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.

  The names roll by with little recognition: Zach Grenier, Robert Jay, J.C. Mackenzie, Zeljko Ivanek, Gregory Itzin, Xander Berkeley, Stanley Kamel, Timothy Omundson, Rick Worthy, Wade Williams, Paul Guilfoyle, and others. Most are middle aged white American males. One is black. One is Hispanic. One is British. Some get parts and joy. Rick Worthy is told he has a part on the ABC soap opera General Hospital, but, as a regular viewer of that show, I recall nothing of him, and upon a search I see his doctor character was recast a day or two before his debut, then the doctor character was totally scrapped.

  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.

  Now, from what I have just sketched out, I would think a modern, Netflix and Hulu savvy viewer will pretty much be able to guess what happens, right? You got it. The affable and trusting Garner meets heartwarming losers, has some adventures, a few times seems to be homeless, only to be saved at the last minute by the kindness of strangers. Lucky for him, a few of these strangers are exotically attractive women. Garner loses weight in his peregrinations, but remains forever upbeat. Around Christmastime, he helps at soup kitchens and posts ads to meet people to help him out with this, that, or the other volunteer project, but much of the film feels a bit forced. The most obvious thing is how several folks first reject helping him, only to return, making for a ‘touching’ scene, but full on the knowledge that they are being filmed, and will get their moment of fame, how much of this is real? Probably not much, this the whole experiment has a Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock level sense of contrivance to it.

  Worse, it’s almost the ultimate in vanity documentary making. No reason for this film exists save for the ego of Joe Garner, and while he seems a likable enough schlub, one finishes this film with absolutely nothing more than one enters into it with, and that alone is enough to question its value as art and journalism- even putting aside the previously mentioned warp of reality by being trailed by lighting and a cameraman (and the inevitable release forms Garner had to have, by the bushelful in his backpack).

  Craigslist Joe is a film whose ideas far outstrip its execution- in the visuals, the crafted narrative (how many other people hit the cutting room floor? And how many were more interesting or nasty than those we actually see? To what extent is Garner’s film a put on, a fake? I don’t know, but it would be interesting to find out.




  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.

  We see these people open up about their most intimate perversions and secrets- some folks believe they are aliens from other worlds, and then see Gandhi wrestle with what to do- such as advising people on what paths to choose regarding careers, drug addictions, and bad marriages. Like Joe Garner, though, one must wonder to what degree the disciples were showboating and trying to gain curry for a favorable look in the film ostensibly being made about their Master. Nonetheless, even if some of their claims are made up, it doesn’t matter, for the fact that they would go to such a length says enough of their own inner weaknesses.

  When Gandhi finally reveals his ruse, several of his disciples are devastated. We are told 4 of the 14 want nothing to do with Gandhi. Another feels he did the right thing but used the wrong method, while the other 9 seem to accept that they learned an even greater lesson from Gandhi than that they had gotten from Kumare.

  Would that all would be mystics were as open minded.



  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.

  Chuck sundances in the Dakota Badlands and tries to rationalize his poverty and menial existence. Morpheus has the most wacky lifestyle, as a 21st Century hippy, and Kublai- well, he seems to want to combine Voodoo with whatever works. Morpheus is likely the most insane and contemptible, whereas Chuck seems the most earnest. Kublai just seems like he has no sense of himself. But, in reality, viewers won’t give a damn of these losers, and their tired antics: Chuck wanting to hang from a maypole, Morpheus speaking in tongues, and Kublain wanting to forkbend- I guess he had no spoons?

  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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