Are you having enough chances to see documentaries? I myself in the past couple of weeks missed my chances at Fuel and The Way We Get By, the latest environmental and Iraq War documentaries respectively. I expect I won’t miss my chance this week at This Is It, more than just the latest pop music documentary, Michael Jackson “like you’ve never seen him before,” presumably meaning skeletal. In between, I haven’t been wanting.
Good Hair features bad camerawork, no worse than the documentary norm these days, rough, shaky, often out of position, but the film is nevertheless an engrossing and entertaining investigation of the “problem” of African-American hair, the size of which problem may hitherto have eluded you. Our on-screen investigator is a bemused, amused, nonjudgmental, and generally dialled-down Chris Rock, father himself of two young girls, one of whom posed the instigating question, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” Two main solutions to the problem are gone into in depth or anyhow at length. The first is the relaxer, a/k/a a “nap antidote,” a/k/a the “creamy crack,” whose key ingredient, sodium hydroxide, is demonstrated in a laboratory to eat through a soda can in a matter of hours. This substance is put with full consent on people’s heads: “Nappy is not bad, it’s just nappy.” The second solution is the weave, the latest innovation evidently in what used to be called a fall (the solution of the whole-hog wig gets ignored altogether), which produces the stunning statistic that twelve percent of the American population, the black percent, buys up eighty percent of the hair, most of it the harvest of tonsure ceremonies in temples in India.
In one insufficiently funny episode, Rock makes like Michael Moore and attempts tongue-in-cheek to peddle a bagful of African-American hair on the open market; and director Jeff Stilson allots too much time to the Bronner Brothers semi-annual hair show in Atlanta, tying the climax of the film to the tawdry competitive climax of the hair show, a marching band, gyrating models, gymnastic and aquatic haircutting. With a little time saved from that, or a little extra time in addition to that, the film might have accommodated a couple of silently beckoning topics, a retrospective, for one, on the Black Is Beautiful movement of the Sixties (whatever became of that?), and for another, just for contrast, a fashion show of au courant “natural” hairstyles. Among the talking heads on parade (Al Sharpton, Ice-T, Maya Angelou, Nia Long, Meagan Good, Raven-Symoné, many more) is noteworthily the author A’Lelia Bundles, who could well serve as poster girl for a natural solution. There must be others like her.
More Than a Game is less than a movie, a rah-rah sports story of ordinary but not extraordinary interest, just about adequate to fill up two hours of Sunday-afternoon television while waiting for the NBA season to tip off. Through home video, TV broadcasts, and reminiscing talking heads, it traces the amateur career of LeBron James and his membership since the fifth grade in a basketball brotherhood dubbed the Fab Four, expanded to the Fab Five in his senior year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in his native Akron, Ohio. The chronicle has its share of up-close-and-personal poignance to go along with its share of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, with matching music in each instance. (The hand-me-down terminology in that sentence is solely to suggest the hand-me-down template copied by the film.) Director Kristopher Belman’s slick manipulation of the material can sometimes fall under suspicion. Was James’s disappointing junior year, after his coronation as “The Chosen One” on the cover of Sports Illustrated, really the only time he could be caught posing, posturing, and playing to the crowd? Doubtful, since he can still be caught doing it today for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some of the footage is so out of focus as to be all but unwatchable, and the switching back and forth between that sort of footage and crisper, more watchable footage can knock you woozy.
The Beaches of Agnes makes its appeal to a smaller audience, film aficionados with an affection for the one-time New Waver, Agnes Varda, now a gnomish octogenarian: “I’m playing the role of a little old lady, pleasantly plump and talkative.” She travels the entire length of Memory Lane (a block or two of which she has travelled in her previous documentaries, the Rue Daguerre in Daguerreotypes, for instance), revisiting the locales of her childhood, digging up black-and-white photos of her little self in a swimsuit, in addition to the locales of her films, digging up abundant clips from them, including a rarity of the very young and skinny Gerard Depardieu as a bearded beatnik. Self-indulgent, self-affectionate, informal, playful, sometimes silly, sometimes painful (the death by AIDS of her husband and fellow New Waver, Jacques Demy), the film constitutes a true test of your affection. Cleo from 5 to 7, for anyone who has seen it, ought to be enough to pull you through, even to leave you hungry for more. In the nature of things, no one who will be interested in this subject matter is liable to be traumatized by the gratuitous sight of an anonymous erect penis. No further warning required.
Pre-Halloween treat: the Reading Gaslamp and Town Square theaters are bringing back to the big screen for one showing only, Friday at eight, Hitchcock’s The Birds. Cause to crow.