied to a direct quote from the original canon, or its inspiration is thoroughly explained. If you’re thinking about having a Sherlock party, and really want to take it over the top, you’ll want this cookbook in your hands…though a healthy dose of kitchen proficiency is definitely a pre-requisite.

That’s a lot of Sherlock, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. Do you have a favorite Holmes, or Holmes-inspired book/film? Tell us about it in the comments section!

–Leigh Anne, whose own gateway drug was Young Sherlock Holmes.

*I’m assuming, of course, that you’re already well-versed in the Conan Doyle canon. If you’re not, what are you waiting for? Go get those books!

**Even though the answer is clearly Basil Rathbone.



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Coming to a Library Near You

Image from the website: http://3rff.com/

Image from the website: http://3rff.com/

My winter stay-cation this year just happened to coincide with this year’s Three Rivers Film Festival, so for the first time since moving to Pittsburgh I’ve gotten a chance to watch a handful of the festival’s offerings. For those unfamiliar with the festival, it has been running for 32 years now and features about 80 films, ranging from experimental to independent to foreign favorites.

Most of these films will eventually be coming to the Film & Audio Department at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main, so here is a sneak peak of a few films from the festival that will eventually be coming to a library near you.

Image from: http://3rff.com/

Image from: http://3rff.com/

I was hoping to catch a comedy from the Netherlands called The Deflowering of Eva Van End, but due to technical reasons another film was screened. Luckily, we will be getting that comedy soon as part of our excellent Film Movement collection. The film that I saw instead was called Ilo Ilo, a slice-of-life drama about a family dealing with various stresses during the financial crisis of 1997. We do not own this film yet, but we have plenty of other films that take place in Singapore and surrounding countries.

Broken Circle Breakdown was probably my favorite film of the festival so far, even though it was incredibly difficult to watch at times (I believe I cried on three seperate occasions, so if you decide to check it out be prepared for that). The movie jumps back-and-forth through time to tell the story of the relationship between a sweet & funky Belgium couple, who eventually marry and have a daughter. The couple also play in a bluegrass band together, and the movie is peppered throughout with wonderful country, gospel, and bluegrass standards. It was strange seeing music I so closely associate with the United States being reimagined by a Belgium couple, but all of the songs fit the film perfectly. If you can’t catch this one in the theater but you’re in the mood for a good cry, you can always check out one of these bummer love stories. Or I dare you to listen to this RadioLab podcast without crying by the end.

Image from: http://3rff.com/

Image from: http://3rff.com/

I was also lucky enough to catch a sold-out showing of Stephen Frears’ latest film, Philomena. The film is based on the real-life story of Philomena Lee, a retired nurse who goes in search of the son she was forced to give up 50 years ago. She teams up with a cynical ex-BBC reporter and together they bicker and travel to America to track down Lee’s son. This is the kind of movie that the cliché “crowd pleaser” was invented for, and even though I tried, I could not resist its charms. It’s got Judy Dench, it’s got Steve Coogan, and it makes fun of the movie Big Momma’s Housein short, it’s going to win some Oscars. We probably won’t have this film in the library until some time next year, so I would recommend instead checking out a film on a similar topic, or another one of Stephen Frears’ great films.

There are also a couple documentaries I hope to catch before the end of the festival–Braddock, America and Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction—in edition to a special screening from the folks at the Orgone Archives.

How about you? What are you watching, or hoping to watch soon?


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Nerdfighters, Assemble!


Image obtained from Hannah Lindgren’s documentary website.

Being a librarian is, in my mind, all about making the world a better place, one book recommendation, reference question, or computer assist at a time. Our professional honor society, Beta Phi Mu, takes as its motto the Latin phrase Aliis inserviendo consumor, or, “consumed in the service of others.” I take that pretty darned seriously, in an exuberantly joyful way, and it feels good to go home at night knowing that I did my bit to improve the general quality of the universe, as opposed to, say, pumping a lot of chemicals into the environment or making cheap plastic doodads that will end up in a landfill.

This is why I love Nerdfighters. A group of people from all over the world, dedicated to the overall improvement of things, inspired by the joyful zaniness of the VlogBrothers, John and Hank Green, united by the magical internet, and unabashedly nerdy to boot? What’s not to love?

