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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > Industry > Racism > Acting > Great Depression > WWII > Biography > Art > Artists > Black Hollywood (1984/MVD Visual DVD)/Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (1975/Goodtimes/VCI/Sprocket Vault Blu-ray)/For The Love Of Spock (2016/Gravitas Ventures/FilmRise Blu-ray)/I Am Not Your Negro (20

Black Hollywood (1984/MVD Visual DVD)/Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (1975/Goodtimes/VCI/Sprocket Vault Blu-ray)/For The Love Of Spock (2016/Gravitas Ventures/FilmRise Blu-ray)/I Am Not Your Negro (2016/Magnolia Blu-ray)/Saving Banksy (2017/Candy Factory DVD)

Picture: C/B-/B/B-/C+ Sound: C/C+/B/B/C Extras: D/C+/B/C+/C Documentaries: B/B/B+/B/B

PLEASE NOTE: The For The Love Of Spock Blu-ray is now only available online and can be ordered from our friends at Movie Zyng via the order button atop this review or on top of our right hand sidebar.

Here's a look at some strong new documentaries for you to catch up on...

Director Howard Johnson's Black Hollywood (1984) was originally shown on TV (in the U.K. first apparently) though it made it to U.S. TV where I saw it much closer to the time of its creation. Especially by 1984, with rollback pro-Reagan cinema all over Hollywood, the interviewees has every right to ask the many questions posed and discussions that ensue. It was only a few years ago that the Blaxploitation films made all kinds of money, then nothing? Jim Brown, Alfie Woodard, Rosalind Cash, Diahnne Abbott, D'Urville Martin and Vonetta McGee offer some great points, ideas and even stories that can get ugly about all kinds of racism and over three decades later, its sad that some of this is absolutely STILL going on despite the critical success of Spike Lee (that would happen in a few years after this was finished) led to the Black New Wave and Eddie Murphy's star was about to really take off while Richard Pryor (the two big names in Hollywood of color) was about to run into trouble.

This runs a non-stop, solid 75 minutes long. To add to it (it has no extras) as a sort of update and enhancement of the discussion, Hollywood was hiring persons of color on the lite side (thus, the Rae-Dawn Chong controversy of the time), The Color Purple (1986) has Quincy Jones as a co-producer by no studio was going to allow a black director to helm it (they got lucky with Steven Spielberg), when Sidney Lumet's The Wiz (1978) was a box office dud, Hollywood used it as a excuse to say black consumers did not pay to see movies much despite the evidence strongly against that and since 1984, how many studio heads, financially successful production companies and even film franchises have been created and/or led by persons of color?

The 1980s over-commercialism that has led to so many bad recent blockbusters that barely break even and often bomb is the price we all pay for bad rollback politics. I'll end here, but that is way this film is as important as ever.

Phillippe Mora's Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? (1975) was made to show how bad The Great Depression was, how it was caused by purposeful recklessness, greed, some hate and carelessness that hurt millions of people. With FDR programs a proven success by 1975 and LBJ's Great Society a controversial-but-effective help, many who would see this film would think that ''we've learned our lesson and will never let this happen again'' though the 1980s arrived and recent, unnecessary economic crisis, The Great Recession and other scandals (S&L, BCCI, Enron, etc.) prove otherwise. Too bad more people did not see this more often.

The film is a remarkable mix of newsreel footage, documentary footage, stills, music from the period and more as the country goes from the freedom and fun of the Roaring 1920s to the 1929 Crash, to nightmares for so many people and the nightmare of the Axis Powers that led to WWII. We see how one wrong decision could have made things worst or been the end of the world as we know it (i.e., if FDR had lost at any time) and also uses footage from Hollywood movies to reflect the times and situations (James Cagney is used often), so it is also amazing to see the real America that was able to build and rebuild its way out of this mess and after a nightmare world, emerge as the world leader. This is great, important compilation documentary filmmaking at its best and very much worth gong out of your way for.

I'm thrilled Goodtimes, VCI and Sprocket Vault have brought this gem to Blu-ray. It was great when it first came out back in the day, I saw it soon after and was amazed then. Not only does it hold up, fi anything, its more important and relevant than ever.

