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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 85

[85th of 100]. I never thought of including documentaries in this list, because that felt like another list deserving of its own spotlight. Truth to tell, my favorite documentaries number beyond a hundred, and I actually do have a stronger preference for non-fiction. I thought that including this tradition of cinema in this list might eclipse narrative film altogether -- but nearing the tail-end of this endeavour, I've realized what a taxing, if also rewarding, exercise this has been, and I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to do the same for documentary films. And so I am placed in the most excruciating of positions: to choose just one favorite among the many. I could go the classic route and choose Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat or Nanook of the North or Man With a Movie Camera. Or I could go for the iconic and choose Grey Gardens or Woodstock or Salesman or the Up Series. Or I could go to the poetic and choose Baraka or Nostalgia for the Light or Microcosmos or Aquarela or Last and First Men or Honeyland. Or I could go for the strange and choose The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On or Gates of Heaven or Catfish. Or I could go for the historical and choose Last Days of Vietnam or The Act of Killing or The Kingmaker or Batas Militar or The Missing Picture or Night & Fog or Shoah. Or I could go for the scientific and choose A Brief History of Time or Aliens of the Deep. Or I could go for personal chronicles of uncommon or disrupted lives and choose As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty or Sunday Beauty Queen or Capturing the Friedmans or Stories We Tell or Three Identical Strangers. Or I could go for hero-making biographies such as Citizen Jane: Battle for the City or RBG or I Am Not Your Negro. Or I could go for the observational and choose At Berkeley or Ex Libris: The New York Public Library. Or I could go for the controversial and go for Olympia or Mondo Cane or The Thin Blue Line or Roger & Me or Deliver Us From Evil or Jesus Camp or An Inconvenient Truth or Waltz With Bashir or Hail, Satan? or The Terrorists or The Aristocrats or The Cove or Super Size Me. Or I could go for the delightful and choose Spellbound or Wordplay or Kedi or March of the Penguins. Or I could go for the suspenseful and choose Free Solo. Or I could go for the intellectual and choose Derrida or Public Speaking or Regarding Susan Sontag. I love films about gay concerns, and I could choose The Celluloid Closet or Paris is Burning or Before Stonewall or The Times of Harvey Milk or Tickled or The Case Against 8. I love films about artists in pursuit of their craft, and I could easily go for Jiro Dreams of Sushi or Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse or City of Gold or Exit Through the Gift Shop or Style Wars or Helvetica or De Palma or Everything is Copy: Nora Ephron, Scripted and Unscripted or Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold or What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael or Waking Sleeping Beauty or Seymour: An Introduction or Cutie and the Boxer or Hitchcock/Truffaut or The Price of Everything or Shirkers or Unzipped or Madonna: Truth or Dare or Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry or Spielberg or Six by Sondheim or Ballet 422 or Pina or Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel or Jodorowky's Dune or Man on Wire or Becoming Mike Nichols or The Kid Stays in the Picture or Mori: The Artists Habitat or Bill Cunningham New York or The First Monday in May or Finding Vivian Maier or The Decline of Western Civilization or The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness or Tim's Vermeer or Faces, Places or Filmworker or Crumb. Do you see what I mean? It's an impossibility, so I'll choose something that I've found myself perpetually delighted by even in repetition -- and if you've noticed, I have a particular weakness for documentaries about artistry and creatives. And I've chosen the 2009 documentary by R.J. Cutler about the making of Vogue Magazine's heftiest, and most sought after, monthly issue. I love the film because it is ostensibly a work documentary following American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour -- clearly her personal response to The Devil Wears Prada, the fictional expose, in book and subsequent film adaptation, that dared bear her alleged workplace toxicity. But in following their subject around as she goes through the grind of finishing the most demanding issue of the year, the film finds itself becoming a treatise about staying true to one's artistic vision under the heels of pedestrian and commercial concerns. It makes that turn when it discovers editor Grace Coddington, the perfect foil to Wintour and her struggles to juggle the demands of the bottomline, editing just enough of the artistry to populate the meager page counts with, and staying right ahead or on top of the cutting edge of fashion's many dicta. It is clearly not an enviable job, and I can understand the icy stance Wintour puts on, perhaps as shield to the hard editorial decisions she has to make. But this also makes out Coddington as the free-spirit art director, always fighting for more pages for her truly remarkable fashion photos, and always trying to subvert the fashion world's expectations. [On hearing that Wintour has ordered the pot belly of the film's cameraman -- who was used as minor subject in one of the magazine's approved photo shoots -- be airbrushed, Coddington quickly calls the art department for it to refrain from doing so. "We need this to be realistic," she tells the camera.] That push and pull between Wintour and Coddington is all the more interesting because it is not really antagonistic, but more of a strange kind of complementary. As Coddington would confess to the camera: "She knows how to push me, and I know how to push her." The film also has a special allure for me because it is also a story of journalism -- magazine-making is a very special niche -- and it has allowed me a sobering look into the hard work of creating those glossy pages. It informs me above all that the primary qualification of a good editor is really singular vision-keeping. I once worked for an editor who was too timid, and lacked a strong editorial voice: her way of managing her staff was to take in everyone's suggestions and ideas without really processing if they worked together. The resulting publication was a terrible hodgepodge that defied description. This film taught me the fine balance between editorial firmness and artistic flight. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.

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