Filmistaan [2013)

I consider it an auspicious sign that my survey of Indian cinema begins in earnest with the masterpiece Filmistaan.

Do not mistake this piece of cinema for a half-baked idea.

Do not even attempt to lower it by calling it a comedy.

And not least, do not think only of India.

I wanted to come up with a catchy pigeonhole.

Indian Subcontinent.

The Subcontinent.

But I have too much respect for the great traditions of Bollywood (and Lollywood) to do such a thing.

And so this is very much an Indian film.

India.

And it is very much a comedy.

So funny!

But it is touching in a way to which few films can ever aspire.

Filmistaan, like Roberto Benigni’s magnum opus La vita è bella, takes on a very serious subject with the best weapon of all:  humor.

But instead of the Holocaust, we get the Partition.

And yet, Filmistaan is not some laborious period piece.

[leave that to the artless Spielbergs]

No, our film addresses the tension between India and Pakistan in the most deft, feather-light manner imaginable.

And for this we have to thank a new auteur on the world stage:  Nitin Kakkar.

I say “new” because Mr. Kakkar has not been graced with the honor of his own Wikipedia page in English yet.

Well, he is wholly deserving of that honor (based on Filmistaan alone).

But Mr. Kakkar had to have magical actors to pull this off.

Luckily for him, he did!

Sharib Hashmi is undoubtedly the star of this picture.

His performance as Sunny goes from the highest highs of emotion to the lowest lows.

It is truly remarkable.

Mr. Hashmi is about one month older than me.

40 years old.

Perhaps that’s why I identified with his youthful optimism and passionate devotion to cinema.

But to understand our film, we must first locate Rajasthan on a map.

It is the biggest state in India.

It is northwest.

And it borders Pakistan.

To understand Rajasthan, we must comprehend the Thar Desert.

Most of the Thar Desert is in Rajasthan, but it extends somewhat into Pakistan.

These are all important details in understanding our film.

Rajasthan is arid.

Like the American Southwest, it’s a good place to get lost…or kidnapped.

But friends are to be found in the most unlikely places.

And the friendship of shared interest, such as two cinema devotees, knows no borders.

For Mr. Hashmi, the brilliance of his performance depends on the artful support he receives from fellow-actor Inaamulhaq.

But let’s examine the divide between India and Pakistan for a moment.

It is a fact that a man from Peshawar (if he speaks Urdu) can communicate with a man from Delhi (if he speaks Hindi).

Peshawar, of course, is in Pakistan.

Indeed, it’s so far into Pakistan that it’s almost in Afghanistan.

Delhi, of course, is in India.

It is in the north-central part of the country.

It is, further, not essential that the two talkers hypothesized above be men.

The salient detail is that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language (in their spoken forms).

This is vital to understanding Filmistaan.

But continuing, the two languages could not look more different once they are written down.

[Which is to say, the two hypothesized men might be at loggerheads were they forced to communicate with pen and paper]

Urdu looks similar to its written forebear Farsi (the language of Iran) [which is itself a descendent of Arabic script].

To put it quite simply, a neophyte like myself would probably have a difficult time telling the difference between Urdu, Persian (Farsi), and Arabic.

Hindi is in the wholly different Devanagari script.

You will not confuse written Urdu and Hindi.

It’s at least as obvious as Picasso to Pollock (if not Warhol to Rembrandt).

But enough analogies.

Why should you watch Filmistaan?

Well, for one…it’s currently on Netflix.

Yes, ever since I have joined the streaming service, I have ventured to be a more “worthwhile” film critic by giving you relatively-spoiler-free reviews of current titles to be found on the U.S. version of the site.

But that’s only the beginning.

Yes, there are wonderful performances from Kumud Mishra and Gopal Dutt (as well as a plethora of fine supporting actors).

But the real reason is that Filmistaan expresses the sublime.

The context is terrorism.

The context is border tension.

Indeed, on the Indian Subcontinent, the context is two nuclear states.

Pakistan and India.

But the context goes back.

To Jinnah and Nehru.

And the threads bind.

Cricket.  Cinema.  Music.

There is an excellent example in Filmistaan which illustrates the situation.

Dilip Kumar.

Now 94 years old.

Like my hypothetical man from earlier, born in Peshawar.

Then a part of “Pre-Independence India”.

Now a part of Pakistan.

Bordering Afghanistan.

