Monday, February 17, 2014

Movie: Charles Lloyd: Arrows into Infinity

Charles Lloyd: Arrows Into Infinity:  a documentary tribute to a great musician.    If you are a Charles Lloyd fan, you should see this film.    The approximate two hour film traces Lloyd’s career from the late 1950’s through a performance in 2011.  The movie splices commentary from a number of individuals such as Herbie Hancock, Robbie Robertson and Stanley Crouch with Lloyd’s music.  The movie could have been edited better, however, due to the music, I didn’t mind.  The movie was co-directed by Jeffrey Morse and Dorothy Darr, Lloyd’s wife of 40 years.  Lloyd, who is now 75 years old, was born in Memphis in March 1938.  Although the movie references his place of birth, the film is more a celebration of his music.  The film hints at some of the negatives that occurred during Lloyd’s life (drugs) but skips over why he disappeared from the music scene for more than 15 years (there were no Lloyd recordings in the 1980’s).  If you are under 40, you probably haven’t heard of Charles Lloyd, who became famous as a jazz crossover playing the Fillmore and Monterey in the 60’s and 70’s.  Historical tidbit: as a result of Lloyd’s non-government sanctioned performance in Russia in 1967, Russia literally banned the saxophone from the country for a period of time and the private promoters who had sponsored Lloyd’s Russian performance ended up with a stay in Siberia.  Arrows Into Infinity was shown at the Doris Duke Theatre as part of the African American Film Festival.  I don’t know if the DVD is available or if any other venue will present this film.  It has been shown at a number of film festivals but does not appear to have had a general theatre release.  The film shown at Doris Duke was not of the best technical quality.  But I was there for the music and sufficient performance sequences were on screen to please this viewer. 

Movie: The Monuments Men

The Monuments Men: soldiers saving art.  The movie is based upon a true story.  During the war, Hitler plundered Europe’s art collections and planned to build a museum to house his stolen treasures.  However, when the war turned against him, Hitler issued a decree to have  the art destroyed.  A small group was formed to save the art work from destruction.  The actual unit was a joint effort among a coalition of British and American military men.   At the end of the war, this Monuments Unit consisted of approximately 66 men.  The Unit continued to operate through 1951 but remained small, approximately 350 individuals.  The first part of the movie tells how the Unit was assembled.  It then goes on to describe the Unit’s efforts during WW II,  which were remarkably successful given the limited number of individuals involved.  The movie focuses on eight of the individuals, all of whom are played by high profile actors.  George Clooney, in the lead, plays an individual named Frank Stokes in the movie but clearly represents George Leslie Stout.  Clooney also co-wrote and directed this 159 minute film.  The script is based upon a book by Robert Edsel and Bret Witter, which is quite readable and provides a lot more detail as to what occurred.  Despite the seriousness of the subject, there is a lightness to the film:  the war is a backdrop to explaining the importance of art to civilization.  With John Goodman and Bill Murray among the prominent characters, it should not have come as any surprise that there was as much humor as there was, the seriousness of the subject notwithstanding.  The manner by which each member joins the Unit is also presented with humor.  By their facial expressions alone, both Murray and Goodman can bring a smile to the viewer.  The interaction between Murray and Bob Balaban is particularly funny.  Due to the international affiliations of the Monuments Unit, the casting of Hugh Bonneville from “ Downton Abbey” and Jean Dujardin from “The Artist” was appropriate.  Part of the Unit’s success was due to information provided by a French female art curator who had monitored the looting of the French Museum.  This character is played by Cate Blanchett.  Matt Damon also has a prominent role.  If you want to learn what really happened with respect to the Monuments Men, those individuals who served in the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives unit of the American and British military, you should read the book.  The movie is enjoyable but touches only upon the depth of Hilter’s plan for the destruction of great art and the effort that was made to save the art from destruction.