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by Eric Kohn
November 23, 2013 8:42 AM
23 Comments
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Moving Or Offensive? Henry Corra's New Cancer Documentary 'Farewell to Hollywood' Is Both

Regina Nicholson in "Farewell to Hollywood." IDFA

Some movies push beyond perceived moral boundaries for the sake of being purely transgressive. "Farewell to Hollywood," documentarian Henry Corra's collaborative project with Regina Nicholson -- who died of cancer last year at the age of 19 -- has a blurrier agenda. Corra, whose previous credits include "The Disappearance of McKinley Nolan," began a peculiar relationship with Nicholson after meeting her at a film festival and learning of her interest in completing a feature before her death. The mission is noble, but the final, scrappy product contains an ethical dubiousness that slips between Nicolson's apparent intentions and those of the much older man with whom she spent her dying days.

Is it a provocation from beyond the grave or a misconceived paean from the surviving director? Alternately confounding, upsetting and riddled with grief at every turn, "Farewell to Hollywood" is certainly the most paradoxical moviegoing experience I've endured this year.

"Farewell to Hollywood" is certainly the most paradoxical moviegoing experience I've endured this year.

Fortunately, there's no surprise moment involving Nicholson's death. Corra establishes that much upfront, explaining his initial interest in Nicholson with an opening title card and including footage where her ashes at buried at one of her favorite outdoor spots. Her parents, Corra explains, have not yet learned of her demise. From there, "Farewell to Hollywood" flashes back to 2010 and quickly establishes the spunky Nicholson as a diehard movie buff whose walls are lined with DVDs. Her ebullient Christian parents, encouraged after her recent surgery to remove a tumor in her leg, seem to encourage her interests and Corra's investment in helping her explore them.

The filmmakers -- taking the project at face value, the dual credits imply that there are always two authors at work here -- further emphasize Nicholson's burgeoning cinephilia with a series of flash cuts that shift between her life and the movies that excite her: A fleeting shot of Nicholson using her inhaling is followed by Uma Thurman (Nicholson's fashion idol) jerking upward during her infamous heroin-snorting scene in "Pulp Fiction"; the helicopters from "Apocalypse Now" emphasize the increasing gloominess caused by her sickness. The device is immediately over the top and never quiet settles in, although it stands out for the very same reason, by showing the obsessive elements of the dying Nicholson's burgeoning cinephilia: Movies provide her with a gateway to worlds she'll never fully explore on her own.

Because "Farewell to Hollywood" aims to represent both directors' points of view early on, its subjective ingredients are troubling from the start. But Nicholson's perseverance when faced with her dour prognosis provides a remarkable narrative in spite of the questionable methods used to tell it. Over time, Nicholson endures a heartbreaking series of spats with her beleaguered parents, who eventually reject her when she chooses to move out in a bid to experience young adulthood during the small window of time available to her.

The bumpy road to their ultimate estrangement unfolds with heavily sad component. However, the language of the narrative leads to an invasive, voyeuristic quality enforced by the camera's presence; while Corra may have felt strongly about helping Nicholson and she embraced his assistance, it's hard not to wonder if he crossed some line by insisting in remaining a part of the family's struggle.

"Farewell to Hollywood" frequently leaves too much up for interpretation. As Corra and Nicholson become better friends, the movie includes extreme close-ups of the two of them as they drive around together and share smiles; much of their cheeky communication unfolds through text messages provided onscreen in captions riddled with emoticons. Any preconceived notions about the essential boundaries between non-fiction storytellers and their subjects have clearly been abandoned.

During a Q&A following the world premiere of "Farewell to Hollywood" at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam this week, Corra said he was no stranger to such concerns.

