DVD & Blu-ray

Review: Best

A mostly successful portrait of the Norther Irish footballer explores his explosive sporting highs and dark personal lows.

Hailing from Belfast, he crossed the Irish sea and was playing for Matt Busby‘s Manchester United by the age of 17.

Then began a dizzy spell of sumptuous football: an FA Cup win for the club in 1963, two First Division titles in 1965 and 1967 either side of a famous performance in 1966 away to Lisbon’s Benfica, and then a dramatic European Cup win in 1968, again against the aforementioned Portuguese powerhouse.

Ironically, this win marked a gradual decline for both club and player as United did not win a league title for another 25 years and would only regain the European Cup in 1999.

As for Best, he would endure a shattering descent into depression and alcoholism, with parts of the British press painting him into a corner as a celebrity party animal.

He later said: “The whole thing became a total nightmare”

Although director Daniel Gordon adopts a mostly chronological approach, he doesn’t shy away from the pain of his private life that continued to dog him as he became a wandering footballer for hire in the USA and around the world during the 1970s and 80s.

Among a raft of smoothly edited archive footage, there are some key interviews woven throughout: a sad lament from close United teammate Paddy Crerand, plus testimony from former wives Angie and Alex, who reveal the tumult of living with Best.

The film doesn’t really go far enough in exploring the full extent of the physical and mental abuse he reportedly inflicted on them, but still deserves praise for getting them in front of the camera to broach the subject.

At the time of his death in 2005, Best was a forlorn figure who had undergone a liver transplant and yet still continued to drink.

One might have thought there was not much more to say about George Best. But for veteran observers or newcomers to his life and career, this is a solid place to start.

> Find out more about George Best at Wikipedia
> Buy the film on DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon UK

Documentaries Lists News

Sight & Sound’s Greatest Documentaries List

Sight and Sound Doc Poll

Sight and Sound have recently released the results of a poll of critics and filmmakers to find the greatest documentaries of all time.

The Critics’ Top 10 documentaries are:

1. Man with a Movie Camera, dir. Dziga Vertov (USSR 1929)

2. Shoah, dir. Claude Lanzmann (France 1985)

3. Sans soleil, dir. Chris Marker (France 1982)

4. Night and Fog, dir. Alain Resnais (France 1955)

5. The Thin Blue Line, dir. Errol Morris (USA 1989)

6. Chronicle of a Summer, dir. Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin (France 1961)

7. Nanook of the North, dir. Robert Flaherty (USA 1922)

8. The Gleaners and I, dir. Agnès Varda (France 2000)

9. Dont Look Back, dir. D.A. Pennebaker (USA 1967)

10. Grey Gardens, dir. Albert and David Maysles, Ellen Hovde and Muffie Meyer (USA 1975)

The poll report is released in the September edition of Sight & Sound published today, Friday 1st August.

The full lists of all the votes received and films nominated will be available online from 14th August.

You can join in the debate at Twitter using the hashtag #BestDocsEver.

> Sight and Sound
> More on documentary film at Wikipedia


DVD: My Voyage to Italy

Martin Scorsese’s classic 1999 documentary on Italian cinema gets a welcome release on DVD this month.

In addition to being one of the great directors of his generation, Scorsese has long been a passionate advocate for cinema itself by making documentaries and helping create the World Cinema Foundation.

In 1995 he made the four hour A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies, which examined key films up to 1969, focusing on directors such as D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Nicholas Ray and Stanley Kubrick.

Four years later he took a similar journey into the heart of Italian cinema and explored the films which had such an effect on him and his relatives growing up in New York.

Scorsese was born to parents who both worked in the Garment district and his father’s parents had emigrated from the province of Palermo in Sicily.

As a boy his parents and older brother would take him to the movies but he would also catch Italian films of the post-war era on the emerging medium of television.

In those days television was still in its infancy and the fledgling stations needed programming which they often filled with Italian movies.

As sets were quite rare, relatives and friends would gather round to watch films in his family apartment in 253 Elizabeth Street.

It was whilst watching movies dealing with the pain of post-war Italy that Scorsese saw his grandparents (who hardly spoke English) powerfully affected by what was on screen.

In that was born a desire to see more Italian cinema and this four hour documentary charts the landmark films and directors of that era, including Vittorio de Sica, Luchino Visconti, Federico Fellini, Roberto Rosselini and Michelangelo Antonioni.

