This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT

Marion Stokes

Activist and hoarder Marion Stokes compiled 70,000 tapes over more than thirty years

RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT (Matt Wolf, 2019)
Metrograph
7 Ludlow St. between Canal & Hester Sts.
Opens Friday, November 15
212-660-0312
metrograph.com
recorderfilm.com

During the Iran hostage crisis that took place from 1979 to 1981, a Philadelphia woman named Marion Stokes became obsessed with news coverage and began taping as many primarily news-related programs as she possibly could, having as many as eight VCRs going at any one time. Her unusual story is documented in Matt Wolf’s irresistible Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, which opens November 15 at Metrograph. Stokes was ahead of her time, creating her own kind of audiovisual time capsule, ultimately consisting of more than seventy thousand Betamax and VHS tapes made over four decades that presaged the 24/7 news overload and preponderance of alternative facts we are experiencing today. “Taping these programs for my mother was a form of activism. She wanted people to be able to seek the truth and check facts,” explains her son, Michael Metelits.

Marion Stokes

Marion Stokes proves to be quite a character in Matt Wolf documentary

Wolf also speaks with her chauffeur, Richard Stevens; her secretary, Frank Heilman; her nurse, Anna Lofton; her daughters, Mizzy Stokes and Anne Stokes Hochberg; and her ex-husband, Melvin Metelits, who all share details of her many idiosyncrasies. A former librarian and longtime Communist who considered defecting to Cuba, she also hoarded newspapers and magazines in her quest to archive as much of what was really going on in the world as she could. “A lot of craziness produces a lot of brilliance, and I think there’s something kind of brilliant about what Marion Stokes did. Whatever motivated her, this material needed to wind up in a situation where it could be shared,” Heilman says.

Wolf supplements the interviews with excerpts from Marion’s tapes as well as family photos and videos and clips of her on the public affairs program Input with the man who would become her second husband, John S. Stokes; they worked together at the Wellsprings Ecumenical Center. Marion was also obsessed with Star Trek, furniture, and Apple computers, which she wisely invested in. Much of what she recorded would have been lost forever, made at a time when not every television station kept everything they broadcast, and to see many of these reports today, complete with commercials, is utterly compelling, so unlike what we watch today, following shows and channels that keep us inside our carefully constructed bubbles.

But her nonstop taping and hoarding caused problems with her family as she became more and more tied down to her house, needing to be home to change the tapes every six hours. “I’m sure she came to value what was coming through the screens more than the kind of very problematic messy stuff that was happening in her real life,” one interviewee notes. Described as a mysterious and private woman who was controlling, Marion says on Input, “Who decides what’s normal? I think maybe a reexamination of what is normal is in order at this point.” Is it ever. Metrograph will host a series of Q&As with Wolf, moderated by Lynne Tillman, Scott Macaulay, Charlotte Cook, Melissa Lyde, Sierra Pettengill, Collier Meyerson, and Stuart Comer, at select screenings Friday through Wednesday.

SALON DU CHOCOLAT

The Chocolate Fashion Show redefines haute couture/cuisine

The Chocolate Fashion Show redefines haute couture/cuisine

Javits Center
655 West 34th St. at 11th Ave.
Saturday, November 16, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm, and Sunday, November 17, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm
Admission: $10-$25 in advance, $12-$35 onsite
www.salonduchocolatny.com
www.javitscenter.com

“All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt,” Peanuts cartoonist Charles M. Schulz wisely stated. Fall just hasn’t been the same since Salon du Chocolat stopped coming around here in 2011, but the multidimensional celebration of all things cacao is now back for a brand-new iteration, bringing love as well as delectable delights to the Javits Center November 16-17. More than eighty purveyors of ganache goodness will have booths, offering samples, selling their wares, and sharing their thoughts on what local chef Michael Levine calls “the world’s perfect food,” and who are we to argue?

