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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

Filmmaker Henry Corra.

"People have brought up words like 'unethical' and 'too close,'" he said. "I think of this as a very unique style of personal filmmaking." The project isn't the first of its kind to engage with the touchy issue of child death in alarmingly intimate detail: The 2009 documentary "Boy Interrupted" explored the factors that led to a 15-year-old's suicide from the perspective of his filmmaker parents; "Dear Zachary" deals with the murder of an infant and emphasizes the pain surrounding his death by including it as a late second act surprise.

Still, those movies contain fairly traditional documentary ingredients that at least make their intentions readily understandable. "Farewell to Hollywood," with its messy assemblage of home video footage, lacks the same clarity; as a whole, it's best approach as a diary film made primarily for the two people who conceived of it.

At his Q&A, Corra referred to this unorthodox approach as "living cinema," a process mandated by the emotional journey endured by its creators. This isn't exactly a fresh term: In the 1970s and 1980s, the Collective for Living Cinema provided a haven for New York's underground avant garde filmmakers, who regularly explored the possibilities of filmmaking that pushed beyond any traditional restrictions on the medium. Viewed in light of that tradition, "Farewell to Hollywood" ostensibly constitutes a work of experimental film art only accessible to audiences open to its goals.

However, it may represent one of the biggest productions from that school of thought: "Farewell to Hollywood" was produced in part by Lance Armstrong's Livestrong foundation and lists the disgraced biker among its executive producers. Just as that company has been overshadowed by the moral infringements of its founder, the poignant aspects of "Farewell to Hollywood" are at odds with the problematic conditions behind its creation.

Of course, Corra feels differently. "I think the film gave us something to go through with this death in an elegant and graceful way," he told the IDFA audience. But Nicholson's own talent may have achieved that much already. "Glimpse of Horizon," one of the short films uploaded to Nicholson's YouTube page, provides more emotional lucidity than "Farewell to Hollywood" achieves in two hours.

The very presence of Corra in the movie problematizes it from the outset. Given their decision to reject their daughter, Nicholson's parents don't escape unscathed, but their concern over her relationship to Corra doesn't seem entirely unfounded: Corra never allows himself to become enough of a fully defined character in the story to justify his motives. Naturally, he was ready to face the firing squad at the Q&A. "We did not have sex, OK?" he stated unprompted at the premiere. "That's what everybody's thinking right?" Then he added an unusual qualifier: "We had a relationship that was better than sex."  

Setting aside that troubling dynamic, "Farewell to Hollywood" unquestionably contains a passionate energy as it chronicles Nicholson's increasingly weak state; her body literally withers away before our eyes, and many of the unsettling details of her chemotherapy treatment remain onscreen. There's no doubting that the movie's closeness to Nicholson's experience has the ability to address anyone with the capacity to relate.

Towards the end of the Q&A, one audience member tearfully recounted how the movie reminded her of an experience last year surviving a brain tumor operation, then asked Corra for a hug. He obliged, while an IDFA cameraman recorded the whole thing nearby, and suddenly it was as though the entire crowd had become a part of Corra's movie. The scattered, awkward applause that followed this moment was an apt reflection of the conflicting effect that "Farewell to Hollywood" has on its viewers.

Corra concluded the post-screening discussion by telling audiences that Nicholson provided him with a message to anyone who questioned their connection. "I'm your dead virgin bride," he quoted her as saying, "and the film is our immaculately conceived love child." It's the kind of poetic assertion that should have made it to the final edit. "Farewell to Hollywood" contains ample footage to illustrate that Nicholson was an active creative mind cut down just as it was starting to get complicated. The movie succeeds at making the case for her sizable ambition and conveying the tragedy of her fate. But the ultimate documentary is less successful than the document of Nicholson's talent buried inside of it.

Criticwire Grade: C+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Sure to divide audiences as it continues to play festivals, "Farewell to Hollywood" is most likely going to have a tough time finding a distributor, though it could manage to stay in the conversation with a self-release strategy that capitalizes on interest from the cancer support community.

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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!!!