Documentary Film: Adam Clayton Powell

I've always had a soft spot for this forgotten African-American politician, preacher, activist and lovable scoundrel who represented Harlem in the House of Representatives from 1945 to 1971, because he graduated from my alma mater, Colgate University. He was also a larger-than-life figure during the years I grew up, fighting the good fight in Congress for civil rights and equality. But his story is a classic morality tale of how a man dedicated to doing right was corrupted and finally disgraced by corruption, as too often happens to idealists who gain and then stay too long in power. This 1989 Oscar-nominated film tells his tale without pulling punches, warts and all, with many of the great African-American leaders of the postwar era commenting on the man. But even for all his misdeeds that led to his downfall, Powell was in his time not just a leader but accomplisher for the betterment of his race, and given how his stature has faded, this doc is a potent reminder of how important he was to the American landscape in the days before the civil rights movement began the last vital steps to equality that led to an African-American now in the White House.

Movie: Argo

Yes, it was certainly one of 2012's best pictures, which the Oscar winner in that category isn't always proven to be worthy of that title. I do take a bit of issue with its characterization of Iran and Iranians, which this nation has never quite understood, especially today. But it's a cracking good tale full of suspense, occasional humor, heroics and fortuitous timing that may be a dramatization of the true story but still captures the amazing feat of how a CIA operative rescued six US diplomats from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. It's a tribute to good ol' American ingenuity, and Ben Affleck plays the lead role with a subtle grace that displays his ever-growing depth and maturity as an actor and directed the picture with skill. It's a couple of hours indeed well spent.

Documentary Film: Sound City

One might think that a movie about a funky recording studio in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley in which the tracking room and its soundboard are as much the subject as the rock stars who worked there could be tedious going for many, even someone such as myself who has worked in recording studios and produced records. But former Nirvana drummer turned Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl shows his talents go beyond music with his film directorial debut. His love for where Nirvana made Nevermind and artists like Fleetwood Mac and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers infuses this story with a certain air of magic that can sometimes be found in certain creative places. He shows us why a studio can make all the difference in a recording project – something those who've never worked within one might find hard to comprehend – and makes a compelling case for old-school analog technology that since being pushed aside by the digital revolution is making its comeback.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2013



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