Halfway through last January’s Sundance Film Festival (i.e., “socialist summer camp in the snow”), I mentioned that “the only films I’ve felt truly touched and levitated by are three highly intelligent, smoothly assembled but fairly conventional documentaries — Susan Lacy‘s Jane Fonda in Five Acts, Marina Zenovich‘s Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind and especially Matt Tyrnauer‘s Studio 54.”
I was also mostly down with Amy Scott‘s Hal, a 90-minute portrait of iconoclastic ’70s director Hal Ashby. On 1.22 I called it “exhilarating, colorful and not, if you’re going to be honest (as Nick Dawson‘s “Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel” was and is), altogether tidy or pretty…Scott’s film isn’t hagiography, but my sense is that roughly 90% is a touching, fascinating, no-holds-barred, this-is-who-he-really-was portrait and the other 10% is a little blowjobby here and there.”
Calling a documentary “fairly conventional” is not a putdown, but an acknowledgment that it plays by the certain structural and stylistic rules (pacing, exposition, careful editing of talking-head commentary, scoring, articulation of themes, technical polish) that hundreds of docs have adhered to in years and decades past.
These four docs — Fonda, Ashby, Williams, Studio 54 — know their subjects well and how to tell their stories in exactly the right way. As the closing credits roll the viewer knows he/she has eaten a professionally prepared, nutritional, fat-free meal.
So when will they stream? I called and searched around and one of them, it seems, haven’t been acquired — Tyrnauer’s Studio 54 film, which is repped by Altimeter Films.
Zenovich’s Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind, produced in association with Alex Gibney‘s Jigsaw Prods., will be in theatres and then on HBO starting in July.
The Ashby doc has been picked up by Oscilloscope, but no release date has been announced, or at least not to my knowledge.