Scorsese introduces various segments and through judicious use of clips and an informed, eloquent voiceover takes us on a journey of the following films:

Given his wealth of knowledge and infectious passion, just watching this DVD is like attending a the best film class you never had and it’s worth remembering that after attending NYU, Scorsese remained there as a teaching assistant and eventually a professor of Film.

Incidentally, amongst his students at this time was a young Oliver Stone, who may have been an influence on the central character of Taxi Driver (1976).

He knows what he’s talking about and gives precise, eloquent descriptions of each movie, using his years of experience in front of a screen as well as behind the camera.

Part of what makes My Voyage to Italy so special is that Scorsese brings the same passion and intelligence to describing these films as to those he has made.

Unlike some directors, he’s always retained his enthusiasm as a viewer which triggered his desire to make films.

There are numerous astute observations laced throughout, including:

  • How Rome, Open City (1945) essentially led to the birth of Italian neo-realism
  • The impact of L’Amore (1948) on US cinema after it led to a key Supreme Court decision which stated film was a form of artistic expression protected by the First Amendment
  • The influence of Chaplin on Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952)
  • How a complex shot of a controversial battle in Luscio Visconti’s Senso (1954) led to the studio burning the negative elements of those scenes
  • How the term ‘paparazzi‘ became a popular term after the name of a character in La Dolce Vita (1960)
  • The slow burn appeal of Journey to Italy (1954) and how it was championed by French New Wave directors such as Godard and Truffaut.
  • The elliptical appeal of L’avventura (1960) and Antonioni’s precise use of the frame
  • The dream-like appeal of Fellini’s (1963) which is like a ‘visual stream of consciousness that keeps the audience in a constant state of surprise’ and how it is the ‘purest expression of love for the cinema’ that Scorsese knows of.

These films might seem to some like ancient cinematic history, but their treatment of social issues have a new relevance in the current recession as people struggle with harsh economic conditions.

Modern versions of the young boy in Germany, Year Zero, the father and son in Bicycle Thieves and the lonely old man in Umberto D can probably be found in any modern city just some of the characters struggling to survive in a cruel world.

But most of all this is 246 minutes of one of the great US directors imparting his passion about some of the most important films of the 20th century.

If you care about the medium, then it is an essential purchase.

My Voyage to Italy is released on DVD by Mr Bongo Films on September 26th

> Buy My Voyage to Italy on DVD from Amazon UK
> Find out more about Italian neo-realism at Green Cine
> Martin Scorsese at Wikipedia
> Scorsese talking about the documentary on Charlie Rose in 1999

Cinema Documentaries Reviews Thoughts


Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and career of Ayrton Senna is a riveting portrait of the F1 driver.

Using only archive footage alongside voiceover contributions from those who knew and wrote about him, it constructs a compelling story of a sporting icon.

Beginning with his early career in Europe, it charts his rapid ascent to Formula One where he joined the McLaren team in the late 1980s and quickly established himself as a precocious rival to reigning world champion Alain Prost.

Exploring his extraordinary feats on the track and the joy his three world titles brought to his native Brazil, it then covers his tragic early death at the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994.

With judicious use of archive footage, which really comes alive on the big screen, it also covers the murkier politics off the track with former FIA boss Jean-Marie Balestre coming across as another rival to be beaten.

Although this will be devoured by motor racing fans, it also works as a fascinating introduction for those who know little or nothing about Senna and his impact on the sport.

Part of what makes it so exciting is his life story, which whilst not a rags-to-riches tale (he was from a wealthy Brazilian family), feels like the subject of an epic novel filled with memorable touches.

His iconic yellow helmet, loving and devoted parents, faith in God, millions he donated to charity, glamorous girlfriends and the driving skills which established him as one of the greatest racing drivers of all time are just some of the rich details which make up the story.

The film contains many of his greatest moments: his amazing F1 debut at Monaco in 1984; his victory at the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix to clinch his first world title and his electrifying win at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 1991.

Assembled from hours of footage from various broadcasters and the F1 archives, the editing is frequently inspired, providing an unusual level of excitement for a documentary.

At one point we see some especially prophetic comments from Prost (“Ayrton Senna has a small problem, he thinks he can’t kill himself because he believes in God and I think that is very dangerous for other drivers”) as well as footage from family home videos.

