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Daily Reads: ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and the Women Left Out, Dream of a New ‘Deadwood,’ and More

Daily Reads: 'Straight Outta Compton' and the Women Left Out, Dream of a New 'Deadwood,' and More

Criticwire’s Daily Reads brings today’s essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Here’s What Missing From “Straight Outta Compton”: Me and the Other Women Dr. Dre Beat Up. 
F. Gary Gray’s “Straight Outta Compton” has divided critical opinion, but even the most positive reviews of the film don’t deny that the biopic picks and chooses the neatest of events in the group’s history for its focus, given that it was produced by principals Ice Cube and Dr. Dre. However, one of the most curious exclusions from the film is the famous Dee Barnes incident, in which Dr. Dre brutally assaulted Barnes, the host of a hip-hop show “Pump It Up!”, which featured a clip of Ice Cube dissing N.W.A. after he had left the group. In her own words, Barnes reflects on the film, that period in her life, and the violence against women that “Straight Outta Compton” curiously leaves out.

Their minds were so ignorant back then, claiming that I set them up and made them look stupid. That wasn’t a setup. It was journalism and television, first of all, and secondly, I had nothing to do with the decision to run the package as it did. After an interview with N.W.A., the segment ended with Ice Cube saying “I got all you suckers 100 miles and runnin’,” and then, imitating N.W.A. affiliate the D.O.C.: “I’d like to give a shoutout to the D.O.C. Y’all can’t play me.” I was a pawn in the game. I was in it, but so was a true opportunist: the director of “Straight Outta Compton,” F. Gary Gray. That’s right. F. Gary Gray, the man whose film made $60 million last weekend as it erased my attack from history, was also behind the camera to film the moment that launched that very attack. He was my cameraman for “Pump It Up!” You may have noticed that Gary has been reluctant to address N.W.A.’s misogyny and Dre’s attack on me in interviews. I think a huge reason that Gary doesn’t want to address it is because then he’d have to explain his part in history. He’s obviously uncomfortable for a reason. Gary was the one holding the camera during that fateful interview with Ice Cube, which was filmed on the set of “Boyz N the Hood.” I was there to interview the rapper Yo Yo. Cube was in a great mood, even though he was about to shoot and he was getting into character. Cube went into a trailer to talk to Gary and “
Pump It Up!” producer Jeff Shore. I saw as he exited that Cube’s mood had changed. Either they told him something or showed him the N.W.A. footage we had shot a few weeks earlier. What ended up airing was squeaky clean compared to the raw footage. N.W.A. were chewing Cube up and spitting him out. I was trying to do a serious interview and they were just clowning — talking shit, cursing. It was crazy. Right after we shot a now-angry Cube and they shouted, “Cut!” one of the producers said, “We’re going to put that in.” I said, “Hell no.” I wasn’t even thinking about being attacked at the time, I was just afraid that they were going to shoot each other. I didn’t want to be part of that. “This is no laughing matter,” I tried telling them. “This is no joke. These guys take this stuff seriously.” I was told by executives that I was being emotional. That’s because I’m a woman. They would have never told a man that. They would have taken him seriously and listened.

2. A “Deadwood” Dream. 
About a week ago, actor Garret Dillahunt tweeted that he’s hearing “credible rumors” about a “Deadwood” movie, nine years after the series ended. David Milch’s “Deadwood” was one of the best TV shows in the history of the young medium, and it was cancelled before it could fully complete its story. Though there have been talks of a movie to complete the story, it’s always been whispers and they’ve been few and far between, but HBO has gotten people’s hopes up yet again. RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz writes about his “Deadwood” dream, his vision of a new season of the beloved series.

Last night I had a dream about “Deadwood.” It was 2017, and David Milch’s western had miraculously returned to HBO, eleven years after its unexpected cancellation. The opening credits were essentially unchanged, but they were missing a few familiar names and had gained a few new ones. And the first shot was a close-up of a smoldering pile of rubble. The viewer realized with a shock that we had skipped ahead in the timeline. The plan, as outlined by Milch, was for the town of Deadwood to burn down at the end of season four — an event that occurred in reality on September 26, 1879 — and then be rebuilt in increments through season five. The show’s cancellation interrupted that narrative and created a serious production and logistical problem, nearly as pernicious as the challenge of reassembling what was, at the time, the largest cast of regulars in scripted TV — a veritable murderer’s row of character actors who were thenceforth cast into the pop culture wilderness in search of fresh employment. After a long moment, a sooty boot kicked the pile and broke it apart. The boot kept kicking it and kicking it until we saw a glint of dingy metal. Then a sooty hand reached into the frame and lifted a piece of a charred ceiling strut, revealing a can of peaches. The hand belonged to Al Swearengen, the owner of the Gem Saloon. The camera pulled back to reveal Swearengen contemplating the peach can as if it were Yorick’s skull. His face was partly masked by black and grey sweat-streaked ash, and his dark suit was shot through with moth-holes burned by cinders. He unsheathed his throat-slitting buck knife, forced up the can’s lid, speared a peach-half and lifted it, syrup gleaming on the blade, and popped it all into his mouth at once as if it were a piece of hard candy, and chewed. After a long moment, he raised an eyebrow approvingly, took a long look around, and said, “If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans.”

