Watch Life in a Day on YouTube

The crowd-sourced documentary Life in a Day is now available to watch in full on YouTube.

Depicting life on July 24th 2010, the film consists of over 80,000 video clips submitted to YouTube and is credited to director Kevin Macdonald and ‘the Youtube Community’, with Ridley Scott as producer.

Editor Joe Walker along with McDonald had the daunting task of whittling down over 4,500 hours of footage from 140 countries into a coherent 95 minutes.

You can watch it all here:

The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival back in January and the premiere was streamed live on YouTube.

It was also announced recently that a follow up film called Britain in a Day will be made from videos from the public about their lives on November 12th, 2011.

> Life in a Day’s channel on YouTube
>  YouTube at Wikipedia and Facebook
> Find out more about Britain in a Day on YouTube


George Harrison: Living in the Material World

Martin Scorsese’s documentary about George Harrison is an absorbing and surprisingly spiritual examination of the late musician.

After screening at the Telluride film festival last month, this 208 minute film recently aired on HBO in the US and has just come out on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK before a screening on BBC Two later this year.

Part of the realities of modern movie distribution mean that this long-form work only got a brief screening at cinemas around the UK last week, before its arrival in shops on Monday.

But it marks another landmark musical documentary for Scorsese after No Direction Home (2005), his outstanding film about Bob Dylan, as it charts the cultural impact of the Beatles from the perspective of its most reflective member.

This not only gives the familiar subject a fresh feel, but it also goes into deep and moving areas as it charts how he dealt with the onslaught of fame and attention that came with being in the biggest band in the world.

Made with the full co-operation of Harrison’s family – his widow Olivia and son Dhani – it features interviews with them, bandmates Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, plus numerous friends and acquaintances including Yoko Ono, George Martin, Eric Clapton, Astrid Kirchherr, Klaus Voormann, Eric Idle, Phil Spector (before his 2009 murder conviction) and Tom Petty.

Split into two parts the first deals with his childhood in Liverpool, the early days of The Beatles in Hamburg and their eventual rise to the dizzying heights of global fame, whilst the second explores how he dealt with that fame, becoming a solo artist, staging charity concerts, financing Monty Python films and his growing interest in Indian music and philosophy.

Scorsese has long had an interest in rock music but here he seems to have found a kindred spirit in Harrison, whose desire to transcend the surface trappings of fame provides the real fuel for this film.

Brilliantly assembled from a wealth of archive footage, including some vintage photography of the Fab Four and lots of material from the Harrison home movie collection, it creates a fascinating portrait of a musician who unwittingly became part of something huge.

For Beatles fans, it doesn’t attempt the scale of the 11-hour Anthology project from 1995 – still the definitive filmed history of the band – but gives us a different perspective outside of the Lennon-McCartney axis and provides us with unexpected pleasures as it charts his spiritual growth.

There is the persistent theme running throughout that Harrison was the dark horse of the group, a songwriter who gradually became the equal of his more illustrious band mates and on Abbey Road actually surpassed them by writing Something (described by Frank Sinatra as one of the greatest love songs of the 20th century) and Here Comes the Sun.

Scorsese also captures the dizzying cultural ascendency of The Beatles as they conquer the music world and become icons.

It touches on the dynamics within the band: George’s early friendship with Paul, which later led to tensions caught on film during the Let it Be sessions, the bewildering rush of fame and money and how this affected their lives.

One revealing bit of footage early on sees the band members sign the official contracts that dissolved the group in 1970 – Harrison is uttering an Indian mantra as he signs, which hints at his trepidation at the end of an era but also his growing interest in Eastern spirituality.

Throughout his time in the Beatles he had written songs where this was noticeable – Love to You, Within Without You and The Inner Light – but, after forging a close friendship with Ravi Shankar, he seemed to be the only one who fully embraced both the musical and spiritual dimensions of something the rest of the band just flirted with.

This may explain why he made a great solo album – All Things Must Pass – very soon after The Beatles broke up and could navigate the subsequent years with a degree of serenity and humour.

