Atlanta Film Festival 2014 | Report #5

Atlantafilmfestical 75It’s reasonable to ask what Broadway expected to get out of this: Widening the market for licensing productions? Recruiting new talent? Selling more cast albums?

 

What happened to Joe Berlinger? Seriously, it’s hard to believe that the same person who co-directed Brother’s Keeper and the Paradise Lost trilogy could produce such a weak effort as Hank: 5 Years from the Brink. This film is mostly Hank Paulson delivering a monologue straight to the camera, with occasional interjections from Paulson’s wife (which barely counts as introducing another voice, as she apparently sees her role entirely as that of a provider of emotional support to her husband).

This film’s style is totally cribbed from Errol Morris, apparently using the Interrotron or something like it to facilitate having Paulson look straight into the camera, and interjecting occasional extreme close-ups to try to jazz it up a bit. More upsetting, Berlinger doesn’t seem in the least interested in asking any penetrating questions or pursuing anything Paulson doesn’t want to talk about. This is an odd directorial choice, especially considering that Paulson served as Secretary of the Treasury from 2006 to 2009, a period that included the mortgage crisis, the liquidation of Lehman Brothers, and bailout of AIG.

Hank is basically a big love letter from Paulson to himself, and it’s a mystery to me why Berlinger would lend his talents to such an effort. On the other hand, maybe Hank is a deadpan satire and Paulson’s not in on the joke. Seriously, Paulson in this film is the dictionary definition of “I’m all right, Jack,” and that impression is maintained consistently throughout this film. If this is the correct interpretation, then I congratulate Berlinger on the extreme subtlety of his subversiveness.

It seems the appeal of Broadway, like that of Hollywood films, knows no boundaries these days. Case in point: the end-of-year performance of the musical Fame at the Beijing Central Academy of Drama, as documented by Hao Wu’s film The Road to Fame. Wu is as concerned with the social and economic background of the students involved in the production, in particular the fact that they’re all only children, products of China’s “one child” policy. The result is a film that is often interesting, in a multi-culti sort of way, but also contains a lot of loose ends that make it frustrating to watch.

The Beijing production of Fame was partly coached by two Broadway veterans, and was partly funded by American sources. It’s reasonable to ask what Broadway expected to get out of this—Widening the market for licensing productions? Recruiting new talent? Selling more cast albums?—but this question does not seem to interest Wu. Similarly, we only get to know a few students, and he follows up on even fewer, despite great emphasis placed on the fact that eight were chosen as an “A” cast and another eight as a “B” cast for the musical.

The real goal of most of the students seems to be not roles on Broadway, but a place within China’s entertainment industry. Of course, just as in the U.S., the competition is fierce (one of the students estimates that there are 300,000 actors in Beijing alone), and talent isn’t the only thing that counts. One student, Zhang Xiao, has rich parents who pay for an expensive reception with music industry professionals, while other parents have made sacrifices just to allow their children to study (it’s not clear if they have to pay tuition at the Central Academy, another question you would think Wu might have addressed). Given the fact that children in China are expected to support their elderly parents, allowing one’s only child to pursue a career as risky as music seems little short of heroic. | Sarah Boslaugh

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