Adam Nimoy's For The Love Of Spock (2016) is a great documentary biographical look at the life and career of Leonard Nimoy, one we looked at on DVD not too long ago at this link:


Adam is Leonard's son and wanted to do a profile that told his story, despite all of his commercial success as an actor and even director, but when his father died, the project took on a new importance. When my fellow writer raved about this, I thought he might be overreacting, but this is one of the best biography portraits of an actor I've seen on film or video in a long time and the raves are more than justified. There is so much good material for this story (much of which Adam surprisingly gets to) that this could have been twice the 111 minutes we have here and still been engrossing. Now with this Blu-ray, see it ASAP!!!

Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro (2016) is an incredible documentary about the writer and intellectual thinker James Baldwin, a close friend of three civil rights icons who were killed for what they believed in in the 1960s: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the disaster and set-back each murder represented. Based on work Baldwin left behind for at least one planned project, this incredible film imagines that work finished (it would be called Remember This House) where he asks some very tough, fair, important, honest and outright questions about hate, prejudice, genocide, freedom and what the country of The United States of America is supposed to stand for if it is supposed to be the greatest country.

Unlike his lost friends, he is asking these questions on such a deep, yet highly-elevated intellectual level that if the murderers of his friends saw them as a threat ands had to kill them, Baldwin is more dangerous because he is the most consistent, in the know and actually loves the world around him. I was always impressed by him any time he showed up, but he never got his due and (for the political convenience of more than a few, I'd gather) this amazing work finally brings him to life for everyone to see and hear again. Most amazing, he sounds like he could have wrote much of this in the past year, so observant and on-the-money are his ways of seeing the oppression. There are no stereotypes or illicit appeals to pity, no cliches, so it is an amazing work and recent footage is added to ask us to think, juxtapose what is going on with routes certain people in power would be better off not taking as hate is unsustainable.

This runs 94 strong minutes and includes Baldwin on camera talking about all kinds of pertinent issues. When its over, you'll see why it got a Best Documentary Academy Award nomination.

Finally we have Colin M. Day's Saving Banksy (2017) which not only talks about the importance and greatness to the title artist, the fragility of his art, how its messages could not be more timely than what we are witnessing as awful behavior by powerful people trying to destroy the vulnerable and the buyers and dealers making millions of dollars on Banksy art they are getting through what we can call shaky means on moral and ethical grounds. Our host is recording how he is saving one of the artworks to save it, but instead eventually gets people trying to buy it from him.

The idea of art and artists are discussed, as well as what is best for the public space and why can't people have healthy, quality living space at least outdoors. There is more in the engaging 69 minutes we have here, but there is so much more to say. I hope we get a sequel soon.

The 1.33 X 1 image on Hollywood was shot on 16mm film and this is a bit of an older video master, so it is a bit hazy soft throughout. However, this is at least clean and watchable, but it needs and deserves an HD update.

The 1080p 1.33 X 1 mostly black & white digital High Definition image transfer on Dime can obviously show the age of the materials used, but this is far superior a transfer to all previous releases of the film and some of the footage is in remarkable shape. Some scenes will even shock you with their clarity.

The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Spock improves on the DVD in most shots and some of the vintage footage benefits the most. I like the materials and how well they are brought together. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Negro can also show the age of the materials used, but between the stills, film and video, looks really good and holds together remarkably well.

That leaves the anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on Banksy can be soft and have its motion blur, but other shots look good, while the art often steals the scene. For all five releases, you can get some digital and analog videotape flaws including video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, cross color, faded color and tape damage, but it is minimal where it shows up.

The lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono on Hollywood is also down a generation or two, so be careful of high playback levels or volume-switching, but know that I could hear most of it clearly. The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Spock is a nice upgrade from the DVD's lossy Dolby Digital and further delivers the program more strongly, which can also be said for the DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Negro down to how exceptionally well-recorded Samuel L. Jackson's reading of James Baldwin's writings

The DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Mono lossless mix on Dime is about as fine as this film will ever sound, capturing as best as possible the original optical theatrical monophonic sound from its first release. However, the lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on Banksy has some unavoidable location audio issues and a few mixing issues, so only expect so much good audio from this one.

Extras on Dime include a solid hour of impressive Pathe Newsreels that go with the film nicely, while Banksy, Spock and Negro has bonus interview segments that are must-sees after watching their respective main programs, Banksy adds great Behind The Scenes, Spock repeats the great number of extras from the DVD we recently reviewed (no new extras, then) and Negro also adds a Video Photo Gallery to its three interview pieces (two of which are Q&As with Jackson and Peck respectively).

- Nicholas Sheffo


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