Sunday, November 11, 2012

Jason goes to Docfest--Day 2

Two more movies last Friday, so let's just jump right in.

First up was THE STANDBYS, a movie about the people on Broadway who show up every day, are ready to get on stage and jump into a role at a moment's notice, but rarely do. We meet three performers--Merwin, Ben, and Alena--who do just that. We see the boredom (days when their job is to show up and play video games in the green room because they aren't needed.) We see the struggles and pain (when they aren't invited to the cast events.) We see the triumphs (when they get to go on and win over an audience who is disappointed the star isn't there.) We see on get promoted to lead when the lead quits, and we immediately get to see his standby. And in  some of the best moments, we get to see the three of them together, just telling stories and laughing about the strange life of a Broadway performer (and ending on a fart joke.) It easily becomes clear that this is something that's just in their constitution and for all the difficulty they'll put up with it for the brief opportunities to be on stage for an audience.

Also, as an interesting side notes I didn't realize there are three different types of theater alternates. The understudy is someone who has a smaller role in the company (and so is on stage every performance) but switches to a lead role if the lead can't do it. The standby doesn't have a regular role in the company but is just there to step in if the lead can't go on--often they're paid to be there and do nothing. And then the swing is the craziest job of all--they learn many, many roles and might be called upon to step in for any of a dozen roles. If you have the mental and physical agility (not to mention the vocal range) you can be in danger of being a perpetually in-demand swing. The only problem is the job kind of sucks. Takes more talent and gets less respect than anyone.

Next up was BATTLE FOR BROOKLYN a seven-year saga of the creation of the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. Focusing on the efforts of Daniel Goldstein, who had moved into his beautiful new apartment (bought, not rented) in Brooklyn only to find six months later that a developer wanted to build a fancy new Frank Gehry designed "Atlantic Yards" complex right on the site of his home. Well, he didn't want to move and so he fought it. As part of the Develop, Don't Destroy community group he put forth alternate plans that wouldn't tear down his (and thousand other's) homes, and fought for a fair hearing on the issue. It becomes a story of widespread corruption and either incompetence or indifference in the face of it. His group is only allowed to speak in hearings after the majority of the officials (and all the developers) have left. A community group in favor of the project springs up, but they appear to have ties to the developer (in fairness, I can believe that some of the residents are excited about the project and want it to go forward. It often seems that the fighting inside the community kept them from putting forward a united front to fight the plan and put forth reasonable alternatives.) When it gets into eminent domain issues, it gets really infuriating. In short, eminent domain is supposed to be used for public projects (highways, schools, museums, etc.) not for private enterprises. Even more importantly, to claim eminent domain (at least in New York) the state is supposed to show that the neighborhood is blighted. It wasn't, it was a thriving community and that's exactly why the developer wanted to be there. So they had to create blight where there wasn't any before.

Anyway, I'm getting into the details a bit too much. Spoiler alert (which is obvious to anyone who even casually watches the NBA,) the arena did eventually get built and the Nets play there now. But the movie isn't spoiled one bit by knowing that. The dramatic tension isn't in "who will win?" but "how much more corrupt and idiotic will this process become?" At the end, mayor Bloomberg is seen praising the new arena and claiming no one will remember what it took to build it, they'll only remember that it eventually got done. And that's a shame (and something the film is trying to correct,) because if you don't realize/remember how it got done, more thriving communities can be destroyed to enrich corporate interests.

Total Running Time: 168 minutes
My Total Minutes: 302,987
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