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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

If you think Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is aimed only at children, think again. Audience conversations after showings of this film are studded with adults who are stunned by its relevance to their own lives right now in the present. It is a lovely biography of a man who years ago wanted to talk with children to help them discover who they really were in a world where the opinion of their peers often prevented exactly that. This documentary is a compelling study of Fred Rogers himself as well as a look at his influence on children. Add to that the relevance of his questions to all ages.

In 1967, Rogers found he could reach children through the new medium of television. He was not looking for TV success; he was looking at the new medium as a path to children in their young confusion in a way that would help them learn who they actually were inside, not who they were in relation to their peer groups. According to people who knew him and worked with him, Rogers was being his own self to a degree that made children talk openly. All who spoke here said he had not an ounce of wanting TV celebrity. He looked at his exposure only to the degree it helped him reach children. He reached them through 900 television shows.

The movie is filled with memorable scenes. A crippled young boy in a wheel chair in a visit with Rogers turns up years later as a confident adult, still wheelchair bound. He uses a film of Robert Kennedy’s assassination to answer one child’s question, “What is assassination?”
He doesn’t explain himself or his goals; he answers the questions that come from the children who trust him, and he uses deep concepts in simple words. Gently, he makes them understand they don’t have to do anything that troubles them to make people like them. How about that for all of us?

Silence is Rogers’ delight and as we watch him with children, we understand it was his way of reaching them. He stepped into their lives gently, and they began to talk. Their connection with each other is so unforced, so real, that many in the audience begin to translate Roger’s quiet wisdom into a lesson for themselves. He is a very different person from other TV personalities. He is so much himself, so real, that the audience absorbs his nature and comes out of the theater applying it to all ages.

The wide impact of this film may well be rooted in the anger that has rolled over our society right now, long after Fred Rogers’ death. Why is everyone so unable to let others believe what they want without wrapping it all in rage? Why are we so divided and so angry? Have we all become children again reacting so strongly to each other? This portrait of a fine man is a perfect message for its time.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Word Count: 494
Running Time: 1:34
Rating: PG-13
Date: July 15, 2018

Love, Cecil

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Love, Cecil

Love, Cecil presents Cecil Beaton, a human enigma who tried throughout his life to figure out who he was until the day he died. This man who achieved worldwide success on many levels never stopped trying to understand himself. During that lifelong search he designed clothes, sets, homes, wrote dozens of books, took thousands of photographs of his famous subjects and became a fashion legend. Director Lisa Vreeland has made a documentary that holds us to every detail.

His work marked an era when the fashion world was far different from what it is today. Whatever Beaton touched became wrapped in folds, flowers, and prints. Cluttered desks, patterned rugs, and intricate wallpapers sprang from his imagination. He created chaos and lived in it.

In a fun aside, he talks about Katherine Hepburn. He saw her as a blank canvas for his work while she refused even to think about being decorated. Years ago, I sat behind her in a New York theater audience and saw just what Beaton describes. She sat anonymously in blue jeans, a wrinkled t-shirt, and a rumpled blazer with a tear down one sleeve. She was a woman who already knew exactly who she was and needed nothing from Beaton. It unsettled him thoroughly to see someone so quietly confident when he was trying so hard to understand himself.

Beaton hated school, never graduated from one, studied theater and photography at Cambridge, failed all exams. In the decadence of the 1890s, he dressed in varieties of costumes that allowed him to become different people. He began to take superb photographs rooted in his belief that a photographer should approach a subject with a point of view of his own.

In 1929 he came to America and stayed until the war ended in 1945. In the era of the American movie star, he photographed Judy Garland, Orson Welles, and Marlene Dietrich. During that time, he took 7000 photos, always looking for beauty in the tragic world of World War II. Even in the despair and hardship of that time, he found beauty for the pictures he took of the wounded in hospitals and of air raid victims everywhere.

From 1948 to 1980 he retreated to the reddish colored country house that he adored. It was his base while he designed for ballet and theater. Always trying to improve himself, he would create an atmosphere and live in it. Clutter – the walls were covered, the shelves filled, flowers everywhere. Simplicity was an alien concept. He loved covering Queen Elizabeth’s coronation where the occasion itself was wrapped in complicated beauty.

Despite his success he said, “I am appalled by the sadness of life.” He found it everywhere. Curious and complex as a person, he lived to create his conception of beauty but never realized fully who he was. He continued taking pictures of himself as he faced a mirror, always asking, “Who am I?” In all his creativity he never found an answer that satisfied him. You will enjoy his complexity.

Film Critic: Joan Ellis
Film Title: Love, Cecil
Word Count: 497
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1:38
Date: June 27, 2018

This review was posted on June 29, 2018, in Documentary.