Two documentaries caught my eye when I was planning my South by Southwest schedule in 2021. I felt fortunate to be able to see both of these as they had their world premiers.
The first of the two is Hysterical, a documentary that peeks into the lives of some of the most famous women in stand-up comedy. The cast includes Margaret Cho, Sherri Shepherd, Judy Gold and Kathy Griffin as well as many others as we learn about the beginnings of their careers and the roadblocks they experience to this day. Director Andrea Nevins moves deftly between subjects as they describe the lure of comedy. It’s an unvarnished portrayal of a life that each of these women are drawn to, but most of us can only imagine. No topic is off limits to these comediennes.
A particularly harrowing story is told by Kelly Bachman. She recalls telling jokes about Harvey Weinstein one night when someone pointed out to her that he was in the audience. People initially booed, but when she began talking about her own rape, the audience was on her side. Some of the other stories of sexism and discrimination are, unfortunately, as prevalent today as they were 30 years ago.
Hysterical is funny, poignant, and thought provoking. Exactly what you want a documentary to be. Hysterical is currently streaming on FX on HULU.
The second documentary was the eagerly awaited Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free, the story of the making of his 1994 album Wildflowers. Because of recently discovered black and white 16mm film shot during the making of the album, Director Mary Wharton was able to have Tom Petty star in his own movie. Current interviews with former band members, producer and Petty’s daughter Adria, filled in the edges with stories and explanations. Wildflowers became, to most, Tom Petty’s best album, certainly his most perfectly formed. When it was released, it sold 3 million copies, but most people didn’t realize how much unreleased material was left after recording.
As the story unfolds in the documentary, Petty wanted to record a solo album (only his second) and Rick Rubin signed on as producer. It was the first album he had produced with Petty. Eventually, most of the members of the Heart Breakers would end up being session players on the album. Although the nuts and bolts of record producing are interesting, the more fascinating angle to me was the song writing. Petty was in the midst of a failing marriage and this was laid bare in the songs on Wildflowers. The interviews that were recorded with Petty in 1994 are especially touching, since his divorce would not occur until 1996.
Full disclosure: I am a huge Tom Petty fan, so had been looking forward to this documentary. Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free did not disappoint – I felt grateful that all of this footage exists and that art, in some form or another, lives on after the artist has gone.
Wildflowers and All The Rest is a 2020 re-release of the Wildflowers album, but includes deleted songs, demos and live tracks.
Hysterical synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere Runtime: 87 Language: English Country: United States Synopsis: HYSTERICAL is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Premieres April 2nd on FX. Cast: Margaret Cho , Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Kelly Bachman, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane Director: Andrea Nevins,Executive Producer: Andrea Nevins, Ross Girard, Jim Serpico, Jessica Kirson,Producer: Rebecca Evans, Carolina Groppa, Ross M. Dinerstein, p.g.a.,
Tom Petty Somewhere You Feel Free synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere Runtime: 89 Language: English Country: United States Synopsis: Drawn from a newly discovered archive of 16mm film showing Tom Petty at work on his 1994 record “Wildflowers,” considered by many including Rolling Stone to be his greatest album ever, “Somewhere You Feel Free” is an intimate view of a musical icon. Cast: Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Steve Ferrone, George Drakoulias, Alan “Bugs” Weidel, Adria Petty, Stan Lynch, Howie Epstein Director: Mary Wharton,Executive Producer: Warner Music Films,Producer: Peter Afterman,Cinematographer: Anne Etheridge,Editor: Mari Keiko Gonzalez,This film has not been rated.
April has been a whirlwind. For most of us, energy seems to have drained itself from our existence slowly and without consent. But that’s what spring does. It awakens us to more social experiences, allows us some more outdoor time and gives us more things to get exhausted by. As people have been receiving their vaccines, more opportunities have been opening up, and more people are realizing how much their energy plays a part in life.
So, whether you’ve been drained by the month’s festivities or you’re simply looking for more tracks to party to, we have gathered some whimsical, fun, and energetic videos to rev you back up and into a good space. Peep the magic below.
Twyla Moves, the documentary story of the life and career of Twyla Tharp, had its world premiere at SXSW on March 17th. Steven Cantor, Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, crafts a piece using archival and current day footage to give us a look into the life of the acclaimed dancer, choreographer and director.
Twyla Moves opens in April, 2020 with Twyla Tharp creating a dance via zoom with four dancers in four separate locations after the pandemic necessitated quarantine. Herman Cornejo, Maria Khoreva, Benjamin Buza, and Misty Copeland all answered the challenge. As she was choreographing this dance, we are treated to the earliest film of Tharp dancing with her own voice as the narration, as well as taped interviews. Twyla Moves toggles seamlessly between the early days and the current times to show us the evolution of her dance which mixes modern dance and ballet. Although she began dancing in New York after college in 1963 – living in a Franklin Street ‘loft’ for $50 a month – it wasn’t until 1965 when she formed her first dance company that she began to get the kind of attention that would propel her to greater heights. That first company, Twyla Tharp Dance, was all women “because we didn’t want to be told what to do”.