The two-day festival features live chocolate sculpting by Paul Joachim (aka the Chocolate Genius), demonstrations and Q&As with master chocolatiers, interactive workshops, a family-friendly activity center, holiday shopping pop-ups, and the salon’s inestimable Chocolate Fashion Show, in which chefs and designers collaborate on remarkable works of art. If the advisory council is any indication, we should be in for a real treat: Jansen Chan, Martin Howard, Lisa Mansour, Håkan Mårtensson, Roger Rodriguez, Rich Leach, and Ed Seguine.

Among the participating vendors from all across the globe are Aelan Chocolate Makers, Amazing Cacao, Amedei Tuscany, AMMA Chocolate, Bang Cookies, Chocolate Therapy, Conexión Chocolate, Dorothy Cox’s Chocolates, Gotham Chocolates, Harlem Chocolate Factory, Läderach, M2 Confections, Makaya Chocolat, Mozart Chocolate Liqueur, Roni Sue’s Chocolates, and VillaKuyaya Organic Dark Chocolate. Also on hand is our all-time fave, Fritz Knipschildt, who introduced us to the wonders of sea salt and caramel with chocolate many years ago at the show.

The event website provides brief info on each vendor, including whether their chocolate is fair trade, gluten free, organic, or vegan, for those who need to know. Below is a complete list of all the special programs taking place. No matter how sad you might be about the bleak, cold days ahead as well as the political situation, be sure to come hungry; as a University College London study has just declared, there is “some evidence that consumption of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, may be associated with reduced odds of clinically relevant depressive symptoms.”

Saturday, November 16
Cocoa Nib Chocolate Tart with Oreo Crust, with Abby Swain, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 10:30

Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 10:30

Royal Icing, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:00

Bûche de Noël, with Sean Considine, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30

Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:45

Holiday Pies, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:00

Chocolate Bourbon Cake, with Nick Malgieri, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30

Fritz Knipschildt will bring his Chocopologie to the Javits Center this weekend

Fritz Knipschildt will bring his Chocopologie to the Javits Center this weekend

Decorating Cakes with Piping, with Toni Lynn Dickinson, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:00

Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:00

Coconut and Honey Truffle Pop by Khakow, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30

Valrhona Hot Chocolate Festival, with Miro Uskokovic, Eunji Lee, Thea Habjanic, Dan Keehner, Paola Marocchi, Elise Harris, Rob Valencia, Christophe Toury, Guillaume Roesz, Ikuma Motoki, Jana Kern-Mireles, Jayce Baudry, Rory Mcdonald, and Chris Elbow, 1:30

Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:00

Ruby Pastry, with Rocco Lugrine, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:00

Cold Brew Coffee Ganache, with Benoit Racquet, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30

Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 3:00

Crafting Cookies, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:00

Signature Salon du Chocolat Fashion Show, with Vanessa Greeley, Ia Faraoni, Dede Ayite, Fritz Knipschildt, David Woolard, Moran Etstein, Libat Ohayon, Ashley Holt, Richard Capizzi, Marilyn & Joe Bawol, Christine Alaniz, and Corina Chase, Special Events Stage, 4:00

Almond Milk Chocolate Chunk Cookies, with Miro Uskokovic, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 5:15

Sunday, November 17
Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 11:15

Boogie Woogie Books, Special Events Stage, 11:30

Ruby Bonbon, with Russ Thayer, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 11:30

Cakes from Start to Finish, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 11:45

Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 12:15

Savory Chocolate Winter Stew, with Matt Gennuso, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 12:30

Thanksgiving Breads, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 12:45

Make Your Own Vegan/Allergy Free Chocolates, with Mona Changaris, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 1:15

Chocolate Puddin’, with Katzie Guy-Hamilton, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 1:30

Fall Fruit Flavors, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 1:45

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake, with Paulette Goto, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 2:30

Chocolate Clay: Eat your art!, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 2:45

Gluten-Free Baking, with Jansen Chan, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 2:45

All Types of Cakes, with Jürgen David, Pastry by the Pros Stage, 3:45

Painting with Chocolate: Creating Edible Art, with Nikki Woolfolk, Salon du Chocolat Junior, 4:00