In Filmistaan, Inaamulhaq knows him as Sir Yusuf.

Sunny knows him as Dilip.

Dilip Kumar was born Muhammad Yusuf Khan in Peshawar in 1922.

Sir Yusuf.

Dilip Kumar.

Same person.

It’s like the World Wars.

fenêtre in French

das Fenster in German

window.

/\

fenêtre /\ Fenster

But when you look through a window (or a border), everything can look backwards.

You’re so close, in reality.

But you’re reading the word as if in a mirror.

Nitin Kakkar directed a masterpiece with Filmistaan because he put his heart and soul into evoking peace.

There are no winners in a nuclear war.

And peace is a rare commodity on the world stage.

Geopolitics…

But we must reach out that hand.

And shake it.

I congratulate Nitin Kakkar and Sharib Hashmi for their dedication.

It is evident.

Though I speak neither Hindi nor Urdu, I was able to watch.

And understand.

I needed the subtitles.

But sublime emotions may be mutually intelligible across cultures.

What a film!

-PD

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure [1985)

This movie is kinda like LSD.

Not that I would know.

But from what I hear…

If you come into it with fear and anxiety, it will be a grating, disorienting, annoying experience.  Frightening.

But if you come into it at peace and relaxed, you might just have a wonderful time viewing this movie.

The first third of the film was tense for me.

Everything is tense for me.

Thank God for drugs.

And so the rest of the film was quite charming and (dare I say?) meaningful.

We probably all know the Pee-Wee story…how he got caught whacking off in an adult movie theater.

But everyone deserves a second chance.

Sure, a guy who wakes up in the morning wearing lipstick and rouge might be a little suspect to some, but this whole film is fantasy.

Back to psychedelics…

It’s only appropriate that my old computer has just come down with the trippiest virus I’ve ever seen.

But no matter.

We push on.

Five more days.

Yes, Pee-Wee is like Mr. Bean.

And when Pee-Wee dances, it presages Napoleon Dynamite’s talent show jaw-dropper by some years.

Paul Reubenfeld –> Paul Reubens –> Pee-Wee Herman

In Hollywood, you can be anyone you want to be.

That’s entertainment (as The Jam sang).

But we have to give a shout out to the adorable Elizabeth Daily who plays Dottie.

Madame Ruby only accepts cash…even on a rainy night.

But she also does income tax.

Sure, Pee-Wee looks a little too comfortable in his Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Laverne-&-Shirley frock, but that’s part of his oblivious joy.

Large Marge is, of course, unforgettable.

Diane Salinger is really great as Simone.

With that aching dream to get to France.

I know.  This dream.

I lived it.

And how I’d so like to go back.

“Au revoir, Simone…”

Nothing like sitting on a tongue…watching the sun come up between some teeth.

But then we get my hometown.

San Antonio.

And a lot of it!

Please don’t think we all speak like Jan Hooks 🙂

As an amnesiac, Pee-Wee can recall but one thing:

“Remember the Alamo!”

Yee-Haw!!!

So let’s see…fainting after bike theft (Truffaut) followed by EMS and oxygen?  Check.

Amnesia after being thrown from a bull?  Check.

Hospitalization after riding a Harley through a wooden sign?  Check.

I am remiss to mention that I forgot the appendectomy in Spies Like Us.

These signs that God is looking out for us.

And France.

A story which didn’t resonate during my youth.

But only after I’d fallen in love to Messiaen.

Only after I became Tropic of Cancer.

A duck in Milton Berle’s pants is enough to get Pee-Wee on set at Warner Brothers.

What ensues is truly a zany take on the car chase cliche.

Then Pee-Wee frees the animals at the zoo.  XMAS

And with handfuls of snakes, faints again (trumping Truffaut) before first responders revive him.

Breaking the rules was a way to promotion in the 1980s.

And when it’s couched in playful imagination, it is charming indeed.

When it’s funny.  A farce.  Comedic.

Pee-Wee as bellhop is like Jason Schwartzman’s understudy in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Director Tim Burton deserves heaping credit for making this an actually timeless film.  It is creative throughout.

It’s really a joy to see.

Just don’t take the brown acid.

-PD

La Belle et la Bête [1946)

We return to old wounds.

First tastes.

Last glimpses.

I told her, but she did not believe me.  Belle.

And I have rejected several metric tons of noise to be a dedicated son.

Asks for a single rose.

