Reviews Of The People Vs. George Lucas, That Guy... Who Was In That Thing, Craigslist Joe, Kumaré, And American Mystic
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 2/28/15
I recently watched five documentaries that strove to be demotic, streaming them on Netflix. They were The People Vs. George Lucas, That Guy... Who Was In That Thing, Craigslist Joe, Kumaré, And American Mystic.
The first of the documentaries was a 92 minute bitchfest from Star Wars fans about how much they hate that George Lucas, their God, deepened the original juvenile trilogy of films with his second trilogy, and how he then later added more special effects to the first trilogy of films, and, in the process, let the original prints of the film fall into a black hole. This 2010 film was made before the announcement that JJ Abrams was going to helm a new series of films. Some also bemoan the fact of Star Wars, seeing that Lucas could have been a great filmmaker had that first film flopped. Having long been a fan of Lucas’s first film- THX 1138 (which also had new effects added to a DVD version of the film)- I agree with many of these sentiments. Whereas Lucas’s buddy, Steven Spielberg, never had any real talent beyonf cinematography, Lucas did have talent and is therefore an even bigger sellout than Spielberg. As the film bemoans, almost overnight, Lucas went from outsider to the top establishment figure in Hollywood.
Interestingly enough, Lucas’s old pal and boss, Francis Ford Coppola, appears in this film to level some of these complaints. But, mostly it’s clueless fanboys (and a few fangirls) who have nothing new nor deep to say. Alexandre O. Philippe’s film is s standard documentary, a step above a vanity doc, but so ensconsed in the talking head milieu that the film seems to have been a 6 or 7 minute Youtube video elongated to 12 or 15 times that length, and for no real reason.
The director doesn’t even have a structure to the bitching. It’s all over the place, so, instead of getting a coherent sense of their gripes, and Lucas’s career, the film assumes you MUST know all about Lucas and his films. Yet, really, as popular as they have been these last four decades, I’d wager there are a few billion people who have no clue of any of this. Does this film enlighten us heathens (save for one odd fact that Lucas makes it very easy for fans to make fan films by never suing and allowing fans to download sound effects to use)?
Hence the film’s ultimate failure. Imagine a film wherein someone is trying to proselytize another to some cause, yet feels absolutely no need to inform the potential convert of anything, pro nor con, about the issues under debate. This person merely winks and says, ‘Trust me.’
My response? To walk away, or just endure the rest of the film, in this
case. I urge the reader to simply not engage this tripe.
A much better documentary is 2012’s That Guy... Who Was In
That Thing, which follows 16 character actors of some note, in their pursuit
of a decent living. Other docs in this vein have been done, on street
performers, child actors, extras, and this follows the same formula: interview
the guys, track their careers for a year or so, then end with what happened to
them once principal shooting ended. My lone complaint is the lumping of Bruce
Davison- a fairly big star in the 1970s, in with these other actors.
Nonetheless, while formulaic, the travails and tales are interesting enough to
be mildly recommended, especially as trivia fodder.
An agent details the life of an actor, and the process of even getting a job on a tv series. Kamel- a tv regular and guest star on many series, who died shortly after the film was finished shooting, reflects that sometimes an audition is the only time an actor will get to act in a month!
Yet, too many of the quips are just that- quips. No real insight is given by most of the actors. Directors Ian Roumain and Michael Schwartz should have either lengthened the film (but only if they had dug more deeply), or cut the number of actors in half.
One actor tells of suicidal thoughts, another how his health was increased via yoga. Kamel- the best of the interviewees, has the best observations and outlook. Another lost opportunity is how little time is spent on how these actors, despite being in a union, are screwed. The rise of cable tv and reality shows has made their pay rates plummet. Most are part-time workers, but not enough is spent on the love of their craft, the very essence of who they are: the art of acting.
All in all, a noble effort that could have been so much more than its middling mediocrity.
Another noble effort is another 2012 documentary, called Craigslist
Joe. Young 20something slacker and wannabe filmmaker, Joe Garner (who worked
on several minor Hollywood film crews), is out to prove he can bum his way
across the USA for 31 days, the whole month of December, with no money, and just
a cell phone and laptop (and a cameraman, Kevin Flint, he met on Craigslist, a
few weeks earlier. determined, he will not contact friends and family, so takes
off from California to New York City to Florida and New Orleans, to make it back
to the Sunshine State by New Year’s Eve.
The question I end my review of Craigslist Joe is the perfect beginning to my review of the best of the five documentaries in this essay: Kumaré, which is a 2011 film about a hoaxer with a purpose. Filmmaker Vikram Gandhi’s 83 minute long film opens up with a bunch of gullible white people gathered at a pool, as, from the other side, Kumare- Gandhi’s alter-ego, is set to reveal a secret.
It will be almost 70 minutes later before he does, and in the interim we
learn that the mystic is really a young Indian actor who grew tired of his
native Hinduism and all religion. He said he found that the gurus of India, whom
he met on a journey to his ancestral homeland (he was New Jersey born) were even
bigger fakes than their American copycats. Hence, he decided to show how silly
and gullible people were by pretending to be a mystic, learning yoga, hiring
publicist, and then gulling rich white Arizonans into buying into his
act. His hope was that they would fail and he would reveal his bdeception to
prove to them that it was never about him but themselves. Then, the predictable
happened: the idiots felt Kumare was genuine, and a mass placebo effect took
place, and some people with weight and health issues- mental and material, got
better. Other followers grew to love the prophet, and spout his utterly made up
nonsense, apothegms, and chants as if they had been around forever.
Which leads me into the mess that is American Mystic. This
2010 film, by Alex Mar, follows three utterly clueless morons for 80 minutes of
running time. One wishes that Gandhi or Kumare would come visit and bitchslap
these losers. Whereas the wannabe disciples in the prior film were all rich and
white, the three wannabe mystics this film follows are a black male- Kublai, who
is studying to be a faith healer; American Indian Chuck- who lives in a town of
a couoke dozen people on a reservation; and wacky red haired white woman
Morpheus, who actually has some means, a husband, and a stepdaughter.
The film asks no questions, there is no narrator, so we get this sort of freeform mess that says nothing, and shows these egoistic nuts as deserving all the things they do without. The director Mar seems to not have any real sense of purpose nor vision herself. What is the purpose of a documentary if not to reveal and explore? And, no, just running footage does not accomplish this. Yes, we see this trio for what they are- people who’d be better off in an asylum, but so what? Repeat that- so what?
Is the point to know of the failure of the American mental health system?
The utter intellectual bankruptcy of religion? I honestly know not and care not.
I doubt few other viewers will, either. What the film needed was a point of
view. Had the film parallaxed these three against a saner narrative, something
mildly interesting may have evolved. Indeed, had the three wannabe mystics been
parallaxed against each other, that may have proven fruitful, but, as presented,
American Mystic does not even live up to its title, which would be better
wrought as American Muddle.
All in all, one is better to not even bother with this film.
Of the quintet, the only film I could hardily recommend is Kumare, which, despite some flaws, is the only film that really enlightens, and fulfills its potential mist fully.
[An expurgated version of this article originally appeared on the Salon website.]
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