Here’s a more comprehensive explanation of Nerdfighters, courtesy of the Green brothers themselves:

If you’re smiling now, you won’t want to miss the Pittsburgh screening of the Nerdfighters documentary, A Film to Decrease Worldsuck, a documentary in which self-proclaimed “Nerdfighters” explore what and who a Nerdfighter is, where Nerdfighters came from and what they do. Produced, directed and edited by Hannah Lindgren as her senior honors thesis, this film is comprised of convention footage gathered by two primary videographers as well as crowd-sourced interviews and video from dozens of Nerdfighters.

When and where? Sunday August 18th, 5-8 p.m., in the Carnegie Museum of Art Theatre (use the museum entrance in the Main Library/museum parking lot). The Pittsburgh Area Nerdfighters group will be collecting non-perishable food items for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, so rummage around in your pantry and pack a bag for them (feed people, starve worldsuck). If you go, you’ll also be treated to the sound stylings of Lauren Fairweather and Matt Maggiacomo, plus Tonks and the Aurors. You’ll even have a chance to show off your trivia chops after the film, possibly netting yourself a copy of its poster with your mad skills. French the llama*, it’s going to be exciting!

And if you can’t make it? Please, spread this post around on Facebook or Twitter, using the hashtag #nerdfighterdocPGH. Prefer something more personal? Compose a sea shanty and sing about the film on your next Port Authority jaunt. Do an interpretive dance while holding up a sign in Schenley Plaza. Write the information in pen on your forehead and go make some new friends in a coffee shop. Or, you know, make up something that suits your own particular nerdy idiom. Heck, do all those things even if you can make it (but remember — pics, or it didn’t happen).


Leigh Anne

*If that phrase gave you pause, you clearly skipped the video. I agree with John that it should become a thing.


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Some Shortcuts

I try to keep up on things. I try to read and improve my understanding of the world around me, its history, and the events that have brought us here. 

It’s really tough.  Really, really tough. There are many more places and things happening in the world than there are hours in my day to investigate them.  So when I try to wrap my head around a region like the Middle East I am looking for a leg up.

Enter the documentary Blood and Oil: The Middle East in World War I. Released in 2006 and directed by veteran journalist and military historian Marty Callaghan, Blood and Oil is a dense and revealing documentary.  But why World War I? It may seem like ancient history to some, but the modern Middle East as we know it was born in the Great War’s wake.  The documentary takes us through the military campaigns of the British, Russian and Ottoman Empires and into the politics and maneuvering in the immediate post war period.  For fans of military history, this documentary lucidly outlines World War I’s campaigns within the region in dramatic detail.   Ataturk and Gallipoli and the pan-Turkish dreams of the ill-fated expedition of Enver Pasha are featured in this rich film as well as the Russian invasion of Anatolia and the tragedy of Smyrna.  The post war period covered by the documentary is the real pay-off to people on a mission to provide context to the Middle East.  The defeated Ottoman Empire was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the victorious French and British, and the decisions they made nearly a century ago set the table for events today. This film explains the various agreements and secret treaties that gave birth to a group of nations almost overnight, a set of borders and new countries designed to preserve influence and maintain access to an increasingly vital resource, oil, which had only recently replaced coal in the new ships of the British navy. It isn’t hard to see how these new nations suffered the occasional post-colonial migraine as ethnic and national aspirations clashed with an artificial and seemingly arbitrary set of circumstances. Understanding the modern Middle East begins with understanding the post war period and this documentary is an incredible shortcut.  The human cost of imperial and national ambition is displayed with moving sympathy throughout the film.

 Africa: 56 countries sharing a population of over a billion people. Now there is a region I need to work on.  I needed help there, a good primer, and I found The Africa Book. This weighty tome contains a spread for each country featuring vital statistics, a brief history and cultural information, and a selection of beautiful photographs. The history sections are short but revealing, showcasing the continent’s richness and complexity, host to dozens of empires, foreign colonizers, and the sometimes difficult paths to nationhood in post-colonial times.  It’s a Lonely Planet book so the target market is young, wealthy, wearing a back pack, and looking to score at the ex-pat bar, but the book suits my purposes equally well.  Thanks to this book I could read the news on Africa without constantly referencing Wikipedia.  Soon I will be expanding my reading into some general histories and country specific works and then I will be really set.

And then onto South America….



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Scene from Resurrect Dead, from the website: movies.nytimes.com

Last year I came to the realization that I’d watched far more fictional films than documentaries, and in these young months of 2012 I have set about making amends. I’m not sure what it was about 2011 that led me to seek solace in fantasy and escapism, but rest assured I’ve been taking some time out to reconnect with reality this year, and all I can say is that it’s a far stranger place than 1920s Paris could ever hope to be.