Saved by a fire beneath a sturdy mantle in the cold countryside.

One of the first French films I saw.  Maybe the very first.

Where my eyes were open.

King Lear and filial piety and the prodigal.

But daughters who are pure.  Rare.

1001 nights.  The same question.

The persistence of memory.

We must visit.  We must move.  We must be there.

Magic mirrors before Skype or Facetime.

Back when coups involved messengers on horses.

It should be Cupid firing the arrows.

And not chess against Deep Blue.

Folger’s instant karma.

Here’s your svelte reward.

And your big fat penalty.

It would be nice.

To finish my penance.

And in these tests to feel the peace of Mother Teresa.

That we can call on a saint and ask translation.

Guidance.

We don’t need the whole fairy tale.

Mostly the arms with candelabras and the blinking statues.

 

-PD

Corner Store [2010)

I previously reviewed the Palestinian masterpiece خمس كاميرات محطمة‎‎ (Five Broken Cameras).

And we shall return to Palestine with another moving documentary.

Another masterpiece.

For this one we have a very perceptive American director to thank:  Katherine Bruens.

But all of it would be for naught if not for a shining example of humanity:  corner store owner Yousef Elhaj.

The occupation of Palestine can elicit such feelings of anger and disgust (as well it should).

But every once in a while a real kind spirit comes along.

And such kind spirits shame the despicable Israeli settlers and their vulture military even more so than the most vitriolic polemic.

Yousef Elhaj is such a person.

Sweet.  Hardworking.  Kind.  Quiet.  Patient.  Hardworking.

And (big surprise) a Christian.

Here we see a different perspective from 5 Broken Cameras.

I suppose we are used to assuming that all Palestinians are Muslims (and a vast majority are), but it is interesting to see things from a different perspective.

Elhaj’s life in Bethlehem (occupied West Bank) was just as crappy as that of any Muslim living there or in any other part of the criminally unrecognized Palestine.

Another important point…  Being Christian does not make Elhaj any less Arab.

Most importantly…  Peace in the Middle East is possible because of people like Yousef Elhaj.

He is really a jaw-dropping personage.

So much sacrifice for his family.

7:30 a.m.-midnight.

Seven days a week.

A little corner store on Church St. in San Francisco.

And to see life in Bethlehem.

To see the hell of walls and settlements which the Israelis have erected.

The settlements encroach.  The settlements surround.

Bethlehem is completely encircled by concrete structures which are too artless for even Frank Gehry to barf on.

That’s what settlements mean.

Don’t let the euphemism fool you.

“Settlements” are concrete apartment blocks built on stolen land.

That would be bad enough were it not for the ubiquitous (and racist) walls which stockade Palestine.

And yet we don’t see anger from Mr. Elhaj.

He isn’t shown at a protest.

He just wants his family to be alright.

And his main emotion upon seeing the decline of his home town of Bethlehem is sadness.

The Israeli gun towers.  Turrets to protect the settlers.  And to hell with everyone else.

The sadness as a business man is remarkable.

What made him leave in the first place.

Things weren’t just bad.  They were awful.

And so he has been away from his family for ten years.

He could have brought them to the U.S., but our immigration laws are not written to think of people as people.

Rather, our laws reduce people to statistics.

Quotas.

I can only figure that Mr. Elhaj (as bad as things were for him) actually had it better than Muslim Palestinians hoping to start a new life in America.  [Which is to say, Muslims in general are not in an enviable position at this time regarding their leverage in situations of immigration review.]

So let’s think about it…

Bernie Sanders might be a generally disposable candidate, but he’s gotten a couple things right.

When he talks about America’s strength being its diversity?  He’s absolutely right.

It’s trite.  It’s Democrat politics 101…but it is correct.

And Mr. Trump (whom I like)…  Wanna see what walls do?  Go check out Palestine.  Actually get in the open-air jail.  Don’t view it from a safe distance courtesy of the occupiers.

The walls are ugly.

Sad.

Pathetic.

Fearful.

Weak.

Mr. Elhaj has so much to teach us in this documentary.

You can succeed in America.

The opportunity is there.

It may not be pretty.

But when you’re coming from the hell of Bethlehem, it’s a walk in the park.

You do it all for your family.

Seven days a week.

For ten years.

 

-PD

Knight Without Armour [1937)

First, my apologies.

My apologies to every Jewish person I may have offended.

There is no good explanation other than to say that the Internet is rife with anti-Jewish sentiment.

