A freelance writer and copywriter for over fifteen years, Helene has written for publications and brands all over the world and couldn’t imagine herself in any other job. A shameless film freak, her first onscreen experience involved a trip to Avondale’s Hollywood Theatre at the age of five to see Yul Brynner in The Ultimate Warrior and she hasn’t looked back since. A big fan of documentaries, she has interviewed subjects as diverse as Henry Rollins, Jimmy Choo and Beyonce Knowles, and also has her own beauty blog - which can be found at www.mshelene.com - for the purpose of raving about red lipstick, big hair and other essential indulgences.

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KORENGAL – War, what is it good for?

Posted on Thursday 11/17/2016 November, 2016 by

Before we talk about tonight’s heart-stopping documentary, KORENGAL, we need to discuss RESTREPO, an equally important and directly related work that came before it.

RESTREPO, the 2010 American documentary film about the Afghanistan war was directed by American journalist Sebastian Junger and the late British/American photojournalist Tim Hetherington. The film explores the year that Junger and Hetherington spent in Afghanistan on assignment for Vanity Fair magazine, where they were embedded with the Second Platoon, B Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army in the notorious Korengal Valley.

Nestled between high mountains on the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan, the Korengal Valley has easily been one of the hardest fought over patches of ground in the War on Terror. As far as I can tell 54 Americans have been killed (although the number could be higher) and four Medals of Honor were earned in the valley.

Today, the American military rarely moves into the valley, but handpicked Afghan commandos (some trained by the CIA), are still fighting constantly with militants there. The Afghan government maintains offices at the Pech River Valley, the entryway to Korengal. Their police execute raids and patrols in a continuing attempt to shut down or limit the shadow government operating there, but by all accounts it remains truly terrifying territory. As it is located on the border with Pakistan in steep mountains and thick forests, it has served as a major conduit for smugglers for decades, especially during Soviet occupation. The Pakistan side of the border is in the tribal region, which has historically served as a recruiting and training ground for terrorists. The valley itself is so inaccessible that the Afghan government temporarily gave up on trying to control it, even before the people began a strong resistance.

There are many reasons why Korengal Valley is one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, not least the nightmare-ish terrain. Steep mountains, loose shale, thick forests and open patches of land make the area a nightmare for an occupying force. Combat outposts were built in relatively open areas so that defenders could see approaching militants. However, this meant patrols returning to the base had to cross the open ground, sometimes under heavy small arms fire from nearby wooded areas and houses. Korengal’s steep hillsides allowed snipers to climb above outposts and fire into the bases as soldiers slept.

So on to RESTREPO, which received the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film also received a certified fresh rating of 96 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus stating: "Forsaking narrative structure for pure visceral power, RESTREPO plunges viewers into the experiences of soldiers on the front lines of the Afghan War." Additionally, numerous critics and publications included it in their annual top film selections and the National Board of Review named it as one of the top documentary films of 2010.   

KORENGAL picks up where RESTREPO left off. Same valley, same men. And with all of the above in terms of accolades in mind, it had a wee bit of pressure to perform! It was also a project that Junger ended up taking on alone after Hetherington was tragically killed in Libya covering the civil war. The film’s maker also opted for a slightly different tack this time, as in the same general territory but a very different look at the experience of war. KORENGAL not only shows what war looks like, but how war works and what it means to the young people who fight it. While one soldier may cheer when he kills the enemy, another asks if God will ever forgive him for the killing he has participated in. As one soldier grieves the loss of a friend, another explains why he misses the war now that his deployment has ended, and admits he would go back to the front line in a heartbeat. Breathtaking and heartbreaking in turn.

It takes the viewer so close to the minds and the motivations of the ordinary young people that fight every day around the world in service to their countries, and is a sobering watch especially in light of last week’s US Presidential election and its inevitable global fallout.

KORENGAL doesn’t have the immediacy of its predecessor but it’s equally as affecting, and a reminder of how young and innocent the people many nations send to defend them really are.