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23 Comments

  • FTH | January 24, 2014 11:21 AMReply

    Correction to Mr. Kohn’s assumption that Henry Corra and Corra Film’s Living Cinema is a reference to downtown NYC’s Collective For Living Cinema. The term Living Cinema derives from The Center for Living Theater founded in 1949 by Julian Beck in Greenwich Village and was a direct outgrowth of the great French playwright and performer, Antonin Artaud, whose famous essay, "The Theatre and Its Double," about breaking down the boundaries between actor’s and the audience, is considered a direct influence on Corra’s work.

  • Brian | December 27, 2013 4:21 PMReply

    A paradoxical review for a paradoxical movie.

  • Geneva L. | December 6, 2013 1:07 PMReply

    I'm thrilled to see such a compelling story on the big screen - it's heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time. I wish Reggie had lived to see her name in lights -- she would've been proud.

  • Henry Corra | December 6, 2013 8:59 AMReply

    It's heartwarming to see these last comments and the outpouring of support from the audiences in Amsterdam and around the world. There are no good guys or bad guys in this story. Just humans struggling with a terrible tragedy. Our hope is that Reggie's message of unconditional love at the heart of the film endures. Please read this review.

    http://amsterdiary.blogspot.com/2013/11/dangerous-camerawork.html

  • Amsterdam Diaries | December 6, 2013 8:14 AMReply

    The closeness of Nicholson and Corra - even it is a cot next to the bed of a dying loved one - is precious and rare in the 21st century - and the movie portrays love in an original light I have never seen before.

  • Brian Winston | December 6, 2013 7:29 AMReply

    We hide from death and fear it; but this genre breaking film take it on. It is warm, fearless, inspiringing and contentious by turns. It's going to be talked about for a long time.

  • Annette | December 6, 2013 7:22 AMReply

    I'm two years older than Reggie's and I saw the film twice last week. At first I almost walked out because of the terrible suffering she went through and how graphically it's depicted. But then I was taken in by the story and I identified with her struggles with her parents and need for independence and her morbid humour. Now I think it's one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen.

  • Amsterdam Diaries | December 5, 2013 9:20 AMReply

    Nicholson and Corra have created a new kind of cinema, what Corra calls "living cinema" and where no one may be able to pull it off again "Farewell to Hollywood" succeeds.

    http://amsterdiary.blogspot.com/2013/11/dangerous-camerawork.html?m=1

  • Mary Nicholson (Reggie's Mom) | November 26, 2013 3:50 PMReply

    I have remorse that I ever allowed this man into our lives. I loved my daughter more than life itself and was closer to her than any human being I'd ever known. She was the most loving, giving child. From a very early age, it was important to do things herself. She made her first money doing a Khol's commercial at age 5. She spent all the money I didn't put in the banks for her on Christmas presents for her family. Her allowance she saved up was generally spent on gifts for family and friends. Once she even tried to give money to a homeless man in a grocery store parking lot. I am still amazed by how this man and cancer turned her loyalties to this evil man who manipulated us as a family until we found sexual texts between him and her. We reported him to authorities. The Special Victims unit believed there was a valid case, but because the prosecutor wouldn't take on the case because of her age and her diagnosis. Corra had her turn us into Child protective services because once years before when I tried to take her movies away temporarily as a punishment she said something awful to me in anger. I moved toward her in anger and was going to flip her in the mouth and she tripped over some things on the flooe. He had her twist the story that she was afraid to come home that I might hurt her. That case was totally dismissed, but it shows you Corra's ability to control our daughter into doing anything he wanted to obtain control of her and how desperate she was to have a movie made with her name on it. I can not comment on the movie other than the trailer which was a total dishonor to her life with the little shovel scene and the incantation spoken over her ashes by someone who was suppose to be a youth pastor with the Methodist Church who always seemed to have a young girl with him too! What type of men are these that would rip a struggling family apart in the middle of fighting cancer??? I ask you her audience. This was not Reggie's film, she was long gone when Corra put it together. Her "Glimpse of Horizon" was the true picture of the type of film work she was capable of. That is the film that should be her legacy.

  • George | November 26, 2013 3:35 PMReply

    Visionary and intimate, Farewell to Hollywood possesses a lyrical power and beauty as close to pure music as film can get.