Zero Waste Vegan Chocolate Cake & Gluten Free/Vegan Chocolate Chip Cereal Bars, with Theresa Farrell, Chocolate Demonstration Stage, 4:30

BAM NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL: USER NOT FOUND

(photo by Rebecca Smeyne)

Terry O’Donovan plays a man experiencing grief in public in intimate User Not Found (photo by Rebecca Smeyne)

Greene Grape Annex
753 Fulton St.
November 9-16, $65
www.bam.org
danteordie.com

BAM’s Next Wave festival of debuts under new artistic director David Binder has another first, a show taking place not in the Harvey, the Howard Gilman Opera House, or the Fisher but up Fulton St. at a nearby café. London-based site-specific-performance purveyors Dante or Die is staging its poignant User Not Found in the cozy Greene Grape Annex, where the small audience sits at shared tables or on benches or stools. It’s an intimate and clever exploration of grief and one’s digital legacy in the age of social media that will have you thinking about your own online footprint.

Each audience member is given a headset and a cellphone. After some Norah Jones music concludes, a man starts talking; it takes a minute or so to realize he is sitting at one of the tables, getting ready to share his tale as it unfolds in real time. We see and hear exactly what he sees and hears on his phone, from text messages and relaxing apps to photos and videos that bring up memories. (The music and sound design is by Yaniv Fridel, with video design by Preference Studio and creative technology by Marmelo.) Identifying himself as Terry (Terry O’Donovan), he is just finding out that his ex-lover Luka has died and that he is the executor of his digital profile via a company called Fidelis, which means “always faithful”: It is his responsibility to determine whether to keep or delete Luka’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, etc., pages. Having been unceremoniously dumped by Luka in a brutal breakup, he has no interest in the job, yet he begins searching through Luka’s data to see what he has been doing since he left him as well as remembering some of the good times. Terry walks all around the café (the lighting and set design is by Zia Bergin-Holly), seeking out eye contact and making connections, and at one point he does an interpretive dance across the floor. (The production is copresented with BAM neighbor the Mark Morris Dance Group.)

(photo by Rebecca Smeyne)

User Not Found takes place in Greene Grape Annex café near BAM (photo by Rebecca Smeyne)

Written by Chris Goode and created by O’Donovan and Daphna Attias and inspired by a 2015 Guardian article by Caroline Twigg entitled “What happens to my late husband’s digital life now he’s gone?,” User Not Found is a very human and deeply cathartic look at grief and how it’s shared in our current world of continual contact through technology. The point is, of course, that Terry could be any of us; as you glance around at the other people in the audience, you might wonder if they’ve been through anything like Terry has, since each one of us has our stories that we choose to share or not. Director Attias carefully balances our communal and individual experiences as Terry reaches into his heart while mourning right in front of us, going through some of the five stages of loss in a swiftly moving ninety minutes. Once you leave the café, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t be considering who you would make your digital executor while also pondering what is still on your MySpace page.

(User Not Found runs through November 16; in addition, Dante or Die will host the artist workshop “Site-Specific Theater-Making” at the Mark Morris Dance Center on November 13 at 2:00 as part of BAM’s Artist Lab program.)

TAITEN: NOH & KYOGEN

taiten

Noritoshi Yamamoto (right) and members of his prestigious family will perform Kagyu (The Snail) at Japan Society November 14-16 (photo © Yoshiaki Kanda)

Japan Society
333 East 47th St. at First Ave.
November 14-16, $97, 7:30
www.japansociety.org

Japan Society’s Emperor Series, celebrating the ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne in May, concludes with a special program that includes a noh play created for Emperor Taishō’s ascension to the throne in 1912. In honor of the era turning from Heisei to Reiwa, Kurouemon Katayama X will stage Taiten, portraying the god Amatsukami, wearing a Mikazuki mask as he descends from the heavens for a ritual dance. The work is rarely performed; in mounting the Reiwa version, Kurouemon X was influenced by notes left by his father and grandfather from the 1912 original commission. In addition, Noritoshi Yamamoto and members of his family will perform the comedic kyogen play Kagyu (The Snail), in which a servant is sent to gather up snails but collects a traveling priest instead, thinking it is the shelled gastropod.