Director’s Statement: to the men of Battle Company, 2/503…

Many ago, you welcomed my colleague, Tim Hetherington, and me onto your bases in the Korengal valley. We spent a year, off and on, at the KOP and at Restrepo; we went on innumerable patrols and were in countless TICs. You helped us keep safe and you answered our questions and mostly, you gave us your friendship and your trust…and the result was our film, Restrepo. We wanted to make a completely non-political film that would help civilians back home understand what you were doing for them, and we could not have done it without you guys.

Tim and I often talked about making a follow-up to Restrepo, but after Tim passed away I was left on my own with the project. I enlisted the other two members of our old Restrepo team and we went back to work. The result, Korengal, is another feature-length film and like with Restrepo, we paid for the entire production ourselves, which gave us complete control of what the film would be. Restrepo was intended to be a way for civilians to experience what combat feels like; Korengal is very different. It tries for understanding rather than experience. How does fear work? Courage? What is it like to come home from war? Why do so many soldiers miss the war they were in?

I think that many of the questions that you have been asked by civilians over the years, are answered in this film. I’m incredibly proud of it; it truly does pick up where Restrepo left off. I hope you get a chance to see it, I hope you like it and - above all - I hope you are doing well out there in the world. If you come through New York, please let me know. And if you would like to help bring attention to this film, we would be thrilled to have you on the team.

Best wishes,

Sebastian Junger

 KORENGAL, premieres on Thursday 17th November at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

THE LOOK OF SILENCE – behind the 1960’s Indonesian genocide

Posted on Wednesday 11/9/2016 November, 2016 by Rialto Admin


The documentary I wrote about last week for Rialto Channel - ONLY THE DEAD – was no easy watch by any stretch of the imagination. It was harrowing, brutal and infuriating in turn, and as I said at the time of its first showing, unmissable viewing. This week’s foray into the personal stories behind wars is THE LOOK OF SILENCE, and it is no less a hard watch but in a more elegant, cinematic way.


Director Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 documentary, THE ACT OF KILLING was a profound indictment as well as what some critics have called “a stunning experiment”. Its main subjects were the ruthless, seemingly heartless death squad leaders who had been responsible for brutally killing thousands of their own people during the 1965-66 genocide in Indonesia. Unbelievable to watch at times, it depicts the killers as openly proud as they elaborately reenact their most hideous crimes in an almost comical fashion. This “re-staging” of their unspeakable deeds for Oppenheimer’s camera is a sickening thing to watch, especially as the perpetrators are filmed laughing over the horrors visited upon their victims. It was transgressive stuff upon its release but told an important tale, and those that saw it will never look at that time in history the same way again.


This week’s documentary, THE LOOK OF SILENCE has been called a follow up of sorts to Oppenheimer’s original work about the Communist purge in Indonesia, this time focusing on the victims of the genocide. The main focus is on one - an Indonesian man with a communist background named Ramli was brutally murdered when the aforementioned genocide took place in 1965. His remaining family members reportedly lived in fear and silence until the making of this documentary, making it an essential watch if ever there was one.


Oppenheimer follows Adi, a young, married optometrist who is also Ramli’s brother. Adi never met Ramli, whose killing is recounted in decade-old video interviews shot for the earlier film. His mother, Rohani confesses that Adi was born out of her grief, and it appears that while his birth perhaps allowed his mother to keep on living, it did not help her move on from the death of her first son. Ramli’s killing still haunts his family, with Rohani continuing to commune with her dead son and admitting that she sees him in her dreams. Meanwhile, their invalid father is now struggling with full-on dementia, the only silver lining being that he has forgotten the horrific death of his son.


In the gut-wrenching doco we see Adi revisit both the horrific incident and - amazingly – meet with the men who were responsible for the killings. These meetings uncover sadistic details of the murders that no family member should have to hear, as well as show the indifferent reactions of the killers' family members about the horrors their relatives perpetrated.

Although serving as an accompaniment to Oppenheimer’s earlier film, THE LOOK OF SILENCE easily stands on its own as a carefully and elegantly made documentary. It is astonishing to stop and think about the fact that it details a genocide in a country where vast swathes of the population have yet to admit any crimes took place at all, much less come to terms with them.

 


ONLY THE DEAD – the closest many of us will get to combat, thank God

Posted on Thursday 11/3/2016 November, 2016 by

There are times during tonight’s documentary ONLY THE DEAD when images speak for themselves. And often, those are the times when you most want to look away.