3. No Money in Movies. 
In the past few years, there have been numerous classic filmmakers, everyone from Abel Ferrara to Spike Lee, who have crowdfunded their most recent movies. It’s been harder and harder for these filmmakers to get the necessary funding from traditional sources to make their art. The New Inquiry’s Brandon Harris explores the state of money in cinema and how the next generation probably have to give up being “filmmakers” in the traditional sense of the word.

Lee and Ferrara are not the only ones signing into Kickstarter with hat in hand after the arrangements they had in the past with big American studios or prominent European sales companies fell by the wayside. As traditional sources of specialty film financing have become harder and harder to come by connecting with audiences and donors through crowdfunding has become a burden many filmmakers of Ferrara’s generation have had to take on to continue working. The results for many of the elder statesmen in this new media landscape have been mixed. Haile Gerima, a key figure in the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers and the director of the recent Venice prize winner “Teza,” has raised just $62,318 of the $500,000 he has sought for his newest project on IndieGoGo. The project saw a slight uptick in donations after Ava DuVernay posted about it on her Twitter recently with three weeks to go, but it didn’t last. Frederick Wiseman, one of the patron saints of cinema verite, raised $20,516 of the $75,000 he sought on Kickstarter for his new film “Jackson Heights,” which will make its premiere at month’s end at the 72nd Venice Film Festival as a Work In Progress. In an essay from the “New York Times Magazine” that ran last October about “Old Masters,” Lewis Lapham asks Wiseman if he has any advice for young filmmakers. “Marry rich,” he responds. John Waters and Steven Soderbergh have, quite publicly, given up on making more movies (at least for the time being, and in Soderbergh’s case, disingenuously). In an era in which traditional gatekeepers are increasingly marginalized and algorithms decide which new movies will be mentioned in your Facebook newsfeed, the Paul Schraders and Hal Hartleys of the world, despite the successful Kickstarter campaigns they ran, have little drawing power or name recognition. While the middle aged humanities professor who loved “Blue Collar” and “Henry Fool” might not know what Kickstarter is, his film-student son is likely too young to have encountered those directors’ work. Having lived and worked in an era with fewer players and a lot more money, many of these artists are now faced with shrinking budgets and crowded release windows, which makes their work smaller in scale and less relevant to the culture at large. If they want to continue making features, it seems they’ll have to get used to it. Which begs the question, is it still worth it?

4. Hoss is Boss: The Enigma of Christian Petzold’s Muse. 
Christian Petzold’s most recent film “Phoenix” has wracked up critical acclaim for just about everything — style, performances, narrative, and a devastating final scene — but the most consistent praise has been given to actress Nina Hoss, Petzold’s muse. Hoss and Petzold have collaborated six times now, and each time she plays characters who try to gain agency and choice in powerless situations. In “Phoenix,” it’s no exception. On Oscilloscope Labs’ Musings blog, critic Scott Tobias examines Hoss, her collaborations with Petzold, and her role in “Phoenix.”