I have experienced this irrational wave of nastiness and tried to fight against it.

But I am just a human.

A human with no friends.

And so I ask world Jewry to forgive my failings.

My mission is to speak peace.  It is sometimes not easy to speak peace with a tongue of fire.

Many things I have posted over the years.

What I post is my opinion.

But let it be known that I am just as ignorant as anyone.

And so I ask God to send me Jewish friends.

I have long had my arms open to Muslims worldwide.

My spirit is one of acceptance.

I am no genius.

I accept the Christians of the world.

I have no grudge.

I understand the immortal things no better than any man.

I ask Scientologists to forgive me.

I don’t understand your beliefs.

There is no reason for me to denigrate you.

I ask Lenny Pozner to forgive me.

I don’t know what happened at Sandy Hook.

I know it seems very strange, but I am not a chorus boy for a wave of anger.

I ask the state of Israel and Israelis to forgive me.

I don’t know your country.  I can’t pretend I do.

I ask everyone who has depended on me to forgive me.

I have only tried to tell the truth about 9/11.

Maybe I am wrong.

Maybe the truth is just as it was written by the 9/11 commission.

I don’t think so, but I’m willing to admit that I don’t really understand it.

I don’t understand physics.

I don’t understand intelligence agencies.

I would ask the CIA to please forgive me.

You are probably risking your lives and doing very honorable things.

I just don’t understand.  I don’t know.

I haven’t been there.  I have no idea what you do.

I ask the New World Order (which may or may not exist) to forgive me.

I know you’re probably just a bunch of well-meaning rich people.

I don’t know what your aims are.

I don’t hate you.

I don’t even know you.

But most of all I ask Jacques Feyder to forgive me.

Here I have taken the film review form as a way to ask forgiveness.

I have not talked about his film.

I haven’t talked about Marlene Dietrich.  Or Robert Donat.

Or even the very interesting Frances Marion.

I’m sorry.

I hope only that by speaking candidly I can do justice to this wonderful film.

I always stand up for Muslims.  And Palestinians.

But today I don’t have the right words.

Please forgive me, comrades.

And to my socialist brothers and sisters.

Please accept my apology.  I don’t know what your philosophy really is.

I cannot criticize what I do not know.

I only know film.  And my gut.  And music.

In a word:  art.

I stand with anyone who loves art.

My politics don’t make any sense.

Don’t mind me.

I’m trying to do the best I can, but it’s not good enough.

I’m a bundle of contradictions.

I can only press onwards and hope for the salvation of film and love.

Please forgive me Meir Kahane.  I did not know you.

Please forgive me Jewish Defense League and Mossad.

And the Anti-Defamation League.

I don’t know what you’re up against.  I don’t see what you see.

Please forgive me AIPAC and Southern Poverty Law Center.

I’m not sure if I ever insulted you, but I probably did.  At least one of you.

Please forgive me George Soros.

I don’t think I ever insulted you, but I wanted to.

And that’s wrong.  Because I don’t know anything about you.

I live in Texas where there are very few Jews.

I don’t know about Judaism.

I don’t understand.

But I don’t want to insult your tradition.

I don’t understand the Holocaust.

I don’t know what to say.

I can only tell the truth the best I can.

Please join me in a new effort of forgiveness and openness.

We can make a better world with wisdom.

I pray to you God for wisdom.

My words are impure.

I have tried.  And yet my words are hollow.

Please breathe your life into my words and make them real.

Make me a decent person.

Thank you.

 

-PD

Francesco, giullare di Dio [1950)

As a humble servant I come to you.

Speaking of a film.

About the dear St. Francis of Asisi.  San Francesco.  François.

I remember you because of the dear composer Olivier Messiaen.

And his only opera.

As a humble servant I thank God for life.

Two people playing catch with a football.

Traffic jams.

Moments of reflection.

I thank you God for Hélène Grimaud’s new album.

It is raining and soaking us to the bone.

As I walk with Harry Partch.

Bitter music.

I am but a poor sinner.

This film which is impenetrable.

Drab drab.

We thank God for the birds which laugh.

And I thank God for Pope Francis.

Yes, it is only fitting.

That he has seen the striving of all world religions.

That he has seen their imperfections.

That he has voiced the message of peace.

That we are all praying to the same God.

Whether Trinity or plethora.

Allah.

Shiva and Vishnu.