Some of the internal F1 videos of driver meetings are an eye-opening glimpse into the world of a dangerous sport and Senna’s pleas for more safety add to the tragic irony of his untimely demise.

There are also astute voiceover contributions from journalist Richard Williams, F1 doctor Sid Watkins and racing commentators Galvão Bueno and John Bisignano which explain and illuminate his impact on the sport and his home country.

For director Asif Kapadia this marks a change from his previous feature films (such as The Warrior and Far North) but he seems to have a natural feel for the drama of real life and of the intense highs which sport can deliver to both participants and fans.

A subtle but atmospheric use of music augments the film nicely and the use of internal F1 footage of the drivers observing the horrific accidents during that fateful weekend in 1994 brings a new perspective to what would be a turning point the sport as a whole, as major safety changes were brought in following the crash that killed Senna and Roland Ratzenberger.

Although the exact cause of Senna’s crash at Imola still remains a mystery, it seems an unlikely confluence of events was ultimately to blame: the new rules imposed on the Williams car that season, an engineering fault, a previous crash at the start of the race and bad luck in how the car actually crashed on impact.

On paper this might sound like a film just for devoted F1 fans, but perhaps its greatest achievement lies in how it not only makes the races truly thrilling but finds universality in the details of a sportsman’s life.

After scoring major buzz at Sundance earlier this year, Universal and Working Title will be quietly confident that it finds a deserving audience hungry for engaging factual entertainment.

With the summer movie season fuelled by comic book fantasy, Senna provides a welcome injection of real-life drama and excitement.

> Official site
> Find out more about Ayrton Senna at Wikipedia
> Follow Asif Kapadia on Twitter
> Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter

Awards Season Documentaries

Best Documentary Short list Announced

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have announced the 15 films which will compete for the Documentary Feature category at this year’s Oscars.

The Documentary branch of the academy viewed all the eligible documentaries for the preliminary round of voting and members will now select the five nominees from among the 15 titles below.

The films are listed in alphabetical order by title, along with their director and production company:

The major omissions would appear to be Tabloid (Dir. Errol Morris), Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Dir. Werner Herzog) and Last Train Home (Dir. Lixin Fan).

The nominations are announced live on Tuesday, 25th January and the Oscars themselves follow on Sunday 27th February at the Kodak Theatre.

> Official site for the Oscars
> Previous winners for Best Documentary at Wikipedia

Cinema Interviews Podcast

Interview: Craig McCall on Cameraman – The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is a new documentary from director Craig McCall that explores the career of one of Britain’s most famous cinematographers.

With a career that spanned the development of cinema, taking in silent film and the advent of Technicolor he worked with luminaries such as Michael Powell, John Huston, Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.

On films such as A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948) and The African Queen (1951) he established himself as a world class talent and in 2001 he became the first cinematographer to receive an honorary, Lifetime Achievement Oscar® for:

“Exceptional contributions to the state of motion picture arts and sciences; and for outstanding services to the Academy.”

Director Craig McCall has been working on this documentary for several years, interviewing Jack himself (who passed away last year) and various admirers including Martin ScorseseThelma SchoonmakerKathleen ByronKim HunterMoira ShearerJohn MillsLauren BacallCharlton Heston and Kirk Douglas.

I spoke with Craig recently about the film and you can listen to the interview here:


You can also download this interview as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff is out now in the UK and will be screening at the following cinemas:

  • Aldeburgh | Aldeburgh Cinema: Wednesday, 16 & Thursday, 17 June 2010
  • Bath | Little Theatre: Monday, 13 & Tuesday, 14 September 2010
  • Belfast | Queen’s Film Theatre: Tuesday, 8 June 2010
  • Cardiff | Chapter: Monday, 14 June & Thursday, 17 June 2010
  • Dartington | Barn: Tuesday, 13 July 2010
  • Derby | QUAD: Sunday, 27 June & Thursday, 1 July 2010
  • Dundee | DCA: Sunday, 4 & Monday, 5 July 2010
  • Glasgow | Film Theatre: Sunday, 6 & Monday, 7 June 2010
  • LondonRiverside Studios: Sunday, 25 July 2010
  • Sheffield | Showroom: Tuesday, 29 June – Thursday, 1 July 2010

The film will be released on DVD on July 19th from Optimum and you can pre-order it from Amazon here.