The show runs November 14-16, at the same time the succession rites, known as the Daijosai, or the Great Thanksgiving Ceremony, are taking place at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The November 14 performance will be followed by a soirée, and Japan Society will host a noh workshop with actors from the Kyoto Kanze Association on November 15 at 1:00 ($60) and a kyogen workshop with members of the Yamamoto Tojiro Family of the Okura School of Kyogen on November 16 at 1:00 ($60). This is a rare chance to experience these works, so tickets are going fast despite their relatively high cost for a Japan Society event.

DOC NYC 2019: SCHOOL OF SEDUCTION / ELLIOTT ERWITT — SILENCE SOUNDS GOOD / FOR SAMA

School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia

School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia follows three women learning how to snare a man

SCHOOL OF SEDUCTION: 3 STORIES FROM RUSSIA (Alina Rudnitskaya, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Saturday, November 9, 9:15
Festival runs November 6-15
www.docnyc.net

In 2009, Russian filmmaker Alina Rudnitskaya made the short film Bitch Academy, about a school where a man taught women of all ages how to attract potential husbands the old-fashioned way, by flaunting their sexuality and playing dumb. She has now expanded that into the full-length feature documentary School of Seduction: 3 Stories from Russia, making its North American debut at IFC Center as part of the DOC NYC festival. Rudnitskaya follows three women over seven years as they take the workshop run by Vladimir Rakovsky and then apply what they’ve learned to their life, with varying degrees of success. Rakovsky, a former 911 hotline worker who is not exactly a smooth-talking Romeo or Don Juan — he actually talks and acts like someone you might avoid on the subway — teaches the women how to bend over, how to wiggle their butts, and how to jump in a man’s arms and turn him on. “What did you think it was about? The psychological aspects of gender politics in modern society?” he says, defending his techniques, which are questionable at best in the twenty-first century (or any time, really). But there is a severe shortage of available men in Russia, so he convinces the eager women that they need to play this game in order to snag a wealthy suitor, that they are not able to survive in this world on their own.

“What a nightmare!” Lida Lodigenskaya declares about Rakovsky’s ideals. Lida lives with her mother and is in love with a married father of two. She is combative and determined, sure that he will eventually leave his wife; surprisingly, he allows himself to be filmed with Lida despite his personal situation. Vika Sitnik is in a lackluster marriage and is in the process of opening a lingerie store in a mall. She suffers from anxiety, sharing her fears with a psychologist. Her mother does not understand her crisis, stuck in the old ways. “I feel bad inside,” Vika says as she reaches a turning point in her life. Diana Belova is a single mother whose parents threw her out of the house so she lives with her grandmother. She makes the most out of the workshop, creating a fake, fanciful existence built on attractiveness and elegance. “I believe in fairy tales,” she says as she meets a series of men, not searching for true love but for someone who will be able to give her the upper-crust life she feels she deserves. “I need to be the best,” she explains.

Rudnitskaya is not making fun of any of these people but rather focusing on the difficulty women are having finding the right person to share their life. They have been reduced to becoming kewpie dolls to catch and keep a man, which is both sad and heartbreaking to watch. The film is screening on November 9 at 9:15, with executive producers Sigrid Jonsson Dyekjær, Eva Mulvad, and Rose Grönkjær in attendance to talk about the film.