And Mr. Buddha, who are you?

Is it a koan I present?

Perhaps.

We thank God for Aldo Fabrizi.

The humor of the birds.

Chirp a little softer so that I may finish the Lord’s Prayer.

And let us not neglect Christianity.

As we are embracing our brothers around the world.

Our sisters around the world.

Thank God for holy fools.

I

am only able to relate to the dirt.

The ground.  The soil.

As we make our way without sandals.

But no.

We might need a peg and awl to fix them.

It was The Carolina Tar Heels back in 19 and 28.

1928.

There is a leper with a cowbell.

It means stay back.

Look away.  I’m hideous.

We come humble to the table of the Lord.

Face down in a field of flowers.

Grappling with the beauty of it all.

And the Saints also have sadness.

Because it is a hard road.

To leave and be uprooted.

To see friends wade across to the other shore.

To Arezzo, perhaps.  Spoleto.  Pisa.

Disarming with his smile the ridiculous tyrant in his Picasso armor.

We do not understand.

Flat round.

We are but poor country people.  Poor city folk.  Provincial yahoos.

I will sit and enjoy the day…chewing on this leek.

All the actors forgotten.

Nonprofessionals.

Except Aldo Fabrizi.

And we have not thanked the auteur Roberto Rossellini.

Such a strange, simple piety which would so affect Truffaut and Godard.

To put oneself in the 12th…13th centuries.

And to lovingly portray the Franciscans.

Yes, it is good.

Joy now is good.  Thank you God from your humble servant.

Not worthy to carry your flowers.

Pick the flowers but don’t harm the branches.

 

-PD

The Great Dictator [1940)

The light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

I’ll say it again.

The light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

And so with a stark wisdom Charlie Chaplin stepped into a new realm with this film…a bit like John Lennon on his first solo album Plastic Ono Band.

You think the comparison is daft.  Perhaps.

God is a concept…by which we measure, our, pain?

It’s just a maxim.  Boiled down.

Axiomatic.

And for me…from Chaplin…it is:

the light of the mind is in truth not revenge.

The “unofficial” motto of the Central Intelligence Agency:

“And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.”

I’m trying to up my game.  As a human being.

Today.  A small miracle.  A secret.

The secret of the beehive.

Swarming with celluloid transferred to digital information.

1s and 0s.  So that a particular defect in the print (a scratch on the surface) will always appear the same.  Forever.

The Great Dictator.

I know.  I should italicize.  Like Benzino Napaloni.  In the heel of Bacteria.

[That would be somewhere between the Hindu Kush and the Amu Darya river.]

But I digresseth…

The light of the mind is truth not revenge.

In truth.

And so before God and all people I verbally bow down and prostrate myself as a mere blob of unworthiness.

Day in, day out.

But today especially.

Maybe…

My spaces will be removed.

Poetry is inefficient.

And cryptic writing is so tedious.

Truth not revenge.

Which is to say.

Diametrically opposed to–

untruth and revenge.

[at the very least].

There’s nothing difficult to say anymore.

I used to consider the French and the Jews my favorite people.

And there is no reason to alter that.

Truth sans revenge.

A mind of reason.

Forever and a day you could read histories and become an expert.

On anything.

Any topic.

Matchboxes.

Bread baking in 14th-century Sweden.

I chose movies because they were young.

It was possible.

The breadth seemed traversable.

But the emotions in film can never be belted.

We cannot bale these emotions.

We cannot stack them and inventory them.

To side with a talking head is not evolved.

From David Duke to Louis Farrakhan.

And to gag every time we see Netanyahu.

Let us examine.

No.  You are right.

People are dying.

But if we have the luxury to think,

then let us examine.

What Charlie Chaplin might have been saying.

Don’t watch the final speech on YouTube.

It will seem forced.

It is out of context.

You don’t see the psychic sweat.

Watch the whole damn film and then decide.

Muslims protecting Jews.

Jews protecting Muslims.

Bodily.

Stepping in front.

Yes.

It is not fair.

The jet planes.

Truth without revenge.

My son.

Daughter.

The great sobbing of the earth.

African-Americans protecting white people.

White people protecting African-Americans.

Fully.

You can never recover from slavery.

No people can.

And the best and brightest.  The inventors of jazz.  The marginalized intellectuals.

Truth not revenge.

Get the truth.

Know it.

Evolve.

Transcend.