  • ANONYMOUS 2 | November 26, 2013 12:06 PMReply

    Reggie was my friend. Corra twisted and stole her lasting legacy. This version of her is false and her actual memory has been hidden under this man's vision.

  • gore | November 26, 2013 9:44 AMReply

    The previous comments show the validity of your review in several levels. Thanks

  • Anonymous | November 26, 2013 4:25 AMReply

    some of you speak of Love, this was not love. He stole her from her family, denied them access to her. She died and he did not even have the decency to call her parents. This man is a pig and is rubbing salt in the wounds of Reggie's family. May God have mercy on his soul because he wont get any here.

  • Mary Nicholson - Reggie's mom | November 25, 2013 10:25 AMReply

    Our daughter was never rejected by her family. Corra was rejected. Once his perverted relationship with our daughter came to light. We tried to support her every dream of being a filmmaker. Corra is a prolific lier, thief and demonic soul. HE REFUSED TO LET HER SEE OR SPEAK TO HER FAMILY UNLESS WE WENT THROUGH HIM. He refused to let her see or speak to anyone who knew and loved her family. He torchured us as a family for two years. She is basically a victom of "Stockholm Syndrome" between being a teenager who was being tortured by a disease and having to face death. Her dreams of being a filmmaker were being stripped from her. She saw Corra as her only avenue and she was willing to do anything including being isolated from her family. We never stopped loving her and look forward to seeing her someday. I pray that God has mercy on her soul because of her age and vulnerability. I do not believe she said what he claims. Surely he would have gotten it on film if there was any truth to it.

  • ernest | November 24, 2013 7:39 PMReply

    I found in this film the same dichotomy that you report in your review. Cancer is a difficult subject and almost everybody touch by it reacts in a unique manner. The film attempts to create a character that reacts as many subjects with the result of inconsistency in developing the characters involved.

  • rom | November 24, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    I am a 6 year cancer survivor and I agree with your review. The reality is that this illness is present in yuor mind and in the minds of the people you closely associate. This presence generates a stress that colors all your interactions. This is what this film misses. Your review captures some of it.

  • ferdinand | November 25, 2013 10:17 AM

    Well put fellow sufferer

  • Theresa | November 24, 2013 1:26 PMReply

    Mr. Scott: Although I do not completely agree with Eric's review I believe that you completely is point. The idea behind this film was LOVE. The realization misses this by introducing forced dialogs and trivialities. I believe Eric's comments address these short-commings. t

  • scott | November 24, 2013 1:44 AMReply

    regarding eric kohn's review of "farewell to hollywood":
    dear sir - you pontificate at length (albeit clumsily and in need of an able proofreader) about this film and its creators, and yet - never once in your review - do you mention the word, "LOVE".
    you allow avenue to veiled conjecture of the surviving filmmaker's intentions and to the premiere's follow-up Q&A while ignoring the beautifully documented, sacrificial caring and shared commitment of the artistic vision in a covenant of unconditional love between two human beings.
    mr. kohn - you were either napping till the lights came up, or you need lessons in love, because you missed the pulse of this film's heartbeat by a galaxy.

  • fruma | November 23, 2013 9:20 PMReply

    Sensible review of a difficult film. I went to a cancer scare myself so I feel the emotional pain despicted in the movie

  • shark | November 23, 2013 11:39 AMReply

    PAULINA GARCIA AMAZING IN GLORIA, HER NAME MUST TO DO IN THE OSCAR BEST ACTRESS LIST OF NOMINATION.

  • Caroline | November 23, 2013 11:38 AMReply

    The Chilean Paulina Garcia gives the best performance of the year in the amazing film Gloria. The Academy must reward her brilliant act.

  • eleonor | November 23, 2013 11:37 AMReply

    PAULINA GARCIA HAS TO WIN THE OSCAR FOR HER WONDERFUL PERFORMANCE IN GLORIA!!!