Music, slapstick, art, & fascism: Saturday at the Mill Valley Film Festival

I saw four films Saturday at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and I never stepped a foot in Mill Valley. I saw all four in the small, upstairs auditoriums at the Rafael. The first was a narrative; the rest were documentaries.

B- The Independents

The music is pretty good, but not exceptional. The same could be said for the comedy. A real trio named The Sweet Remains play a fictionalized version of themselves in this musical road comedy – written and directed by the group’s Greg Naughton. It’s about three young men putting aside adult responsibilities in the hope of musical stardom. You’ll probably enjoy the movie, but really, there are better films around.

After the screening, Naughton and his band/actors did a Q&A. Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • I think of it as a fable of sorts.
  • I was wondering if we should hire actors and fake the music. We weren’t sure if we could do the acting.
  • We recently celebrated our tenth year making music together. We’re working on our fourth studio album.

After the Q&A, they screened a deleted sequence, which was funnier than anything they left in the film.

This was the first and only Mill Valley Film Festival screening of The Independents.

B+ The Great Buster: A Celebration

I’m giving this film a relatively high B+ for one simple reason: It contains some of the funniest visual gags ever recorded on film. But they’re all clips from the great slapstick master’s own movies. If you recently discovered the joys of Buster Keaton, this biographical documentary will help you learn who he really was. But if you want an introduction to his work, you’re better off seeing the original films. And if you, like me, have loved Keaton for years, Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary has little new to add.

There was no Q&A after the film.

You might have one more chance to see this movie in the Festival. It plays today (Sunday), at the Rafael, at 5:00. The screening is sold out, but there may be rush tickets. But don’t despair, the documentary will open in Bay Area theaters next month.

B Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind the Bunny

This documentary on commercial artist Art Paul blasts you with lively, exciting visuals. How could it not? As Playboy’s first and long-time art director, Paul designed the bunny logo, created daring pages (not the foldouts), and helped lead the cultural revolution that the magazine ignited. And when he left Playboy in 1982, he continued taking art jobs just for the fun of it. But I wish the documentary had gone deeper into his work methods, and more closely examined Playboy’s history of sexual exploitation.

Some highlights, edited for clarity and brevity, from the Q&A with director Jennifer Hou Kwong and executive producer Ellis Goodman:

  • When I met him, I thought he was such a lovely man. I initially knew nothing about him.
  • Art saved everything he drew. I was pleasantly surprised about how much we had.
  • It was very expensive to create those graphics, but Playboy was able to spend the money.
  • We got Hugh Hefner’s last interview. He couldn’t walk by himself, but his mind was still clear.

You have one more chance to see this documentary at the Festival: Tuesday, October 9, 12:00, at the Sequoia.

A- The Silence of Others

Spain became a democracy when Franco died in 1975…but one without justice. An amnesty law blocked the ability to prosecute crimes against humanity. The result is a country that knows little about its horrible past. This epic and yet intimate documentary follows several survivors who lost parents and children, along with those who were tortured, in their quest to put the worst kind of criminals on trial. A sad but hopeful film about a horrible time that is in danger of being forgotten.

There was no Q&A, and this was the last Mill Valley Film Festival screening of The Silence of Others.

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