You can also subscribe to our interview podcast via iTunes or RSS feed and if you have any questions just email me at [email protected]

Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Official site
> Buy Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff on DVD from Amazon UK
Search local cinema listings at Google Movies


Carts of Darkness

Murray Siple‘s feature-length documentary Carts of Darkness follows a group of homeless men who have combined bottle picking with the extreme sport

Watch the whole thing here:

> National Film Board of Canada’s site for the film
Official site for Murray Siple

Documentaries Interviews TV

Interview: Simon Tatum on The Last Freak Show

The Last Freak Show is a short documentary directed by Simon Tatum that airs on More4 this Tuesday.

It follows a musician named Jeffrey Marshall who was born without arms or legs, his feet growing almost directly from his hips.

Curious as to whether people come to his gigs for the music or to stare at a limbless man playing the bass guitar with his feet, he decided to explore his identity as a disabled performer by exhibiting himself in ‘The World of Wonders‘ – the last remaining ‘freak show’ in America.

It is run by Ward Hall, a veteran who was on the road with the likes of Schlitzie the Pinhead (made famous by Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks), Sealo the Seal Boy, Grace McDaniels: The Mule-Faced Woman, Percilla the Monkey Girl and countless others.

Today, along with his business partner Chris Christ and 77 year-old dwarf Pete ‘Poobah’ Turhurne, he runs the only surviving 10-in-1 freakshow in America, the World of Wonders.

I recently spoke with Simon about the film and you can listen to the interview here:


You can download this interview as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here

The Last Freak Show is on More4 this Tuesday at 8.30pm

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Check out Tuesday’s schedule for More4
> Discuss documentaries, shows and films at the More4 Forum
> The FourDocs section at Channel 4 and the other films showing in the First Cut strand
> The film recently screened at the Chashama Film Festival in the US
> See Jeffery Marshall play with his band Supercool and check them out at MySpace
> New York Times article from 2006 on Ward Hall and The World of Wonders show
> Find out more about the 1932 film ‘Freaks’ at Wikipedia

Documentaries DVD & Blu-ray

DVD Pick: Taxi to the Dark Side

Taxi to the Dark Side is a riveting and deeply disturbing exploration of the Bush administration’s policy on torture and interrogation.

It focuses on the controversial death in custody of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who in 2002 was beaten to death by US soldiers at the Bagram Air Base.

Directed by Alex Gibney (who made the 2005 documentary Enron: The Samrtest Guys in the Room) it examines in clinical detail the events surrounding Dilawar’s death, featuring interviews with the troops who caused it and contributions from many figures involved in the story.

The film is meticulous in examining the evidence and explores how the court-martialed soldiers involved were acting upon ambiguous policies that tacitly encouraged torture.

It also makes the connection between the detention tactics used at Bagram and those at Abu Ghraib.

Gibney interviewed a highly impressive array of contributors including: Carlotta Gall and Tim Golden (the New York Times journalists who helped uncover the story); Alberto J Mora (retired General Counsel of the U.S. Navy); Lawrence Wilkerson (formewr chief of staff to Colin Powell); Jack Cloonan (former FBI special agent) and Clive Stafford Smith (a lawyer who respresents detainees at Guantanamo Bay).

Back in February the film deservedly won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and is one of the most important to be released in the last five years.

Revolver have done a fine job with the UK DVD, with over 70 minutes of extra footage including:

  • Commentary: Director Alex Gibney which goes into more detail about the film and the choices he made dring the production and edit.
  • Interview with Frank Gibney: The director’s father – who was himself a US Navy interrogator during World War 2 – speaks about his experiences questioning Japanese POW’s and his anger at the current US policies.
  • Outtakes: Some of the sequences which didn’t make the final cut are very interesting, including: a sequence about a SERE school (a US ‘survival’ boot camp) who supplied methods to the US army at Guantanamo Bay; a more detailed sequence involving Tony Lagouranis highlighting the absurdity of interrogating suspects in Iraq who were innocent and Carlotta Gaul talking about Dilawar’s family and village; a sequence about a website selling a restraint chair that was used to break a hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay; Clive Stafford Smith discussing his client Binyam Mohammed who was tortured in horrific ways; former US president Jimmy Carter discussing the ‘gross, unprecedented violation’ of US principles that the Bush adminstration has engaged in.
  • Alex Gibney Interviews: There are three interviews with the director on PBS Now, Link TV with Robert Scheer (editor of Truthdig) and Democracy Now (where he discusses the Discovery Channel‘s shameful decision not screen the film).