ELLIOTT ERWITT — SILENCE SOUNDS GOOD (Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu, 2019)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Sunday, November 10, 4:30
www.docnyc.net

“I hate to give explanations,” photographer Elliott Erwitt says in Adriana Lopez Sanfeliu’s lighthearted Elliott Erwitt — Silence Sounds Good, having its North American premiere November 10 at IFC Center as part of the DOC NYC festival. Sanfeliu, a protégé of Erwitt’s, follows her mentor around the world for two years as he goes through his vast archives; exercises in his Manhattan apartment overlooking the park; returns to Cuba for a new book and exhibition and meets former ballerina and choreographer Alicia Alonso, who passed away last month at the age of ninety-eight; snaps pictures on the street at the spur of the moment; and shows some of his iconic images, including photos of presidents and popes, a series on dogs (especially one that steals his heart in Cuba), a photo of segregated drinking fountains in North Carolina, and others that reveal his innate sense of composition. But he doesn’t have a lot to say about them; “I’m not very good about talking about pictures,” he notes at an illustrated lecture.

Now eighty-nine, Erwitt, who was born in France, moved to Italy when he was three, then came to the United States when he was ten, has a dry, self-effacing sense of humor, although he has a tremendous amount of fun taking unusual self-portraits. Sanfeliu often lets her camera linger on him as he sits quietly, with nothing more to say, preferring to let his work speak for itself. “Photography is about having a point of view, nothing else,” he says. “With calm, but also with passion. But without making too much noise about it. It’s the photo which must make noise.” When he does pontificate, he has a tendency to come up with some doozies. “I don’t think anything is serious,” he says. “Nothing is serious, and everything is serious. . . . Well, it’s one of those conundrums. You might say that I’m serious about not being serious.” Erwitt will be at the DOC NYC screening to perhaps talk about it — he does appreciate his silence — along with Sanfeliu, producer François Bertrand, editor Scott Stevenson, and writer Mark Monroe. Preceding it is Tasha Van Zandt’s fourteen-minute short One Thousand Stories: The Making of a Mural, about JR’s video mural project, The Chronicles of San Francisco.

For Sama

Waad al-Kateab documents daily life under constant bombardment in Aleppo in For Sama

FOR SAMA (Waad al-Kateab & Edward Watts, 2019)
Cinepolis Chelsea
260 West 23rd St.
Sunday, November 10, 11:00 am
Monday, November 11, 1:25
www.docnyc.net
www.forsamafilm.com

“You’re the most beautiful thing in our life, but what a life I’ve brought you into. You didn’t choose this. Will you ever forgive me?” Waad al-Kateab asks in the extraordinary documentary For Sama. In 2012 during the Arab Spring, Waad, a marketing student at Aleppo University, joined the protests against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. She started taking photos and cell-phone video, then got a film camera as she became a citizen journalist, documenting the escalating conflict, trying to find moments of joy amid the brutal, senseless murders of innocent men, women, and children. She met and fell in love with heroic doctor Hamza al-Kateab, who was determined to keep his hospital running as the bombings got closer. Waad and Hamza got married, and on January 1, 2016, she gave birth to a healthy girl, Sama.

The film, directed by Waad (who also served as cinematographer and producer) and Edward Watts (Escape from ISIS), is a poignant, unflinching confession from mother to daughter, explaining in graphic detail what the families of Aleppo are going through as Russian and Syrian forces and Islamic extremists maintain a constant attack. “We never thought the world would let this happen,” Waad explains as the body count rises — which she intimately shows, not shying away from shots of bloodied victims being brought into the hospital, a pile of dead children, or a desperate attempt to save the life of a mother and a newborn after an emergency caesarean. “I keep filming. It gives me a reason to be here. It makes the nightmares feel worthwhile,” Waad says.

She captures bombings as they happen, films families huddled inside their homes while machine guns can be heard outside, talks to a child who says he wants to be an architect when he grows up so he can rebuild Aleppo. Because she is a woman, Waad gains access to other women that would not be available to a male filmmaker as they share their stories of love and despair. Waad and Hamza plant a lovely garden to bring color to the dank, brown and gray city. A snowfall covers the turmoil in a beautiful sheet of white. The pitter-patter of rain offers a brief respite. But everything eventually gets destroyed as Waad and Hamza struggle with the choice of leaving with Sama or staying to continue their critical roles in the rebellion, she depicting the personal, heart-wrenching images of war — in 2016, her Inside Aleppo reports aired on British television — he tending to the ever-increasing wounded. “The happiness you brought was laced with fear,” Waad tells Sama in voiceover narration. “Our new life with you felt so fragile, as the freedom we felt in Aleppo.” Winner of the Prix L’Œil d’Or for Best Documentary at Cannes among other awards, For Sama is screening at Cinepolis Chelsea on November 10 and 11 as part of the DOC NYC festival, with director Waad al-Kateab, codirector Edward Watts, and subject Dr. Hamza al-Kateab expected to attend to discuss the film.