First up this year was Bombay Beach, Alma Har’el’s poetic documentary about the inhabitants of a decaying town on the edge of the Salton Sea. Located two hours outside of Los Angeles, the town of Bombay Beach was a tourist destination in the 1950s, but has since declined into rural squalor. The film’s three main protagonists are Benny Parish, a 7-year-old with a vivid imagination and a host of behavioral problems, not helped along by his loving but complicated family; CeeJay Thompson, an African American teenager and football star who seeks refuge in the isolation of Bombay Beach to avoid the gang violence surrounding his family in Los Angeles; and Red, a tough old bird, who mostly survives on whiskey, cigarettes, and audacity. Har’el portrays her subjects (and the poverty surrounding them) with dignity, beauty and respect–but this is not your typical documentary. Weaved in between the documentary footage, the director also films the inhabitants of Bombay Beach acting out their fantasies and inclinations, set to haunting music scored by the likes of Beirut and Bob Dylan. The result is a stunning film that is part documentary, part visual poetry.

Equally bizarre and mysterious is Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Since the early 1980s cryptic tiles have been popping up in cities, starting in Philadelphia, moving across the U.S. and even as far afield as South America. The tiles are all emblazoned with the same message:

IN Kubrick’s 2001

What does it mean? The documentary follows a few endearing amateur sleuths as they attempt to crack the code, with increasingly bizarre results. Do they find the culprit? This I cannot tell you, but I will say that the ending is far stranger than expected.

Of course, life is inherently strange and perplexing, and this is the subject of Astra Taylor’s philosophical documentary Examined Life. As Cornell West states in the opening of the documentary, “for me—philosophy is fundamentally about our finite situation. We can define that in terms of we’re beings [moving] towards death, we’re featherless two-legged linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and feces whose bodies will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms.” Heavy stuff. Not much happens in this documentary; we essentially drop in on eight important, modern thinkers including Slavoj Zizek, Peter Singer and Judith Butler, while they drop some serious knowledge. It’s totally fascinating though.

Far heavier in scope is The Interrupters, a film which made many best-of lists last year and for good reason. This is a hard documentary to talk about in a light fashion—it’s about a unique program in Chicago called CeaseFire whose sole aim is to stop violent deaths in poor urban areas. CeaseFire is staffed by ex-gang members and ex-convicts who try to intervene in conflicts in their community, particularly those that may escalate into extreme violence or death. In these neighborhoods though, violent conflict can result from something as minor as someone making a funky comment about someone else’s shoes. This makes total success for a project like CeaseFire nearly impossible. It is not a totally depressing film though as the program and its practitioners are all pretty amazing, and director Steve James (who made Hoop Dreams) has unparalleled access to these rough communities. If your library copy hasn’t come in yet, you can watch the film here.

Also on a downer note is The Last Mountain, a film about the environmental effects of mountaintop removal mining in the Appalachian region (this includes Pittsburgh). The film focuses on Coal River Mountain in West Virginia, where community members and environmental activists are pitted against a coal company in the struggle to save one of the last large mountain ranges in Appalachia. The film makes the point that the fight for Coal River Mountain, although a local story, has national and international significance. According to statistics in the film, nearly 50% of America’s electricity comes from burning coal, with 30% of that coal coming from Appalachia, and burning coal is the number one contributor to greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Because this seems like a topic that needs to be explored further, I’ll be focusing on this movie again in a future post about coal mining and energy.

I’ll end things on a lighter note with a movie that is not a documentary, but plays like one. Tiny Furniture, a film written and directed by (and starring) Lena Dunham will likely leave audiences split. Why you ask? Primarily because it is about a privileged New Yorker arriving home in a post-collegiate funk from her expensive and exclusive liberal arts college (Oberlin). She has no idea what she wants to do with her life, but has a keen instinct for making terrible choices. It may be hard for some viewers to relate to the occasionally unlikable main character or care about her fate. Much has been made of Dunham using her actual home and family in the shooting of this film, so I won’t go on about that. What I will say is that I think this is an honest and brave movie, and Dunham is very talented. This was her first major feature (at the ripe age of 24) and I look forward to her next project—an HBO series about Girls. I only hope it’s half as honest as this film.

What about you? Have you seen any good documentaries lately?

Keeping it “Reel,”



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Come on Feel the Noise

The Music, Film & Audio collection has thousands of unusual music documentaries, live performances, and instructional videos. A few choice offerings…

Popular Music:

Operas and Musicals:

Music Biographies and Concert Films:

Instructional Videos:

Also, this just in: a slew of new and interesting films from Plexifilm.