These times included: the Concert for Bangladesh (a benefit gig that foreshadowed Live Aid); a bizarre divorce from first wife Patti Boyd (his friend Eric Clapton essentially stole her with his ‘blessing’); the purchase of a large Victorian estate (Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames); film production (he created Handmade Films after financing Monty Python’s The Life of Brian) and his love of F1.

For film aficionados his patronage of The Life of Brian (1979) – which was hugely controversial amongst some observers – and films such as Time Bandits (1981), The Long Good Friday 1980), Mona Lisa (1986) and Withnail & I (1987) was really quite remarkable.

His reason for stumping up the $4m to fund Life of Brian – “because I wanted to see the film” – was both the most brilliant and eloquent reason ever given by a film financier and as Eric Idle points out was “the most expensive cinema ticket in history”.

Going in, I was expecting the film to tail off towards the end, as it deals with the last phase of his life, but it is to the films great credit that it manages to hold the attention right until the closing credits.

His second wife Olivia and son Dhani speak movingly about his home life and his struggles with cancer that were made worse by a home invasion and assault in 1999.

That nasty attack, which Dhani believes shortened his life, had chilling echoes of Lennon’s death at the hands of Mark Chapman in 1980 – an event which was extra painful for George, as he was deeply concerned with the manner in which the human spirit leaves the body.

A lot of family archive material was made available and editor David Tedeschi, who also worked on Scorsese’s Dylan documentary, has managed to arrange it with considerable skill and judicious use of music.

It also sounds great, thanks to the new 5.1 surround mix that was done by a team including George Martin’s son, Giles, who worked on the recent Love remixes.

There is always the danger of hagiography when it comes to films about famous figures, but this manages to paint a broad and interesting look at Harrison’s life without slipping into sentimentality.

Scorsese has long been interested in spirituality, whether it be the Catholicism of The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) or the Buddhism of Kundun (1997), and here he digs deep into Harrison’s spiritual awareness and how it kept him sane after the global goldfish bowl that was life during and after The Beatles.

Like Harrison himself, the film contains surprising depths and offers a refreshing glimpse into the world’s most famous band from the perspective of its most thoughtful member.

> Buy it on Blu-ray or DVD at Amazon UK
> IMDb entry
> More on George Harrison at Wikipedia

Documentaries News TV

Trailer: George Harrison – Living in the Material World

The new trailer for the new Martin Scorsese documentary about George Harrison is now online.

George Harrison: Living in the Material World features rare footage from Harrison’s childhood, his time in The Beatles, his solo career and his unlikely career as a movie producer through Handmade Films.

The interviewees include Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Yoko Ono and Olivia and Dhani Harrison.

Like Scorsese’s previous documentary about Bob Dylan – No Direction Home – this is split into two parts: the first section (94 mins) covers Harrison’s early life in Liverpool and career as a Beatle up until their break up in 1970.

The second part (114 mins) charts his solo career during the 1970s and 80s, up until the end of his life in November 2001.

It is being screened at cinemas across the UK and Dublin on October 4th.

In the US it will air on HBO in two parts on October 5th and 6th and in the UK on the BBC at some point (although details are unclear, it may be on BBC2 in November for the 10th anniversary of his death).

The DVD and Blu-ray come out soon after on October 10th.

> For more info and to book tickets visit the Facebook page
> More on the film at the IMDb
> Pre-order the DVD or Blu-ray at Amazon UK

Documentaries Interesting

Gary Slutkin on Disrupting Violence

This week sees the UK release of The Interrupters, a documentary which explores an anti-violence program in Chicago based on the theories of Gary Slutkin.

Directed by Steve James, who made the classic 1994 documentary Hoop Dreams, the film follows the work of CeaseFire, an initiative which has created and implemented the concept of ‘The Violence Interrupter’.

This sees three people – Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams and Eddie Bocanegra – with experience of crime, work on the street to mediate conflicts which could result in violent crime.