DOC NYC — ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE

Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese’s Netflix doc about Rolling Thunder Revue moves to the big screen for DOC NYC

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY BY MARTIN SCORSESE (Martin Scorsese, 2019)
Cinepolis Chelsea
260 West 23rd St.
Thursday, November 7, 9:15
Festival runs November 6-15
www.docnyc.net

“I wouldn’t say it was a traditional revue but it was in the traditional form of a revue — that’s all clumsy bullshit,” Bob Dylan says at the beginning of Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese, a documentary about the legendary 1975-76 tour led by Bob with a collection of special guests. “I’m trying to get to the core of what this Rolling Thunder thing is all about, and I don’t have a clue, because it’s about nothing. It’s just something that happened forty years ago. . . . I don’t remember a thing about Rolling Thunder. I mean, it happened so long ago I wasn’t even born. So what do you want to know?” he asks with a wry smile. Scorsese, whose 2005 documentary No Direction Home focused on Dylan’s early years, now takes viewers behind the scenes and onstage of the infamous tour, in which Dylan donned face paint and wore a mask and a southwestern hat with flowers. Along with a load of anecdotes, the film features electrifying versions of such songs as “One More Cup of Coffee (Valley Below),” “Love Minus Zero / No Limit,” “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” “She Belongs to Me,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” and “Romance in Durango,” among many others.

And what a cast it has: Allen Ginsberg as the Oracle of Delphi, Patti Smith as the Punk Poet, Martin von Haselberg as the Filmmaker, Scarlet Rivera as the Queen of Swords, Joan Baez as the Balladeer, Roger McGuinn as the Minstrel, Larry “Ratso” Sloman as the Rolling Stone Reporter, Jim Gianopulos as the Promoter, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott as the Sailor, Sam Shepard as the Writer, David Mansfield as the Innocent, Sharon Stone as the Beauty Queen, Ronnie Hawkins as the Shitkicker, Anne Waldman as the Word Worker, Ronee Blakley as the Ingénue, Joni Mitchell as the Artist, Chief Rolling Thunder as the Medicine Man, Chief Mad Bear as the Chief, Peter La Farge as the Cowboy Indian, Michael Murphy as the Politician, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter as the Boxer. The film debuted on Netflix but will look and sound much better in a theater; it is screening November 7 at Cinepolis Chelsea as part of the DOC NYC festival and will be followed by a discussion with producer Margaret Bodde and executive producer/editor David Tedeschi.

DOC NYC OPENING NIGHT — ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON & THE BAND

Documentary explores the history and legacy of the Band from a singular point of view

Documentary explores the history and legacy of the Band from a singular point of view

ONCE WERE BROTHERS: ROBBIE ROBERTSON & THE BAND (Daniel Roher, 2019)
SVA Theatre
333 West 23rd St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Wednesday, November 6, 7:00 & 7:30
Festival runs November 6-15
212-924-7771
www.docnyc.net
www.ifccenter.com

