NYFF: Daily Reviews

Daily updates from the Festival

 The 49th annual New York Film Festival is in full swing at Lincoln Center and continues through October 16. Here's where you can find ongoing coverage of the fest from our writers on the scene. Come back often!

Mott the Who? Doc Makes Case for Band You Should Love By Peter Gerstenzang

As far as most Americans are concerned, Mott The Hoople’s reign as Glam Rock kings was like a meteor shower: radiant, thrilling and very brief. These working class dudes from Hereford, England lit up the landscape in the late '60s and early '70s with Little Richard-style rock and roll, a lead singer who brayed like Dylan and a signature song, "All The Young Dudes," given to them by David Bowie. So: Most rock fans probably remember them as derivative, if they remember them at all.

If, however, you go to the Walter Reade Theatre tonight, you will be disabused of such superficial notions. Chris Hall and Mike Kerry’s documentary, The Ballad Of The Mott The Hoople, will set the record straight about this brilliant, poetic group and make it clear why some fans consider them the best rock and roll band of the early '70s, and not just another bunch of Mannish boys in makeup.

Fox Searchlight

Although the film, shot digitally, follows the familiar rock-doc pattern (lots of talking heads, then a cut to some concert footage), it more than compensates with wonderful anecdotes, "lost" clips and thrilling time capsule stills. Where else can you see a shot of Dame Bowie (on the cusp of fame) introduce the band he has just resurrected? Or see Clash guitarist, Mick Jones, eyes misting over, as he professes love for these mangy Motts? And for guitar geeks, there’s the lovely black-and-white photo of Mott frontman Ian Hunter playing a gonzo, Maltese Cross-shaped guitar.

One of the real mitzvahs this documentary performs is to restore the name Guy Stevens back to prominence. Pill popper, right head case, ex-con and, oh yeah, the guy who discovered and produced this band, Stevens was “an acquired taste as a producer,” says Hunter, with cheeky understatement. But he’s also lionized as the bloke who “threw chairs against the wall,” when a session needed a boost. A wonderful whack job, who once set a studio on fire to get the right ambience, Stevens is a remnant of those crazy days of rock, when anything went and the record company, reluctantly, footed the bills.

Clash guitarist, Jones, all sincere smiles and disintegrating English teeth, can’t say enough about the band for whom he and other fans, uh, "appropriated" cars, to get to far-off gigs. After a show, says Jones, Mott “would come to the bar and ask about you. They never acted the bigheaded stars. Although they were stars.”

Cinematically-speaking, Ballad gets the job done, but not much more: The band struggles to get known, nearly falls apart, hits it big with “All The Young Dudes,” does the star trip for a while and breaks up. Unlike, say, The Filth And The Fury, the Sex Pistols doc that took all the rules and threw them under a bus, this one breaks no genre barriers.

You see Ballad for the music, and there is plenty of it. “Roll Away The Stone,” “All The Way To Memphis,” “Ballad Of Mott The Hoople”— all ring out loudly throughout the film, to remind us of, or introduce us to, that potent blend of Dylanesque lyricism, Stones-y raunch and a startling sense of mortality that always lurked in Mott’s music, just beneath Hunter’s stray cat yowl.

The Ballad Of Mott The Hoople plays tonight at the New York Film Festival.

Put on Your Glasses: Bodies in Motion in Pina

Pina brought 3D to the New York Film Festival on Thursday—and a respite from somber drama. Wim Wenders’s documentary on the work of famed German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch (who died in 2009, while collaborating with Wenders) is a glasses-required celebration of bodies in expressive motion.

By not offering any background on Bausch or on the creation and prior productions of her pieces, Wenders’s film—largely comprised of new stagings by Bausch’s Tanztheater Wuppertal ensemble—can occasionally be a context-free patience-tester. Still, as with his Buena Vista Social Club, Wenders exhibits deep respect for the artists he’s documenting, shooting with gliding gracefulness and editing with a deft eye toward heightening (rather than interrupting) momentum and mood.

The camera approaching and retreating from its lithe subjects with profound concentration, the film’s aesthetics are always evocatively attuned to its performances, highlighted by a beautifully cyclical segment of “Café Müller” involving a roundelay of kissing, carrying, falling and embracing. Issues of love, loss, joy, pain and identity permeate Pina’s myriad sequences, which are complemented by occasional archival clips of Bausch herself and brief comments from troupe members (presented over silent shots of their faces) that are unanimously reverential, if less than revealing.

As always, the 3D eventually wears out its welcome, though it affords an increased field of depth that enhances the immersive beauty of Wenders’s portrait of abstract artistry, which—as with performances set on urban street corners and in rivers—posits the emotions of Bausch’s work as part of life’s everyday fabric.

--Nick Schager
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