Easy to say sitting in a little comfy house.

Not so easy homeless.

Words are so easy.

It is a crossroads.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise, they say.

And anti-Muslim fervor is also strong.

We overcompensate.

We err.

And so I say love the Jew.

Love the Muslim.

Love the black man.

Love the white man.

Listen to the women.

Love the man and the woman equally.  As humans.

And the Jew and the Gentile equally.  Equally.  As humans.

Let the imagination of your heart run wild with love.

Feel what it might feel like.

When all those variables guide your life.

That you wake up each day in a category.

Russians and Americans in a moment.

Every nation which has previously spilled blood.

Every nation.

First nations and last nations.

Don’t be cynical.

My friend.

Myself.

A humble understanding of a few things and an openness.

To approach the new day with a more pure ambition.

-PD

Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery [1997)

I imagine I’m the only film critic in the world simultaneously engrossed in the oeuvre of Godard and the semi-genre of spy spoofs.

Yet it’s true.

And this film sets a sort of modern standard.

When I first saw this picture it didn’t have the same effect on me which it does now.

The difference?

Total immersion in the James Bond series.

This brings me back to my first statement…stated differently:

How could a person delve into the deepest recesses of French intellectual film and yet appreciate a notoriously shallow succession of pseudo-cinematic pap?

The James Bond franchise succeeded in its early years on sheer will of confidence (expressed in the nonchalant swagger of Sean Connery).

And so for those of us who are drawn to films such as Dr. No like moths to a flame Austin Powers provides just the right measure of fun to mercifully deflate our nonsensical ambitions.

Truth be told, most average citizens (myself included) would make horrible secret agents.  We can’t keep secrets.

We can’t outrun a young assassin.

But we like to dream.

There are always analyst jobs.  Perhaps…

But let’s get on with it…

What makes this film special?

It is that outsider/outcast aspect which plagues Austin “Danger” Powers.

The most poignant (poignant?) touch is Austin in the casino bar flashing a peace sign (V) of naïvete to a tableful of unsympathetic twits.

It should be noted that Mike Myers actually does a formidable job of not only referencing the various minutiae of Bond films but also of evoking the humanism of Chaplin embodied in the closing speech of The Great Dictator.

Put simply, this is a very smart movie.  Don’t let the fart jokes fool you.

Sure…some aspects of this film have not aged so well, but it was made in a spirit of fun.

Did this opening installment in the franchise pander to the mediocre intelligence of American movie-going audiences?

Of course.

But hey…that spirit has powered (no pun intended) some of the great films of all time.

What Austin Powers brought to the world was really a reawakening of the American comedy zeitgeist from the 1980s.

Think of those great, enjoyable films like The Three Amigos (and especially Spies Like Us), Trading Places, the National Lampoon movies, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…  I don’t care what anyone says:  those were great movies!

Those are the films I grew up on.  Airplane, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure…heck, even Romancing the Stone pulled me in every time it came on TV.

Director Jay Roach did a really nice job of providing that enjoyable experience with this film.  We all need some laughs.

Life is too hard; too sad.  Too serious!

But Austin Powers is most of all the gold standard of Bond spoofs.  When you can’t watch Goldfinger for the umpteenth time, give yourself a break with this film.

It will feel like a masterpiece.  We all need a funhouse mirror in which to see our own reflection and laugh.

There’s no shame in that 🙂

-PD

Sweet Toronto [1971)

Symptomatic of the times.  Now.  Then.

Read the news and it’s just about enough to depress you.  If you’re not already cynical.

But here comes a boy and a little girl…trying to change the whole wide world.

Isolation.

If you find this film, it likely won’t be under its original title Sweet Toronto.

My copy says John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto.

Which shows you how much Shout! Factory thought of the director D.A. Pennebaker.

The changed the title of his fuckin’ film!

Sure, they tacked on a poignant interview with Yoko to the front end, but other than that it seems unchanged.

Reminds us of another director who got shafted making a music documentary:  Jean-Luc Godard.

What is most widely available today as Sympathy for the Devil was originally to be called One Plus One.

The producers tacked on the title song to the end of the film (playing over largely inconsequential footage…at least initially) and retitled the sucker.

Godard allegedly punched the producer in the face after the premier…but I digress.

Why should you watch this film under consideration?

There’s a couple good reasons.

The first is Bo Diddley.  Sure, it’s only one song, but it sets the stage (literally) for what follows.

