New York Rocks Docs at Toronto International Film Festival

Once again, New York themes and filmmakers are swamping the documentary lineup in Toronto. Below, sneak peeks at five of the most fascinating films, dealing with subjects from highbrow philosophizing to down-and-dirty, orgiastic sex.

Photo: Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

American Swing
THE GIST: A celebration of Plato’s Retreat, New York’s infamous swingers club, as remembered by its horniest alumni, many of whom attended the club wearing only black socks.
WEAK SPOT: The predictable rise-and-crash arc, which ends with AIDS and club owner Larry Levenson’s absurd denial: “With the smell of chlorine in the air,” he says, “the AIDS virus does not stand a chance.”
BEST BIT: Aside from all the graphic footage of writhing orgies—and hilarious memories of the awful food on the buffet (Plato’s served meatballs and potato salad!), we loved one woman’s recollection of her first sight of the pool: “Guys were floating on the water, their penises sticking up like periscopes.”

Examined Life
THE GIST: Director Astra Taylor (Žižek!) interviews academia’s biggest celebrity philosophers—Michael Hardt, Cornel West, Judith Butler, and others—mostly as they talk and walk through the streets of New York.
WEAK SPOT: It plays like a philosophical Woody Allen film, without the jokes, or romance, or drama. And with much more jargon.
BEST BIT: Ethicist Peter Singer, elegantly critiquing how we choose what to buy while walking among shoppers on Fifth Avenue.

Photo: Paul Kolnik

Every Little Step
THE GIST: A remarkably in-depth, Equity-sanctioned backstage look at the casting process of the 2006 revival of A Chorus Line, with unprecedented access (and without onetime star Mario Lopez).
WEAK SPOT: These cheery star-is-born interviews don’t even flirt with the blunt, self-revealing confessions that made the original Chorus Line so moving.
BEST BIT: Paul McGill’s stunning audition for the part of the youngest dancer, Mark, left director Bob Avian weeping, for good reason.

At the Edge of the World
THE GIST: A swashbuckling doc about activist-prankster pirates who take to the seas and attempt to stop Japanese whalers with nothing but pluck and stink bombs.
WEAK SPOT: Without much external context or history, it’s hard to understand Paul Watson’s break with Greenpeace and his new organization’s place in the animal-rights movement.
BEST BIT: The Arctic footage is far more powerful than the actual confrontations, which seem clumsy, juvenile, and largely ineffective, no more so than during a harrowing search-and-rescue mission, in which the pirates are actually aided by the whalers they set out to attack.

Picasso & Braque Go to the Movies
THE GIST: PaceWildenstein curator Arne Glimcher explores the impact of cinema on cubist painters Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.
WEAK SPOT: The unimaginative talking-head approach pales in contrast to the stunning innovation of its subjects.
BEST BIT: A dream slate of exactly right guests, including Martin Scorsese, Julian Schnabel, and Chuck Close.

New York Rocks Docs at Toronto International Film […]