Tag Archives: Sarah

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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March Movie Madness

Which of the last four decades produced the best films?  Help us choose by voting in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s March Movie Madness!  We’re using the NCAA basketball tournament as a model, but our four divisions are 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s – 32 films total, with 8 in each division. 


We used a variety of resources to choose our contenders, such as the New York Times Guide to the Best 1000 Movies Ever Made, the Times Online: The 100 Best Films of the Decade, and a list of Academy Award Best Picture nominees.  Our staff voted to determine the final list of films, which were seeded based on domestic gross box office figures.  And yes, we know we left out a lot of really great films and included some that would never have made your list.


Vote with a paper ballot in the Film & Audio Department or online starting on March 3rd (look for the link on our department’s home page). Every week we’ll update the March Movie Madness website with trivia and commentary about our competitors, and we’ll announce our winner on April 6th!

– Amy and Sarah

Update: Yesterday afternoon, the last of our four missing Simpsons DVDs made its way back to my desk – all of the discs were found scattered throughout the library. Two of the discs need repair, but that’s better than losing the entire set!

– Amy


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Ladies of the Land

Back in July, I took my family on the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) Western Region Farm Tour, a “behind-the-barn” look at local food production.  We got to see loads of produce, take a hayride to see pasture-based cattle, taste delicious local cheeses, and even feed alpacas.  And those were only four of 20 participating farms.

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The tour was a great introduction to the work of PASA, our partner in this Saturday’s Sustainable September program.  We’ll be screening Ladies of the Land (watch the trailer), followed by a panel discussion featuring several local lady farmers, including Jen Montgomery from Blackberry Meadows Farm, Lucinda Hart-Gonzalez from Paradise Gardens and Farm, and Leah Smith, Member Services Coordinator of PASA.  The program starts at 3:00 pm and will be held in Classroom A at the Main Library.

The library has plenty of other resources to investigate and learn about food production. To start, check out Our Daily Bread (watch the trailer), a visual essay on industrial agriculture, or The World According to Monsanto.  For something a little more upbeat and closer to home, try The Grange Fair: An American Tradition (watch the trailer).  On Thursday, September 17, we’re partnering with Slow Food Pittsburgh to screen Slow Food Revolution and discuss the growing slow food movement.  Another good one might be Milk in the Land, also screened earlier this year as part of our Real to Reel Documentary Film Series.

And those are just some of the documentary DVDs.  We have lots of other media on sustainability and related issues, and, of course, plenty of books too.  If you’d like to find more, or if you’ve been inspired to start producing your own food, check out our Take It Slow lists, especially the film list, or check with a librarian.


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My Favorite Dance Movies

Two upcoming movie releases, the DVD release of Dance Flick (Oct. 6) and the theatrical release of an updated Fame (Sept. 25), got me thinking about my favorite dance movies. 

In the category of “good” dance films (those that actually have good storylines and good acting) I’ll start with All That Jazz (1979). This movie, based on the life of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse, is filled with plenty of his signature-style choreography.   Then there is the original Fame (1980).  Not strictly a dance film, Fame follows the drama and trauma of students at a performing arts high school in New York. I recently re-watched this film and had forgotten just how unresolved, and in some ways unsatisfying, the various storylines are, but I still think it’s great. The film inspired a TV series in the early 80s and the upcoming remake with a stellar cast.


It seems that most of the other dance films I’d label as “good” revolve around ballet.  They include Billy Elliot (2000), whose title character is the son of a miner who stumbles on a ballet class on his way to boxing practice.  This movie argues it’s okay for boys to dance!  Then there is The Company (2003), a very realistic portrayal of the world inside a professional dance company, directed by Robert Altman and starring Neve Campbell, who, unlike many actor leads in dance films, has some actual talent (she trained as a ballet dancer before injuries pushed her towards acting).  The film features the actual dancers of the Joffrey Ballet in beautiful pieces that you’ll want to see live.  And, of course, there’s The Turning Point (1977), starring Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft as old ballet friends who have taken different paths, each one jealous of the other.  One became a famous ballerina, the other a mother and dance teacher whose daughter is now pursuing her own career in dance.  Mikhail Baryshnikov stars as one of the male leads, and some of the best dancers of the time serve as guest artists, so the dancing is fantastic.  It was also nominated for 11 Oscars, including pretty much all the major categories.                                     

 In the category of “bad” dance movies (those that have ridiculous storylines and/or laughable acting), I have to start with Flashdance (1983).  Not only is it set in Pittsburgh, it’s got a sexy female welder, romance, an underdog takes on the establishment story line, and it made the off-the-shoulder sweatshirt hot fashion.  Follow that up with Girls Just Want to Have Fun (1984), a quintessential 80’s movie starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt. SJP plays a Catholic school girl who loves to dance. Her rebellious friend (Hunt) connives a way to get her out of her military dad’s house and to the audition for the hottest dance show on TV.  Can they pull it off?  Plenty of big hair, bad clothes, and very jazzy dance routines.  I can’t quite decide whether Saturday Night Fever belongs in the “good” or “bad” category, because it’s surprisingly good for a disco movie, but mostly I love it because it is so iconic.  Plus, I’d really love to learn some of the complete routines to try out the next time I go dancing.

Here’s a list of a few other dance movies, all of which I have enjoyed at least once. You can decide which ones are “good” versus “bad”:


Breakin’ 2 Electric Boogaloo
A Chorus Line
Dirty Dancing
Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights
Happy Feet
Save the Last Dance
Shall We Dance
Staying Alive
Step Up
Step Up 2: The Streets
Stomp the Yard
Strictly Ballroom
Take the Lead
That’s the Way I Like It
White Nights


– 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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