The tenth annual DOC NYC festival, which has grown dramatically since its humble beginnings, consisting now of more than three hundred screenings and special events over ten days at three venues, kicks off in a big way on November 6 with Daniel Roher’s Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson & the Band, an intimate, if completely one-sided, look inside one of the greatest, most influential music groups in North American history. The film was inspired by Band cofounder Robbie Robertson’s 2016 memoir, Testimony, offering his take on the Band’s ups and downs, famous battles, and ultimate breakup. “I don’t know of any other group of musicians with a story equivalent to the story of the Band, and it was a beautiful thing. It was so beautiful it went up in flames,” Robertson, sitting in a chair in a vast, empty room, guitars hanging on the wall far behind him, says. The setup puts the focus on Robertson’s individuality, his alone-ness, in what others trumpet as a collection of extraordinary musicians. “There is no band that emphasizes coming together and becoming greater than the sum of their parts, than the Band. Simply their name: The Band. That was it,” fan Bruce Springsteen says. “I was in great awe of their brotherhood. It was the soul of the Band,” notes Eric Clapton, who says he wanted to join the group made up of singer-songwriter and guitarist Robertson, singer and bassist Rick Danko, singer and keyboardist Richard Manuel, singer and drummer Levon Helm, and keyboardist and accordionist Garth Hudson.

When Robertson, who was born in Toronto in 1943, talks about his childhood — his mother was born on the Six Nations of the Grand River Indian reserve, which had a profound effect on him musically, and his biological father was a Jewish gangster, although he was raised by an abusive stepfather — the film is revelatory, with archival photographs and live footage of Robertson’s early bands and his time with Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. Robertson shares mesmerizing anecdotes about going electric with Bob Dylan, recording the Basement Tapes in a house called Big Pink, and discussing his craft. “I don’t have much of a process of like I’m thinking about this, and now I’m going to write a song and it’s gonna be about that,” he explains. “A lot of times, the creative process is trying to catch yourself off guard. And you sit down and you’ve got a blank canvas and you don’t know what you’re gonna do and you just see what happens.”

Hawkins speaks glowingly of his protégé Robertson, who wrote his first songs for Hawkins when he was only fifteen. Roher also talks to executive producer Martin Scorsese, Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner, record producer John Simon, road manager Jonathan Taplin, equipment manager Bill Scheele, photographer John Scheele, Asylum Records creator David Geffen, and musicians Dylan, Taj Mahal, Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, and Jimmy Vivino, who all rave about Robertson and the Band. “They were totally in love with their music, and they were in love with each other,” photographer Elliott Landy says. “I never saw any jealousy, I never saw any arguments, I never saw them disagree. They were always supporting each other. They were five brothers, very clearly five brothers who loved each other, and I never saw anything but that.”

Of course, Roher cannot talk to Manuel, Danko, and Helm, who are all dead, and Hudson did not participate in the documentary. Robertson and his wife, Dominique, paint a harrowing picture of the Band’s severe strife as drugs and alcohol tear them apart. There’s really no one, aside from a brief point made by guitarist Larry Campbell, to offer an opposing view to Robertson’s tale, which puts him on a golden throne despite some very public disagreements, particularly with Helm over songwriting credit and royalties. Robertson speaks enthusiastically and intelligently throughout the film, but it’s clear from the get-go that these are his carefully constructed, perhaps selective memories about what happened. But Roher doesn’t disguise that conceit; the film is named after one of Robertson’s solo songs, and the second half of the title is, after all, Robbie Robertson & the Band, as if Robertson is separate from the rest.

One of the main surprises is Robertson’s claim that the Last Waltz concert at Winterland in 1976 was not meant as a farewell but just a pause; Roher and Robertson fail to point out that the group continued to tour and record without Robertson. On his sixth solo album, Sinematic, which was released in September, Robertson has a song about the Band, the aforementioned “Once Were Brothers,” that can be heard at the start of the film. “Oh, once were brothers / Brothers no more / We lost a connection / After the war / There’ll be no revival / There’ll be no one cold / Once were brothers / Brothers no more,” Robertson sings. “When that curtain comes down / We’ll let go of the past / Tomorrow’s another day / Some things weren’t meant to last.” It’s a sad testament to a storied legacy. Packed with amazing photos and live clips that make it a must-see for fans of the group, Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson & the Band is screening at 7:00 and 7:30 on November 6 at the SVA Theatre, with Roher and Robertson on hand to discuss the work.