M FILMS: Burning Man… and a Brain on Fire

Monday film critic Robert Moyes previews Taking My Parents to Burning Man and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Hollywood had a very silly summer season indeed, and as more thoughtful fare heads this way for fall, start your brain revving via two documentaries screening at Cinecenta.

First up is what has been described as “a parental coming of age story,” one set at the controversial Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert.

Taking My Parents to Burning Man was made by Vancouver’s Bryant Boesen, a 22-year-old film student (and part-time DJ), who impishly decides to pry his parents out of their humdrum office jobs and immerse them in the alternate (un)reality of a week-long anarcho-utopianist love-in that combines drugged-out debauchery with unbridled creativity, lots of caring and sharing, and a mantra of “radical self-expression.”

It’s nearly impossible to describe the event itself, which is like a steampunk circus as imagined by Terry Gilliam – especially at night, when the lights are psychedelic and 60,000 participants (no spectators allowed!) become Dionysian ravers.

But the documentary sticks close to the director and his family – who find their brains getting delightfully rewired by weird events and marvelous people, everyone inspired by Burning Man’s unique Day-Glo spirituality.

Lots of transformative fun!

 

Stars Bryant H. Boesen and his brave parents

Directed by Joel Ashton McCarthy and Bryant H. Boesen

Rating: •••

 

And we travel from Burning Man to a man with a burning desire to mock the conservative political certitudes of the day…while happily shocking his fellow Americans.

The endlessly provocative Gore Vidal, who died two years ago at age 87, was a writer and public intellectual whose novels and essays bristled with unsettling ideas and acidic, epigrammatic wit.

But notwithstanding his rarefied intellect and patrician manner, the man literally born at West Point defected from the ruling class to become a fierce champion of liberalism; he spent his life critiquing an America corrupted by power and increasingly besotted with war and empire.

The arc of that life is well captured in Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, an informative and balanced crash course in a man whose profound cultural impact emanated from Hollywood and TV scripts as much as his numerous historical novels whose subject was America itself.

There is much archival footage of Vidal – an eager celebrity who once quipped that he never missed an opportunity to have sex or appear on TV – including snippets from his legendary feuds with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer.

Supplemented with interviews featuring everyone from Christopher Hitchens to David Mamet, Amnesia is an unsentimental tribute to a fearless and intellectually dazzling provocateur.

 

Rating: ***1/2

Stars Gore Vidal

Directed by Nicholas D. Wrathall

 

Taking My Parents to Burning Man runs Sept. 22 and 23, and Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia runs Oct. 1 and 2. Both shows are at UVic’s Cinecenta.

 

COMING SOON:

Pride

The Welsh coal miners’ strike of 1984 was a pitched battle against Margaret Thatcher – a struggle that won surprise support from many of London’s gays and lesbians. With Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton.

 

Gone Girl

This shocking account of a marriage gone wrong is directed by David Fincher (Seven, The Social Network) and stars Ben Affleck as the man accused of murdering his missing and pregnant wife (Rosamund Pike).

 

The Equalizer

The 1980s TV action series about a vigilante gets kicked up several notches in a hyper-violent tale of a retired black-ops commando (Denzel Washington) who leaves a trail of corpses in his wake after an innocent teenage girl falls afoul of Russian gangsters.

 

Whiplash

There’s Oscar buzz surrounding the titanic battle of wills between an ambitious student jazz drummer and the brutal conductor (J.K. Simmons) at a prestigious New York music conservatory. This one created a sensation at Sundance.

 

Birdman

The underrated Michael Keaton has been getting huge buzz for his role in this edgy drama about a has-been actor hungry for a comeback via a Broadway show. Co-starring the great Edward Norton and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel).

•••••••

PERFECTLY POTABLE:

There’s more to Argentina than Malbec, as is clearly shown by the 2011 La Mascota, a complex and altogether impressive Cabernet Sauvignon.

Full-bodied and redolent of black cherry, cassis, and plum, this savory charmer has a long finish and the polish you’d expect from an expensive Bordeaux. Well priced at $18.

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