In 1973, Robert Joffrey asked Tharp to choreograph a dance for the Joffrey Ballet and this is where the real combination of modern dance with ballet occurred. Over the ensuing decades, she would go on to choreograph more that 160 works, including Broadway shows, movies, figure skating and television specials in addition to ballets.
In a particular montage from 2020 early in the movie, the 79-year-old Tharp does warm-up exercises in preparation to dance herself. I was exhausted just watching her move. Twyla Tharp continues to have an infinite well of energy as she plots the next stop in her creative journey. As Misty Copeland said, “Even in this stage of her career and her life, she’s setting the standard for where dance is evolving to.”
I found this to be a fascinating documentary and I really enjoyed Cantor’s storytelling choice to interweave the old and new footage. I discovered that Twyla Tharp’s creativity and fearlessness have been the keys to her long career in dance. I can only hope to be like her when I grow up!
Twyla Moves is streaming on PBS until April 23, 2021 as part of the American Masters series.
If you’re into intricate storytelling that involves a technological future that doubles as a dystopian society, then MADE FOR LOVE is made for you. Lucky enough to view the first few episodes of this upcoming HBO Max gem, this shit kicked off our SXSW 2021 in some type of crazy headspace.
Imagine: A scattered, confusing beginning as a woman hoists herself out of the ground, sopping wet as she splays out on a dry, dusty desertscape. She has escaped a cluster of shiny buildings, which you can see in the background.
Cut to a different time. What looks to be routine morning escapades with the most pretentious man you know, followed by watching him swimming laps with a dolphin in his pool. The man? Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen), the owner of a tech company that is pronounced astoundingly familiarly. His advancements in technology seem to be changing the dating landscape, on top of many other big accomplishments in his career. But his empathy, his ability to communicate healthily, is obviously insufficient. Early on, you see a crazy in his eyes that makes you feel like this escape from reality might hit a little closer to our technological home than planned.
But the entirety of that first episode is dedicated to understanding this woman. Who is she? How did she get here? Why is she subject to invasive questions by a creepy algorithm? Why is her life being determined by someone that isn’t her? Why does everything feel cold in this strange, structured world?
The first episode of MADE FOR LOVE will throw you back and forth over a short window of time, a fun way to create mystery in the storyline. I was initially drawn to view the show by the listed cast. How I Met Your Mother fans will rejoice in the knowledge that Cristin Milioti is top-billed as the protagonist, Hazel Green (a naming choice that does not entirely evade us).
And when Ray Romano is introduced as Hazel’s father in a flashback? The unexpected (and somehow necessary) marriage of two favorite moments in pop culture united to create what we are sure will be our favorite television father/daughter duo of all time.
If the last scene of that first episode is any indication, things could get even weirder, too.
Our thoughts? Don’t miss the premiere of Made For Love, April 1 on HBO Max.
Though Travis Atria has been engaged in creative endeavors for years – he is the frontman of pop-rock collective Morningbell, he co-wrote Curtis Mayfield’s official biography, and has authored other projects – his new project Atria has been gaining traction as of late. Good news, since its debut LP is set to release early next month. With the success of the project’s first two singles – “Lucky” and “Love Theme” – there seem to be nothing but blue skies ahead for this solo endeavor.
Today, we have the exclusive premiere of the third single leading into next week’s album release. “Jazz Cigarette” is a timely piece on global warming, relayed in a way that strangely calms your anxieties. While the “Temperature’s always rising / Ocean’s acidifying” (Hello, rhythmic lyricism!), he finds peace in an object. In a way, Atrias is letting us all bum a stress-reducing “Jazz Cigarette” off of him, to reduce the overwhelm of our responsibility to the planet and our future.
The accompanying video is a solid collection of city views around New York that romanticize the passing cars and gorgeous architecture. With Atrias’ soothing vocals playing over it all, it feels like a love letter to Manhattan. We dig.
Moonbrain is out Friday, April 2, on Gold Robot Records.
Oregon-based folk-pop outfit Fox and Bones have curated the cutest collection of clips to create the music video for their single “A Changing of The Guard.” A song that is upbeat in nature and encouraging, the video directly reflects that.
“We wanted to find a way to bring together all of our friends, fans, and family in a way that would be fun and socially distanced. We put out the call to submit videos holding up lyrics or acting out what the lyrics meant to them. We were overwhelmed by the inflowing of videos and the level of creativity we saw from the submissions. We’ve always felt indebted to our fans for their love and support and this video felt like a great way to give back and showcase them, all without them having to leave their homes.”
Get your daily dose of happiness below. (We all need it.)