This is the trailer:

This is an interview Alex Gibney did with CBC earlier this year where he discusses the film:

Check out this longer interview David Poland did with Alex Gibney a few months back in which they discuss the film and various related issues:

Taxi to the Dark Side is out now on DVD from Revolver Entertainment

> Official UK site for Taxi to the Darkside (you can pre-order the DVD via Amazon UK)
> Taxi to the Dark Side at the IMDb
> Read other reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Watch Katie Couric of CBS News talk about the film
> Jig Saw Productions – Alex Gibney’s production company
> Listen to our recent podcast review of Taxi to the Dark Side
> If you are in or around London go and see see the film at the ICA
> Official site for the charity Reprieve

Cinema Documentaries

Trailer: Religulous

This is the first trailer for Religulous, the new documentary about religion with Bill Maher.

> Check out the official website for the film (which is very funny)
> Bill Maher discussing the film last year with Larry King on CNN
> IMDb entry for Religulous

Cinema Documentaries Interviews Podcast

Interview: Morgan Spurlock on Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

Morgan Spurlock explored the health effects of eating McDonald’s food for a month in his 2004 documentary Super-Size Me.

Now, after the success of his TV series 30 Days, he returns to the big screen with Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, a look at where the world’s most wanted terrorist might be and the different attitudes in the Middle East towards America’s war on terror.

Listen to the interview here:


Download it as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here

> Download this interview as an MP3
> Official site for the film
> Find out more about Morgan Spurlock at Wikipedia

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? is out at selected UK cinemas from Friday

[Photo: Daniel Marracino / Courtesy of Optimum Releasing / The Weinstein Company Ltd.]

Cinema Interviews Podcast

Interview: Stephen Morris on Joy Division

Joy Division is the new documentary about the Manchester band behind such seminal albums as Unknown Pleasures and Closer.

Formed in 1976 they consisted of Ian Curtis (vocals), Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals) and Stephen Morris (drums and percussion).

They remain one of the most enduring bands of the last 30 years and although their career was cut short by the tragic death of Curtis in 1980, the remaining members went on to form New Order.

Directed by Grant Gee, the documentary features interviews with all the surviving band members and explores the band’s history through never-before-seen live performance footage, personal photos, period films and newly discovered audio.

It also features contributions from the late Factory Records owner Tony Wilson, iconic Factory Records graphic artist Peter Saville, photographer/filmmaker Anton Corbijn, Belgian journalist Annik Honoré (speaking for the first time about her relationship with Ian Curtis) and many other connected with the band.

I recently spoke with the drummer Stephen Morris about the film, how it differs from Control (the biopic that came out last year) and the legacy of the band.

Listen to the interview here:


Download it as a podcast via iTunes by clicking here.

Joy Division opens at selected UK cinemas on Friday 2nd May

Check out the trailer here:

> Download this interview as an MP3
> Official site for the Joy Division film
> Find out more about Joy Division at Wikipedia

[Image courtesy of The Works / © Paul Slattery / Retna Ltd.]

DVD & Blu-ray Interviews Podcast

Interview: David Sington on In the Shadow of the Moon

One of the best documentaries to come out last year was In the Shadow of the Moon, which explores the Apollo space missions in the late 60s and early 70s.

Containing interviews with the surviving Apollo era astronauts, including Al Bean, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Charlie Duke, and Harrison Schmitt, it also contains previously unseen NASA footage from the time.

I spoke recently to director David Sington about the film and we discussed a number of things including who came up with the idea for the documentary, the legacy of the Apollo program and the reception the film in the US.

You can listen to the interview here:

Or here:


To download the interview as a podcast via iTunes just click the image below:

In the Shadow of the Moon is out on DVD on Monday 31st March

> Download this interview as an MP3 file
> Buy the DVD from Amazon UK
> The official site for In the Shadow of the Moon
> David Sington at the IMDb
> Find out more about the Apollo space missions at Wikipedia