54th Chicago Int’l Film Fest #10 & #16: “Friedkin Uncut” (Italy/USA) & “Great Buster” (USA)

“Friedkin Uncut” (Italy/USA)
Directed by Francesco Zippel

“Great Buster” (USA)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

6a00d83451cb7469e201b7c6fe1f47970b-600wiWhat a difference a director makes. As usual, the Fest featured more than a couple new documentaries illustrating and honoring the lives of some of film’s greatest creators, personalities and titans. The 54th was no exception with no less than four such films. I was able to screen two, Peter Bogdanovich’s dense examination in to the life of Buster Keaton and his films, and Francesco Zippel’s first directorial effort, a filmed monologue with the great director, “Friedkin Uncut”. And…well..therein lies the difference between the two. Now, there are mountains of knowledge, insight and surprise in both. In fact, anyone who loves film, or Buster Keaton, or anything Friedkin has ever directed, will be blown away by much of what they see and hear.

But one cannot ignore how much better a film…and watch…”The Great Buster” is. Yes, its subject is, by nature, far more entertaining. And, it has the advantage of looking back on a complete life. But he gifts us with a master class on his subject that is hilarious, empathetic and only occasionally verges on academia. He also stays away from a strict chronological look…at one point moving to the third act of Keaton’s life, before returning to its most notable second act. Best of all, Bogdanovich, who expertly voices his own film, knows that the SUBJECT is what gives us an emotional response, not a voice-over performance, and by speaking in a hushed monotone, he let’s the images and talking heads do the heavy-lifting.

About those talking heads. Aside from the usual historians, he includes the head of the Buster Keaton fan club, living relatives, well-known television and film comics, and most bizarrely, the creator of one of the sillier slapstick film franchises in history. I’ve seen several reviews take the director to task for adding this person’s comments, but I found it to be an amazing inclusion. In the context of Buster Keaton’s best stunts, it made for some interesting very contrasts and comparisons. It is this kind of modern awareness that makes the film so much more than a by-the-book bio-doc.

Not nearly as successful is “Friedkin Uncut”. The film is setup as an open discussion with Friedkin about his process and his films, but that’s not what it is. Like the terribly disatifying Grace Jones doc that came out earlier this year, “Bloodlight and Bami”, it’s quite evident that Mr. Friedkin had a HUGE say in what was included. As a result, we watch Friedkin receive award after award, talk as the all-knowing expert (even when his insights aren’t all that insightful), and, worst of all, listen to talking head after talking head do almost nothing but laud the director as the most important person in their professional lives. I’m not suggesting they are lying, but it sure feels more like a tribute reel for a random Lifetime Achievement Award than a frank look at the man’s work. What SAVES it (and elevates it about twenty stories above that Jones’ doc) is the behind the scenes looks at the makings of “The Exorcist”, “French Connection”. “To Live and Die in LA” and “Sorcerer”. This is where the “wow” lives and why I can easily recommend it in spite of its lengthy faults. But, truly, Zippel is so in awe of Friedkin, it would have been more accurate to title the film, “Friedkin Has Final Cut”.

So, let’s say you decide you’d like to watch these films…well, here’s the problem. To see “Friedkin Uncut” you’ll need to take part in a blockchain service/app called TATATU. I won’t pretend to know how it works (something about the more you watch the more premium content becomes available), but, alas, that’s where it will live. As for “The Great Buster”, the release of the film commemorates a major home video restoration of Keaton’s work that will eventually be released on the Cohen Media Amazon Channel (which I had never heard of until today, but hosts some amazing classics and film-based docs). So, my guess is it will eventually be released there. Wish I had better news, but keep your eyes open on those two outlets.

Written on 10/28/2018

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