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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Politics > Government > Oppression > Censorship > Authoritarianism > Art > Graffiti > Labor > Blue Island (2022*)/Can't Be Stopped (2022/Blu-ray**)/A History Of The European Working Class (2020/*both Icarus DVDs)/Solo (2021/DVD/*both MVD)

Blue Island (2022*)/Can't Be Stopped (2022/Blu-ray**)/A History Of The European Working Class (2020/*both Icarus DVDs)/Solo (2021/DVD/*both MVD)

Picture: C/B-/C+/C+ Sound: C/B-/C+/C+ Extras: D Main Programs: B/B-/B/B-

Now for a new set of documentaries for your consideration...

Chan Tze Woon's Blue Island (2022) is the latest of a series of very important, very disturbing stories about how Chinese Citizens are being censored, mistreated and far worse by their government, which has become increasingly intolerant of any political activity (as if they tolerated much of it to begin with) and the people who love their country there trying to stand up, make changes and just not being able to tolerate the oppression and far worse, hoping to make a change that will make a better future there.

This mix of some reenactments and actual footage, remarkable in that it got made and survived, instead of being destroyed and being featured in this release literally at the possible cost of human lives. The crackdown here in particular is in Hong Kong, a relatively freer place for lucky Chinese citizens to go at one point, having been given back to the People's Republic of China a few decades ago by the British. Part of this was because it was a big financial hub, but mainland Chinese officials (among other placers) are just cracking down on everyone left and right, not to mention 'COVID lockdowns' as we post that may have more to them than just viruses.

Following four young people and their fates, this took five years to make and they managed to bring this in at 97 minutes, though I bet there is plenty still to see. Still, these documentary releases are of vital importance because these stories are hardly being told and we cannot hear enough of them. Glad this priceless record is complete.

Cody Smith's Can't Be Stopped (2022) is about the rise of graffiti artists on the West Coast in the 1980s and early 1990s, specifically in Los Angeles and how despite many groups of artists forming crews, the one of the title (or C.B.S. for short, which likely still drives CBS/Paramount/Viacom up the wall) became the predominant, innovative and most groundbreaking of them, all. They land up expanding graffiti into more that 'just vandalism' and shows the roots of where graffiti landed up today.

With dozens of people interviewed who were part of the history in action (plus actor David Arquette, who happened to also be there back in the day,) the program uses its short 74 minutes to tell the story with tons of rare stills, video clips and much more. Graffiti films have yet to become a cycle, but the best ones like this deal with it as an artform and the people who led for real lives as the reason it is art to begin with. Also, these individuals are more talented than they ever get credit for and now in a digital age where graphics are too easy to make, their work not only stands the test of time, it has become more important and holds up better than anyone could have imagined.

For more releases on graffiti and its culture, try these links:

Style Wars (1983) Blu-ray


Rock Fresh (2005) DVD


and The Nasty Terrible T-Kid: Julius Cavero (2014) DVD


Stan Neumann's A History Of The European Working Class (2020) is a remarkable documentary TV series (French produced, but in English here) about how mom and pop workers who produced their own goods and worked for no one else where suddenly blindsided by the rise of the Industrial Age and forced out of business by machines and mass labour (or labor) and had to either find something else to do (rare) or unwillingly, reluctantly become part of a larger industrial company where they had little pay, no rights and no benefits.

The gist of the four nearly-hour-long episodes is that even in the U.S., where unionization and higher rewards and benefits still did not negate one iota that workers are always being used and dumped, no matter how well they can make out. That has some validity, but corporations have been waging war on unions, which peaked in about 1950 and how their decline shows the original issues the program displays in the first place.

To its credit, it is extremely well researched and even shows (in the analog era?) all the peaks of (often temporary) victory consolidated, unionized labor had made for itself. It also argues in our new era of robots and digital information age, it could be the end of workers of any world uniting as so much has changed and many workers do not even understand or have asked how they have what they have. Since this show was made, the globalization it constantly brings up has suddenly collapsed to a great extent and people are asking more questions than ever after the rise of fascism, hate and authoritarianism in democracies that would have been unthinkable up until the 1970s.

Whatever you land up liking, agreeing or disagreeing with here, this is very smart, gets you to think and touches upon almost everything you could imagine on the subject. For being so left of center itself, it shows how communism was doomed to fail in ways you may not have thought of and leaves hardly no stone unturned. My only issue is its use of animation as a teaching tool, which has its moments, but might almost become unintentionally satirical, something they do not intent. Otherwise, this is a smart, must-see series more than worth your time and if you only know so much about European History of any kind, is a real plus for you to check out.

We conclude with Ola Pankratova's Solo (2021) about a group of young dancers, artists, et al, trying to deal with personal and actual physical pain though dance and much more. The art forms include pole dancing (!), hip hop experimenting, ballet, vogueing and something out of Russia called krump that might have become popular had the genocidal invasion of Ukraine had not happened.

Like so many dance documentaries we have seen lately in what has been a big cycle of them, this one follows its subjects for long periods of time and then cuts it all back and forth for best impact and this one has been as interesting as any we've seen lately. Instead of the usual 'future artists' or 'can they become artists and succeed?' story, this gets more personal as their added problems add weight to the real life tales told.

Thus, this one stayed with me a little more than other such releases and offered some new scenes and ideas throughout. At 86 minutes, it could have gone on for a few more minutes, but works well enough to recommend.

Now for playback performance. The 1080p 1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image on Stopped may be a mix of old and new video, including stills and very dated NTSC analog video, but it still manages to be the best-looking of the presentations, partly by default. It has DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 and 2.0 Stereo lossless mixes, but much of the video is stereo at best with the occasional music insert, while the oldest audio really shows its age.

The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image on the three DVD releases are as good as they can get for the format, though Blue Island has much rougher footage under the circumstances (whomever is recoding audio and video is trying not to get arrested, tortured or executed for subversion, et al) so it is the way it is for a reason. In all cases, low def digital and/or analog videotape/chip/hard drive flaws can include video noise, video banding, telecine flicker, tape scratching, cross color, faded color, dropouts and tape damage.

All the DVDs offer lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, save Working Class with only lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo on its episodes, but it is surprisingly clean and clear. It is Blue Island that again has a much rougher presentation for the same reasons noted above, but it has subtitles, so that helps.

And sadly, as well as surprisingly, none of these discs have any extras whatsoever.

- Nicholas Sheffo


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