I was having another of my lovely email correspondences with my long time friend, Jill the other day when she sent me a blurb about a little independent film called 24 Exposures she saw listed on Netflix about a photographer named Billy who, according to the film’s description, finds himself in a bit of a dilemma:
For Billy, photographic fantasy and real-life lust have always blurred, which proves dangerous when one of his models ends up dead. Even if he’s cleared of the murder, Billy must face the wreckage in his life that this wake-up call has revealed.
That’s the thing about having the name Billy. Your name is often used in media of all kinds. We both had a good laugh and I told Jill I’d add it to my Netflix queue if it ever became available to stream. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), it’s currently only available with a Netflix DVD subscription.
But it got me thinking. Now that Netflix gives you the option to create profiles for different viewers with the same Netflix account, why not use that feature to create something useful. What her little film joke of sorts did, was to inspire me to create a new Netflix profile of just art and film-related films and documentaries that I love or have on my, I should watch this, list. Sometimes when I have an art related guest at Billy’s Home for Wayward Girls, they want to watch something art related or art inspiring, and I thought that might be a nice list to keep on hand.
And so, I created an Art and Film School profile on my Netflix account.
Sadly, the ever churning availability of Netflix movies has removed many favorites I’ve streamed in the past few years. Inspiring documentaries on great photographers, painters and other artists, once available, are no longer. But I thought I’d post the same list that I sent back to my friend Jill this week, should you, my dear gentle readers, wish to continue your own Billy’s School of Liberal Arts education.
Some of these are documentaries. Some are fictional narrative films, but all have something to do with art, film, design and/or inspiration on some level.
What I’ve seen from that list, in no particular order:
Mademoiselle C: A documentary on Carine Roitfeld, who first came to my attention when I used to have an expensive subscription to Paris Vogue. In my opinion, her sense for photography and creating compelling, stylish images in fashion, far, far exceeded the talents and artistic style of her photo editor colleagues from other fashion magazines. To hold an American Vogue and French Vogue in your hands and compare was like holding McDonald’s in one and a delicious five-course meal with excellent wine pairings in the other. She’s just that good. This is a documentary about her time shortly after exiting French Vogue and the creation of the first issue of her new magazine CR Fashion Book.
The Punk Singer: How did I not know about this woman? Kathleen Hanna is an incredible force, both in the music industry and in the world in general around her. But she somehow managed to be under the mainstream music radar, at least for me, until I saw this film. Compelling, sad and triumphant.
Deceptive Practice: If you’ve seen any David Mamet film, you’ve probably seen Ricky Jay. A close-up card performer when he’s not stealing movie scenes, Ricky is talented artist and has a fascinating point of view as well. Always been a fan. Loved learning more about him in this doc.
The People vs. George Lucas: One of my good friends knows one of the producers of this entertaining documentary, which is not the only reason why it’s long been one of my favorites. Because, I too, having been a child in 1977 whose little mind was blown by the original Star Wars in 1977, have very mixed feelings about how the Star Wars universe unfolded in the following decades. Does an artist have the right to continue to tweak his own piece of film history, long after it’s become a cultural and artistic touchstone? This documentary attempts to answer this important question in a very watchable way.
Exit Through the Gift Shop: Banksy. Except not really about Banksy. More about the street art underground culture. This film was very popular a few years ago, so not quite as underground a film as some on my list. But very good if you haven’t seen it.
Page One: Ah, newspapers. I’ll be very sad when they officially cease to exist. Here’s the story of the New York Times, trying to navigate the new world of being relevant in an increasingly non-print world.
Side by Side: Keanu Reeves takes a lot of guff for being… well… Keanu. But he does a good job of talking to an excellent list of great filmmakers from many generations about the canyon we’ve almost entirely crossed between film and digital filmmaking. As filmmakers, we should all know where we’ve been so we can navigate where we’re going. But the bottom line is the story. It’s always the story, no matter what you shoot with.
Unzipped: In the mid-90s, almost simultaneously, two films about the fashion industry were born, Robert Altman’s Prêt-à-Porter (1994) and Douglas Keeve’s Unzipped (1995). At the time, I thought Altman wasted an opportunity to create a film about such an interesting industry. I was furious when I saw it. I have since softened my view a bit on that film, while my love for the documentary that appeared in it’s shadow, Unzipped, remains as strong as ever. It’s the story of Isaac Mizrahi as he creates his one of his new fashion collections. With many of the same players in both films, or at least caricatures of them in Altman’s work, the real deal in Unzipped is far more compelling. Far more human. Perhaps because Keeve was Mizrahi’s boyfriend at the time and told a much more honest story of a year in the designer’s life.
Bill Cunningham New York: A tremendous documentary about cultural anthropologist Bill Cunningham as he rides his bike around Manhattan, documenting fashion and culture in NYC for his On The Street and Evening Hours columns. Fun and enjoyable.
Milus: Larger than life, and for once, the cliché fits the man, John Milius is a writer, director and producer who, like many artists, didn’t fit the mold and probably would have been even more successful than he was had he agreed to play the hollywood game. But his story would be far less interesting then.
Sirens: One of the first narrative films that spoke to me about my own art and how narrow-minded people shouldn’t dissuade you from doing what you love to create. Great performances by Sam Neil and Tara Fitzgerald. Oh, and Hugh Grant too. Oh, and the lovely Elle Macpherson. In 1994, the year this film came out, I was still finding my footing around my fine art nude photography, and this story was a refreshing affirmation.
Cashback: An odd little film. Exactly the kind you’re lucky enough to find on Netflix that you’d never stumble across anywhere else because you’ve already seen all six of the major hollywood films that Netflix somehow has the rights to carry and you’re looking for something new. The premise sounds like some Skin-emax low-budget film. An artist with insomnia takes an overnight job at a grocery story and imagines or discovers he can freeze time allowing him to undress some of the lovely customers in order to draw them. But it’s actually a sweet film, not the exploitative guilty pleasure I thought it might be when I first encountered it, grimaced and pressed play. And as an artist who comes in contact with an abundance of undressed women, it was a fascinating concept to imagine.
The Artist and the Model: Ah, this one was a recent wonderful surprise of a discovery. A truly lovely French film from 2012 by director Fernando Trueba, it take place in a small French town during the German occupation of France in World War II. An aging sculptor, who has most likely retired from his art because of the war as much as his age, finds that his wife has encouraged a beautiful young Spanish refugee to live with the family in exchange for agreeing to be a life model for the curmudgeonly old man. It’s a beautiful story and full of all of the instances of young neighbors boys trying to get a glimpse of what’s happening in the old artist’s workshop on the hill, fears of discovery by the Germans and the simple beauty of the creation of fine art that you might hope to find in a film like this.
And the rest in the Netflix queue are films I hope to watch and be inspired by on some level, before Netflix takes them away like so many others without warning.
One of my favorites, Beauty is Embarrassing, was available for a while, but is now gone. It’s available for purchase on the official website, however, or also for a $5 rental on the new Vimeo on Demand.
Another great film that I first saw on Netflix is called Pause Press Play and is no longer there, but surprisingly is available for free in it’s entirety on Vimeo.
Enjoy. And if enough people like this little list, I’ll update it from time to time. Feel free to let me know others that should be part of the Billy’s Film and Art School Netflix curriculum.
Thanks, as always for your support and readership.