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SilverDocs Part 3: Byrne-ing Down the House

Ride Rise Roar is a concert documentary based on David Byrne’s tour for Everything That Happens Will Happen Today.  The CD, released in 2008, was a collaboration between Byrne and Brian Eno.  The tour itself, however, featured music from that album and other Byrne/Eno collaborations.

The film chronicles Byrne’s process for putting the tour show together, including adding an unexpected element – modern dance.  The stage show features three dancers performing the choreography of Annie-B Parson and Noémie Lafrance.  The result: a charming, playful, and entertaining production.  I am a dance lover, so the concept appealed to me immediately, but what I most loved was how the work of the dancers impacted all of the other performers onstage, from making the stage equipment part of the choreography, to back-up singers and musicians (male and female) dancing in tutus.   Check out the trailer below and this Wired blog post for a longer review of the film.

While you’re waiting for Ride Rise Roar to become available at the library, why not enjoy some of the many other Byrne- related options we already have.

The Everything That Happens Will Happen Today tour was not Byrne’s first collaboration with dancers.  In 1983 he composed, produced, and performed the music for Twyla Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel.

We also have Jonathan Demme’s critically aclaimed 1984 documentary about the Talking Heads, Stop Making Sense.  David Byrne himself directed Ile Aiye (The House of Life) and True Stories. You can also borrow the music of the Talking Heads, or Byrne’s solo albums, compilations, or other productions.

Try one of our biographies if you are interested in reading more about David Byrne or the Talking Heads.  Or check out a book with artists’ interpretations of Talking Heads lyrics.  Finally, you may also enjoy the meandering observations and philosophical musings in Byrne’s book Bicycle Diaries.


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SilverDocs Part 2: A Galaxy Far, Far Away

This is the second in a series of three posts exploring library resources related to documentary films I saw this past June at the SilverDocs Film Festival.  The first highlighted the circus arts, this one journeys to a galaxy far, far away.

The People vs. George Lucas explores the questions of who owns a creative work once it is released into the world, and what obligation the owner has to the fans of the work.  With the release of the original Star Wars in 1977, George Lucas created a dedicated and lifelong fan base (see Star Wars Uncut for a representation of just how remarkably invested Star Wars fans can be).  Then he altered the original, angering many fans and initiating a torrential and varied response.

See a trailer of the documentary here:

One of the essential changes to the film involves a scene in which Han Solo is sitting across from Greedo in the Cantina.  In the original, when Greedo confronts him at the table, Han Solo shoots him and walks away.  In the revised version, Greedo shoots at Han first, misses, and Han shoots him in self-defense.  This seemingly minor change has a big impact on the development of Han’s character.  Is he a selfish smuggler only looking out for himself until he is reluctantly drawn into doing the right thing, or is he honorable from the start?

See another trailer of the documentary, one that touches on this issue specifically,  here:

Following the screening at SilverDocs, the director, Alexandre O. Phillipe, and Dale Pollock, author of the definitive biography of George Lucas, Skywalking: The Life and Films of George Lucas, took the stage for a 45-minute back-and-forth.  Perhaps one of the most interesting, if distressing, topics of conversation revolved around Lucas’s claim that an original negative of Star Wars: A New Hope no longer exists.  This adds to the ire and sense of betrayal of those who were angered by the Cantina scene and other changes he made.  (Interestingly, The People vs. George Lucas reveals that in the 1980s George Lucas testified before Congress in opposition to Ted Turner’s colorization of some classic films such as Casablanca.  He argued that those films were too culturally significant to be altered.)

While you’re waiting for The People vs. George Lucas to become available at the library, why not check out some of our other Star Wars-related materials?  Of course we have the films (live action and animated), along with the series fiction, but there are countless other options including:

  • Fanboys, a film in which four buddies take a road trip to break into Skywalker Ranch and steal a copy of Episode I before it’s released.
  • A Galaxy Far Far Away, a documentary exploring the Star Wars phenomenon.
  • The instantly recognizable John Williams music from the Star Wars movies, in both music score and CD formats.
  • Star Wars inspired cookbooks with recipes such as Boba Fett-uccine.
  • Star Wars memorabilia price guides to assess the value of all your old action figures.
  • Carrie Fisher’s memoir Wishful Drinking, in which she “chronicles [her] all too eventful and by necessity amusing, Leia-laden life” (p. 15).


