McENROE (Tribeca 2022) – Review by Marilyn Ferdinand

Every moment of documentary director/screenwriter Barney Douglas’ film contains interesting information from famous eye witnesses, including other tennis greats, as well as from an open and honest John McEnroe. This film is vital viewing for anyone who wants to see and understand the achievements and heart of this champion.

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Rosa Ruth Boesten on MASTER OF LIGHT and the Impact of Art (SXSW 2022) – Leslie Combemale interviews

Master of Light, the feature documentary debut for filmmaker Rosa Ruth Boesten, executive produced by renowned filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, was made in collaboration with subject and artist George Morton, who honed his talent as a classical painter while incarcerated in federal prison for dealing drugs. Morton is a Black man who has chosen to confront the damage he has sustained by intergenerational trauma and systemic racism both personally and as an artist. Since his release, he has worked to rise above his own and his family’s history to become a success in the white-dominated art world. Boesten comments on her experience working with George Morton, how the film changed her, and bringing attention to the vast potential and talent our society stands to lose by the racially-biased mass incarceration continuing to happen in America.

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SHERYL (SXSW 2022) – Review by Leslie Combemale

Amy Scott’s new biographical documentary Sheryl reveals the musician’s tumultuous personal experience becoming the icon she is, with Sheryl herself opening up about the joys and challenges in her life and career. The film is straightforward and conventional, but if the mark of a good bio-doc is having a subject and interviewees that speak honestly and from time to time lay their souls bare, Sheryl hits that note beautifully.

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OSCAR PETERSON: BLACK + WHITE – Review by Martha K Baker

The subtitle, Black + White, refers to the color of the keys on a piano, but it also addresses racial disparities of Black jazz artists playing for a white world. Seeing Peterson play in vintage films and hearing what he said in interviews through the years and what others said about him enlivens this biodoc, which was made originally in 2020 but now is more widely available through Hulu.

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POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE – Review by Martha K Baker

This biodoc of the punk rocker Poly Styrene, born Marion Elliott Said in 1957, reels from the point of view of her daughter, Celeste Bell. As co-director with Paul Sng, Bell thumbs through scrapbooks, diaries, and poems, which Bell inherited after her mother died at 53 in 2011. Five years later, Bell was ready to address this legacy. The result is historical and a little hysterical.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK February 4, 2022: POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE

Documentaries don’t get much more personal than Celeste Bell and Paul Sng’s poignant, revealing Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliche. Like Bell’s 2018 book, Day Glo: The Poly Styrene Story, it tells the fascinating story of the memorable but too-short life of Bell’s mother, British punk pioneer Marianne Joan Elliott-Said (aka Poly Styrene), who fronted the band X-Ray Spex in the 1970s and earned recognition for songs like “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!”

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POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

I wasn’t acquainted with Poly Styrene, aka Marian Joan Elliot-Said, the frontwoman of England’s X-Ray Spex. This mixed-race daughter of a Somali dockworker and a Scottish-Irish legal secretary initially filled her time with travel, sewing alternative fashions and failing as a pop-reggae singer. But she stopped in her tracks when she saw the Sex Pistols perform on her 19th birthday and that was how her stage persona was born. That gave her a chance to put together a band with three male musicians along with female saxophonist Lora Logic, whose instrument went way outside the punk aesthetic. Styrene even designed the logo for the band and was fond of Day-Glo colors.

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POLY STYRENE: I AM A CLICHE – Review by Loren King

As Pauline Black of the band “The Selecter,” puts it, “The world is playing catch up with Poly Styrene, not the other way around.” That’s one of many insights in the documentary Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche, about the musician and writer who blazed a trail in the London punk/rock scene between 1976 and 1979 with the band she founded and fronted X-Ray Spex. The documentary is co-directed by Poly’s daughter Celeste Bell and represents the young woman’s moving attempt to chronicle and honor her mother’s life and to reconcile their often fraught relationship.

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ADRIENNE – Review by Lois Alter Mark

Adrienne is Andy Ostroy’s tribute to the beloved filmmaker Adrienne Shelly – who happens to be his late wife – and his effort to keep her memory and important contributions to the industry alive. Early in the film, Ostroy asks theatergoers waiting on line for Waitress, the musical, if they’ve heard of Adrienne Shelly. Despite the fact that her name is prominent on the marquee, none of them have. This movie, along with the foundation Ostroy created in Shelly’s name to support women filmmakers, will go a long way toward changing that.

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FOR MADMEN ONLY – Review by Leslie Combemale

For comedy nerds, those who stand in front of a crowd and those that applaud them, For Madmen Only is a fascinating look at an unsung (and often unhinged) hero of improvisation. Delivered creatively, it achieves a good balance of honesty and respect for an innovator who, through his work, has helped many achieve their dreams of stardom, and in so doing, has made the world a funnier place.

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