Pennebaker uses Diddley’s music to usher in the motorcade of John Lennon and entourage.

And when we really get to watch Bo, he’s dancin’ and jivin’ and (by the way) doing a nice job of not stepping on his guitar cable.

It’s a long, jammy, droned-out piece:  “Bo Diddley.”  That’s right, the song is titled “Bo Diddley” by (who else?) Bo Diddley.

If you close your eyes you just might think you’re listening to The Velvet Underground.  That won’t be the last time in the night for which those words are applicable.

Pennebaker keeps the train a’ rollin’ with a complete change of pace:  Jerry Lee Lewis.

Again, it’s only one song, but the director builds the excitement of anticipation for the headliner.

Lewis…smoking his cigar…gold rings and jewelry on that pumpin’ right hand…up high on the piano…and occasionally a brown patent-leather ankle book (Beatle boot?) makes it’s way up to the top register to heel a little tone cluster of exclamation.

At this point, Shout! Factory (perhaps at the behest of Chuck Berry?) makes a decision to cut Chuck’s song.

And so we roll into Little Richard.  Again, we can imagine…Prince, Michael Jackson…we are seeing the entire history of rock and roll compressed into 70 (?) minutes…from Jerry Lee singing a song made most famous by Elvis all the way to the headliner who will take us to far out, groovy places which may or may not still exist.

Little Richard has the most cracker-jack band.  A couple of sax players…really tight.

And so after three fantastic performers in a row–three originators of rock and roll, we get the rag-tag Plastic Ono Band.

John starts ’em off nice and slow…reverent…”Blue Suede Shoes,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and “Dizzy, Miss Lizzy” before the curve ball of “Yer Blues”…

So lonely…wanna die…ain’t dead already…know reason why.

Klaus Voormann hits a steaming helping of wrong notes throughout the early part of the set as bass player, but that’s why we love him, right?  Reminds me of those bum notes which they left in (didn’t edit out) on John’s first solo album titled (what else?) Plastic Ono Band.  But we also love Klaus because he drew the cover to The Beatles Revolver album.

But what Klaus lacks in precision is made up for by Eric Clapton on lead guitar.  Clapton with his beard…denim jacket…a generally pensive look on his face the whole time which seems to read, “What the fuck am I doing here?  Can’t believe I’m doing this.”  Clapton never glares at Ono (at least not in the shots we receive through the miracle of montage), but one can’t help thinking that a musician of Eric’s caliber might have been perplexed (to say the least) regarding Yoko’s musical contributions to the night’s proceedings.

[Alan White is, of course, great on drums.]

And so we slink into “Cold Turkey”…premiered this very night in 1969.  The rendition is like Booker T. & the MGs…very cool and groovy…laid back.

But most of all…about this film…John Lennon in a white suit…huge beard…long hair…little circular glasses.  His presence…

Remember, this concert was about four months after the Montreal bed-in.

And so the band launch into “Give Peace a Chance.”

And it’s still the most revolutionary statement possible.

Musicians are the only ones who have ever done anything worthwhile…

Truth be told, the rendition of “Give Peace a Chance” is a little lackluster.

“And now Yoko’s going to do her thing all over you”

With those words (or something close to that effect), John takes us into the final act of this opera.

And it is powerful.

Yes, these grungy musicians actually succeed in making time stop.

Yoko wails like a woman on the sea lamenting her lost child.

For all the naysayers, Ono actually did have a good sense of pitch.  It’s just that pitch (as the Western ear defines it…narrowly) is not her predominant concern (apparently).

It’s like the Damo Suzuki years of the German band Can…including their two Krautrock masterpieces Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi.  The same criticism that Ono gets for her far-out howling is rarely leveled at Suzuki.  Listeners of Can know that they are getting into an experimental vehicle when they plop a Can album on the turntable.

This, arguably, makes Ono even more revolutionary.  To go from “Blue Suede Shoes” to “John, John (Let’s Hope for Peace)” is truly high art.  The conceptual mind-fuck is equal to anything John or Alice Coltrane ever pulled-off.

And so it is that the night ends on a most bizarre note…a drone…three instruments perched against amplifiers feeding back…as if one is watching…and you will know us by the Trail of Dead.

You’ve gotta see it.  Either it speaks to you or it doesn’t.  For me, there are few more poignant ways to remember the radical genius that was John Lennon than watching a document like this.

-PD