With Covid protocols still in place, the 60th anniversary edition of the New York Film Festival kicked off a fortnight of documentaries and narrative films from over 18 countries, shorts, talks and more in September and October. Here is our quick take on films we saw and ones we’re looking forward to watching in the coming weeks and months.
Personality Crisis: One Night Only
Born in Staten Island, New York native David Johansen, arguably the owner of the best pompadour in the biz, is the subject of the new documentary/concert film Personality Crisis: One Night Only, directed by Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi. For the uninitiated who may only know Johansen from the SNL house band or the hit “Hot Hot Hot” (“the bane of my existence”), he rose to prominence in the 70s as the long-haired, very skinny front man for the short-lived but seminal proto-punk band The New York Dolls. That the framework for the film was his residency at Café Carlyle (January 9th 2020, Johansen’s birthday – still skinny and looking sharp in shades and a two-piece suit) might then seem strange, but such are the wild turns Johansen’s life has taken in the near-50 years since the Dolls came on the scene.
The artist's show at the Carlyle, as filmed by Scorsese, was the David Johansen Songbook, including songs that he wrote from before the Dolls up to the modern era. Performed by Johansen's alter ego Buster Poindexter, the concert was truly unique.
The film is fleshed out by interviews conducted by Johansen’s daughter and really fun, fascinating clips of old television interviews and Dolls performances. It’s hilarious and kind of hard to fathom that, as their super fan Morrissey (yes, that Morrissey, who was the president of their UK fan club) once described them - dressing “like prostitutes” - they made it onto American Bandstand of all places. These were, after all, men who wore make up and sought out womens’ clothing. And, as Johansen recounted on Conan O’Brien’s 90s show, the band had an early gig in the UK, where they didn’t know the power of many Newcastle Ales and proceeded to throw up all over their instruments on stage.
“It was the moment punk was born,” Johansen quipped.
It’s the songs of Buster Poindexter, his alter ego, that he performed at the Carlyle, but less the late 80s goofy incarnation and more jazz bandleader and troubadour. As a fan of music documentaries and learning about artists who have only registered minutely on my radar, Personality Crisis is a touch too long (Scorsese and Tedeschi could have cut a couple of numbers), but thoroughly entertaining, even as Johansen, the last living Doll, reveals only so much about himself.
Personality Crisis: One Night Only is available now on Paramount Express.
If you take away only one thing from seeing She Said, the fact-based, fictional retelling of how the New York Times helped to take down movie producer Harvey Weinstein, it’s this: Ashley Judd is a badass! If not for the actress going on the record with her story of Weinstein sexually harassing her – the first person brave enough to publicly speak out against him to the NYT – who knows if Weinstein, now a convicted sex offender, would be in prison five years later? And even more importantly, would 22 states and D.C. have passed more than 70 workplace anti-harassment bills since the #MeToo went viral (as per the National Women’s Law Center)?
The movie is based on the 2019 book of the same name by journalists Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) and Meghan Twohey (Carey Mulligan). Directed by Maria Schrader, She Said opens on a young woman on an Irish film crew in 1992, followed by a scene in which she, looking distraught, runs down a cobblestone London street (the ever brilliant Jennifer Ehle plays her as an adult). It then jumps to 2016, with a pregnant Twohey covering the sexual assault allegations made against Trump, a story that led to at least one random caller threatening her. Eventually, she and Kantor join forces as the paper decides to look at why sexual harassment is so hard to prove. It’s actress Rose McGowan who shifts their focus to Weinstein with her allegation that he raped her and that there are others. The movie is solid, boots on the ground investigative journalism that will no doubt remind viewers of All The President’s Men.
Judd plays herself in two scenes and it’s genuinely cathartic when she agrees to go public, a pivotal moment after months of Kantor and Twohey conducting interviews across multiple continents with accusers who decades later, are still too afraid to put their names into the story, let alone come forward at all. It’s also a relief from the claustrophobia and mounting tension Schrader effectively creates, and the anxiety I experienced watching as the fearless reporters pushed back against cover ups, powerlessness and violence that Weinstein, Miramax and the industry allowed to fester for decades.
With a coda of sorts at the end, it’s both heartbreaking and inspiring to know what the countless women have been through and that some of them are at last finding their voices. A special mention for Samantha Morton, who has a blistering, mesmerizing cameo as one of the grown women who had tried unsuccessfully to have Weinstein held accountable years before. Kantor and Twohey’s reporting deservedly received the Pulitzer for journalism.
She Said is available in theatres November 18th.
New York Film Festival 60: Honeysuckle's Hot List
We didn’t get to see everything at the festival, but here are some of the movies – a number of which you can see in theatres now - that critics and audiences will be talking about this Fall and Winter.
Noah Baumbach’s latest, an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 1985 novel, opened the festival and will be released in theatres November 25th. (Stars: Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle.)
Stars at Noon
Claire Denis goes the thriller route in modern-day Nicaragua in Stars at Noon, based on a novel by Denis Johnson. Now available on Hulu. (Stars: Margaret Qualley, Joe Alwyn.)
James Gray’s semi-autobiographical Armageddon Time follows a Jewish family in Queens, NY circa 1980. Now available in theatres. (Stars: Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Anthony Hopkins.)
Decision to Leave
Park Chan-wook picked up a Best Director Award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his Korean and Chinese-language tale of obsession, Decision to Leave. Now available in theatres. (Stars: Tang Wei, Park Hae-ii.)
All That Breathes
Winning the Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and the l’Oeil d’Or for best documentary at Cannes, Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes looks at two brothers who try to save a species of bird vital to the New Delhi ecosystem. Now available in theatres.
Triangle of Sadness
Satirical Swedish hijinks ensue in two-time Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund’s Triangle of Sadness, a black comedy about influencers, the uber-rich, and disaster. Now available in theatres. (Stars: Harris Dickinson, Charlbi Dean, Woody Harrelson.)
For her debut feature Aftersun, which follows a young girl's life-changing vacation with her father, Scottish director Charlotte Wells earned the French Touch Prize of the Jury at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Now available in theatres. (Stars: Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio.)
Carla Simón explores a Catalonian family in Alcarràs, which was awarded the Golden Bear at the 72nd Berlinale Festival (a MUBI release). The film was selected as Spain's entry for Best International Feature Film at the 95th Academy Awards. (Stars: Jordi Pujol Dolcet, Anna Otin.)
Elegance Bratton turns the lens on his own past as a gay man in Marine Corps basic training in The Inspection. Available in theatres November 18th. (Stars: Gabrielle Union, Jeremy Pope, Bokeem Woodbine.)
Love Elegance Bratton? Check out our interview with the filmmaker on his documentary PIER KIDS!
For more on the New York Film Festival, visit filmlinc.org/nyff2022.
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Featured image: Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey, left, and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor, right, working to expose Harvey Weinstein in Maria Schrader's SHE SAID. Courtesy of New York Film Festival / Film at Lincoln Center.