Essentially, it’s a bit like Minority Report without all the high-tech stuff.

The CeaseFire project was founded in 1995 by Dr. Slutkin, who developed the theory that violence is like an infectious disease that can be prevented by changing behaviour.

Last year he gave this talk explaining his basic ideas:

The UK release of The Interrupters is incredibly timely, with riots and looting breaking out in London and other major cities in the same week it opens in UK cinemas.

In a related side note, the films UK distributor Dogwoof was affected by the devastating fire at a Sony distribution centre in Enfield, which housed most of the stock for the UK’s indie music and film labels.

I would strongly recommend the film, as it is easily one of the best films of the year and essential viewing in a week where violence and urban decay have dominated UK headlines.

> My review of The Interrupters
Official website
> Official Facebook and Twitter
Reviews of The Interrupters at Metacritic
Original NY Times article by Alex Kotlowitz that inspired the film
> More on the UK Riots of 2011

Cinema Documentaries Reviews

Project Nim

The life of a chimpanzee raised like a human makes for a rich documentary, which is assembled with considerable skill and intelligence.

After the success of their previous film Man On Wire (2008), director James Marsh and producer Simon Chinn came across another story that has its roots in New York of the 1970s.

In November 1973, a professor at Columbia University began an experiment to raise a chimpanzee like a human being in order to explore how this would affect the his communication skills with humans.

The chimp was named Nim Chimpsky after Noam Chomsky, the linguist whose thesis stated that language is hard-wired to humans only, and the experiment became a practical exploration of communication.

If Man on Wire played like an unlikely heist movie, this film is more like Frankenstein or a genre film where scientific breakthroughs have unintended consequences.

But as it progresses, the film is more than just about a curious scientific exercise as it peels away the different layers of the story to become something profound and unsettling about the relationship between humans and animals.

The opening section explores the behavioural psychologist who supervised the experiment, Professor Herbert Terrace, and his various assistants during the 1970s who treated Nim like a human child – a period which saw him introduced to human breast milk, alcohol and marijuana.

This makes for some eye-opening comedy in places, which is brilliantly augmented with interviews, period photographs and various other media from the time.

Part of the virtues of choosing a scientific project as the subject of a documentary is that the original observational materials can be incorporated into the film, as well as contemporary TV reports and magazine covers.

But the film really hits another plateau when we follow what happened to Nim when he left the supervision of Professor Terrace and his various surrogate mothers.

The story then becomes a darker tale which gradually holds up a mirror to the humans involved with Nim’s life.

Without going in to too much detail, it says a lot that the person who emerges with the most credit is Bob Ingersoll, a pot-smoking Grateful Dead fan who seemed to have Nim’s best interests at heart.

The second half of the film has some genuinely surprising twists and if you aren’t familiar with the real-life events I would recommend going in cold.

Part of what makes the film so effective, is the overall journey of Nim’s extraordinary life, which is presented with a meticulous care that is rare, even for a documentary.

Whilst the scientists depicted in Project Nim held up a mirror to a chimpanzee, the film also holds up a similar mirror to the audience about their relationship with animals and themselves.

On one level the film powerfully depicts the growing pains of a chimpanzee, but as this journey grows messy and painful, it is hard not to see the human parallels – we share 98.7% of our DNA but also a range of emotions and experiences as we age.

Marsh develops this material in such a way that it never feels simplistic or sentimental and along with his editor Jinx Godfrey have managed to whittle the story down to something that is both specific and universal.

Whilst the story of Nim is about an experiment from another era, the film of Nim is a vivid document of the humans who conducted it.

In a week which sees the UK release of an expensive reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, it is ironic that the chimpanzee film made for a fraction of the budget should have more drama and surprise.

But then this year has been a very strong one for documentaries with films like Senna, The Interrupters and now Project Nim prove that real stories told well can provide the drama that expensively produced fiction simply cannot match.

Project Nim is out at selected UK cinemas from Friday 12th August

> Official website
> Reviews of Project Nim at Metacritic
> James Marsh at the IMDb