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SilverDocs Part 1: Under the Big Top

This post is the first in a series featuring films I saw at the SilverDocs Documentary Film Festival this past June.  Each will spotlight one film, along with related library resources to enjoy while waiting for the film to be released.

After harboring a lifelong fantasy of running away to join the circus and hosting a trapeze party for my 30th birthday, it’s no wonder that I made a point of seeing Circo.  The film chronicles the challenges of a traveling circus family in Mexico, highlighting the tension between dedication to family versus dedication to a craft and a disappearing way of life.  It’s hard to know whose side to be on: the father, trying to preserve his family’s heritage and business; or the mother, torn between supporting her husband and wanting to provide her children with a normal childhood and decent education.

CLP offers plenty of resources related to the circus arts, but with the exception of one remarkable book, this post will focus on our DVD offerings.  You can easily lose several hours to the full color and black and white photos of circus performers and reproductions of original circus posters in The Circus: 1870 – 1950, a behemoth of a book (670 pages, measuring roughly 12”x17.5”x3”, and probably weighing 25 lbs.).  You’ll also learn fascinating tidbits to add to your trivia arsenal, such as the fact that Jules Leotard, inventor of the trapeze, also invented (as his name reveals) the leotard, making him the first show business sex symbol (p. 353).  Since it’s a reference book you’ll have to visit us at the Main Library to peruse the lovely images, but we’ve got plenty of circulating books on the topic as well (just ask a librarian).

Also available for check out are several DVDs featuring various types of circus performances.  We have numerous Cirque Du Soleil shows, including a fascinating documentary, The Magic Touch, profiling Dominique Lemieux, Cirque’s costume designer.  If you’ve never seen a Cirque show live, splurge the next time they are in town.  Until then, content yourself with one (or more) of our DVDs.

Acrobatics play a prominent role in Cirque du Soleil shows, and if that’s your area of interest, you can borrow one of our DVDs featuring Chinese acrobats.  If tight-rope walking is what gets your heart racing, watch Man on Wire, the Oscar-winning documentary about Phillipe Petite’s 1974 daredevil (and illegal) high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers.

For a bit of fictional drama, try Cecil B. Demille’s The Greatest Show on Earth, Charlie Chan at the Circus, La Strada, Sawdust and Tinsel, Billy Rose’s Jumbo, Lola Montes, or Freaks (originally released in 1932 and filmed using real circus performers).

See you under the big top!

– Sarah


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The Disappeared

Last year there was a brief article about people who have “disappeared” (re: been kidnapped and murdered) in Brazil since 2007.  The number, 9000, is staggering, and the cause is largely narcotics traffickers and police “working” after hours.

The article got me thinking about the military juntas and dictatorships in place in many Latin American countries in the 1970s and 80s.  During those years many people “disappeared” as well, but instead of mostly random people off the street, these were political dissidents opposed to their oppressive governments.  

There are a number of films that depict various aspects of these dirty histories (in Argentina, the time period is actually referred to as the Dirty War).  One of the best known, and the first I ever saw, is The Official Story (1985) from Argentina.  Based on actual events, it tells the story of a woman who discovers that her adopted daughter is the child of a disappeared couple. The film does a great job of showing how people allow themselves to remain ignorant of the extent of violence and corruption around them. 

A good follow-up to The Official Story is Cautiva (2007). This time the perspective is that of a young girl, Cristina, who is suddenly taken from her school and told she is actually Sofia, the daughter of a disappeared couple. Cristina struggles with her feelings of loyalty to the parents she has always known and loved, and the betrayal she feels at discovering she is not really their daughter.  

Imagining Argentina (2003) is based on the novel by Lawrence Thornton. Following the disappearance of his dissident journalist wife, a children’s theatre director discovers he has the ability to “see” the whereabouts and events happening in the lives of disappeared people. Not for the faint of heart, this film, and the novel, reflect the horrific realities of the treatment of the disappeared.

For a slight change in geography, check out Machuca (2004) and Missing (1982), both about the Pinochet years in Chile.  And to come full circle back to Brazil, try The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (2006), a film that juxtaposes the horror of the political situation in 1970 Brazil with the energy and excitement felt throughout the country as Pele leads their soccer team to victory in the World Cup, the first to be transmitted live via satellite. 

For a couple of films that depict the kind of violence taking place in Brazil today check out City of God (2002) and Manda Bala (Send a Bullet, 2007), a documentary examining the current practice of kidnapping in Brazil.


– Sarah

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