Christian Petzold’s “Phoenix” builds to one of the greatest endings in movie history, which is especially remarkable given the movie it’s riffing on — Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” — has a strong claim to that shortlist, too. The key word here is “builds,” because the emotion that surfaces so powerfully in those final moments is sublimated in all the scenes that precede it, which are clouded in mysteries of love, betrayal, and identity in post-World War II Germany. Petzold invites the audience to follow a woman who returns from a concentration camp as the only member of her family left alive and reunites with a husband who may well have betrayed her to the Nazis. We never know quite what she’s thinking — and she doesn’t know, either — but because she’s played by Nina Hoss, Petzold’s longtime collaborator and muse, her face is a puzzle we’re compelled to solve, even as her character’s actions are enigmatic to the end. Petzold relies wholly on the impact of that final scene to validate everything that preceded it, and without Hoss, he doesn’t get there. By this point, he has reason to feel confident. Petzold and Hoss have collaborated six times now, and “Phoenix” is just the latest example of Hoss playing a woman who has to navigate treacherous terrain by keeping her feelings in check. There are scenes in Petzold’s films when Hoss is asked to emote — often when she’s finally forced to confront the hostility she’s so carefully avoided — but more often she has the far more difficult task of carrying a film through emotional reserve. Typically, the hostility she’s avoiding comes from the world of men: In 2007’s “Yella,” Hoss plays a woman who leaves her hometown abruptly to get away from her obsessive, abusive ex-husband, but winds up in trouble of another kind when she partners with a shady businessman in her bid for a new life. In 2008’s “Jerichow,” an ingenious neo-noir updating of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” she’s caught between an abusive husband and a volatile drifter who was dishonorably discharged from the war in Afghanistan. In Petzold’s last film, 2012’s “Barbara,” she’s an East German doctor whose suspected subversion gets her banished to an outpost in the sticks, where she remains under watch by both government agents and her colleagues at a country hospital. What these films have in common is that Hoss is playing characters who are trying to leverage control over a situation where they have no real power or agency. “Yella” and “Jerichow” have her trying to wriggle away from abusive relationships that keep haunting her even when she finds someone new. “Barbara” seethes with the dread and paranoia of East Germany in the 1980s, when the loosening grip of the Eastern Bloc led to desperate assertions of power over the citizenry. Hoss’s doctor cannot trust anyone, including a new colleague who appears to be sympathetic to her, but her guarded state winds up heightening the misconception that she’s an arrogant big-city type. She’s trying to thread a very thin needle and Hoss, as ever, holds a firm posture and gives nothing away, leaving the audience to look for hairline cracks in her facial reserve.

5. “Documentary Now!”: An Uproarious Mockery of the Documentary Form. 
Comedy actors Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, with help from producer Seth Meyers, have created a new half-hour comedy for IFC called “Documentary Now!” that spoofs different documentary styles, everything from the Maysles brothers’ “Grey Gardens” and Robert Flaherty’s “Nanook of the North”. The Hollywood Reporter’s Keith Uhlich reviews the hilarious new series.

Based on the three episodes (of six total) sent out for review, Armisen, Hader and Meyers have done their homework and show great affection through their burlesque. “Documentary Now!” isn’t some scattershot takedown of the genre, but a loving lampoon that makes you appreciate the movies being satirized all the more. The first episode, entitled “Sandy Passage,” certainly sets a high bar — a pitch-perfect, brilliantly performed send-up of Albert and David Maysles’ seminal “Grey Gardens” (1975). Armisen and Hader play “Big” Vivvy and “Little” Vivvy Van Kimpton, a reclusive mother and daughter modeled on the erratic Beales from “Gardens.” Of course it’s funny to see both male comics in drag. But even better is their uncannily exact replication of the Beales’ eccentric mannerisms, which sync up perfectly with co-directors Rhys Thomas and Alex Buono’s superb imitation of the Maysles’ pioneering, fly-on-the-wall shooting style. It’s a scream watching Hader reenact “Gardens'” infamous dance sequence or listening to Armisen raucously scold anyone within earshot. (“It’s because you stomp” “Big” Vivvy shouts after “Little” Vivvy falls through the rotting floor above into the kitchen below.) Things take a much darker turn here than “Gardens” ever did, almost as if the makers of “The Blair Witch Project” took over filming halfway through. Yet even this out-of-left-field shift, which includes some intestine-ripping gore, makes some kind of twisted sense, and you’re ultimately grateful Armisen and Hader take the joke as far as they do.

6. “The Good Wife” Kalicia Controversy. 
Last season on “The Good Wife,” beloved character Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) was written out of the series, and the writers decided to give her one more scene with main character Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies). However, that scene was shot using green screen as the two actresses were not in the same room together, some say out of a much hushed up feud between the two. Over at TV Line, Michael Ausiello interviews creators Robert and Michelle King about the controversy and received somewhat of a condescending, blinkered response from them.

I just want to clarify: viewers didn’t feel duped about the way Kalinda was written out. They felt duped because those two characters — and their portrayers — were not in that scene together.

Robert King
: Here’s what I will say about that without going into the gossip of it…We’ve had reporters in the editing room before and they can see the tricks we bring to [the show]. What I don’t like is how this connects itself to gossip. Just so we’re clear, Josh [Charles] wasn’t really killed. We faked those gunshots. We fake everything in the show, so I can address this on a storytelling level that there was no intent ever to dupe the viewers. We’ll be an open book there. But when it attaches to gossip, part of the privacy of the set and the privacy of what we do on the set, allowed us to keep secret the fact that Josh was leaving for almost a year before we showed that episode. Part of the shock was that we had such a tight, close-knit set — [“The Good Wife” cast and crew] know the difference between storytelling and who we are as human beings. And we benefit from that because we’re allowed to have reveals be secretive. I do know what you are going after, and the only thing I will address is the storytelling. The mechanics of how we do our show is its own thing and we’re usually an open book about it, until it comes down to gossip.

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