Directed by two-time Oscar winner Bill Guttentag in collaboration with Australian journalist Michael Ware, ONLY THE DEAD examines the Iraq war and its moral consequence through the story of the rise and fall of jihadi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the progenitor of ISIS.

It throws the viewer into situations most of us can barely even contemplate due to the fact that the film is told largely through hand-held video footage, which was culled from hundreds of hours that Ware shot while reporting over the course of the war. It is in your face, extremely confronting and at times, most harrowing.

The Australian war correspondent-turned filmmaker Ware has said that he hopes his feature documentary will help enlighten global audiences on the origins of Islamic State, which I believe it does – and much more. The film is an intensely personal account of the Australian’s own experiences during eight years in Iraq as a correspondent for CNN and Time magazine, and was even filmed on a video camera he’d bought on the black market in Kurdistan.

“The viewer, like I did on the ground in reality, will witness the birth of Islamic State,” said Ware in an interview upon the film’s release. “You will also see how America’s young men, soldiers and marines, fight these people…but more importantly how it shaves away at their souls. When you have to reach out and fight against a great darkness, that darkness touches you back.” It is heart-stopping footage at times and a beyond difficult watch during others, taking us as close to the experience of being at the frontline of a real war as possible without well, actually being there.

One of the key narratives in the film is Ware’s pursuit of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the aforementioned al-Qaida leader whom he describes as a “hideous genius” and the creator of Islamic State. Ware actually met al- Zarqawi after slowly earning the trust of the Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad in 2003. After a suicide bombing - which he captured on film - he first heard the notorious leader’s name, and in early 2004 was escorted to one of the first Islamic State training camps. Once again even just watching the footage taken inside the camp is terrifying, it’s difficult to comprehend how Ware managed to keep his cool, let alone film the whole thing. After al-Zarqawi created his first gruesome propaganda video showing the beheading of American hostage Nicholas Berg, he walked over to Ware, handed him the raw material and simply said, “give this to the infidel”.

In interviews Ware has acknowledged the personal toll that spending time in Iraq took on his spirit, leading a life during those eight long years that can never be forgotten. “All soldiers and marines know that place you must go to in your head and your heart to fight,” he has said. “It’s a very animalistic and brutal place. It’s also a place filled with love among the men fighting on the front line. I went to that place as well. War became my normal. It’s ghastly the things you become accustomed to.”

A harrowing and graphic account of both sides of the war zone, ONLY THE DEAD is an unmissable film… but don’t go waiting around for any bright moments to save the day. The unique, on-the-ground view delivers scenes here that you can't un-see - much as you might want to - and is most definitely a look at the Iraq war unlike any other.

ONLY THE DEAD premieres Thursday 3rd November at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 39

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT

Posted on Thursday 10/27/2016 October, 2016 by

 

The story of a very clever woman and society rebel, tonight’s PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT is a devilishly good feature documentary about the life of art icon Peggy Guggenheim, based on her only authorised biography. A woman of extraordinary tastes and appetites, she was ahead of her time in more ways than one, and filmmaker Lisa Immordino Vreeland has left no stone unturned when telling her fascinating tale.

The much loved, wealthy daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim (who actually went down with the Titanic) and niece of Solomon Guggenheim (founder of the famous New York museum of the same name), Peggy used her inheritance to become one of the world’s most passionate collectors of art and artists ever known. She founded galleries in London, New York and finally Venice, where her museum still stands.

As a young, rebellious woman in Paris she began to buy art, her passion funded by money she was left by her beloved dad. She was prompted initially by a taste for the outrageous, and her early purchases can be called eclectic and bold, if nothing else. Thankfully, she gradually developed an impeccable eye thanks to the influence of other early connoisseurs of modernism, and the quality of her collection grew. It was 1921, the Dadaists and the Surrealists were in full flight and she gleefully bought them all. And she kept buying. By the time she died in 1979, she had one of the world's most comprehensive modernist collections, ranging from Braque and Picasso to Pollock and de Kooning . She bought up dozens of great works by Picasso and others in Paris at the outbreak of war, when prices were at their lowest. She bought 10 Picassos all up, but the artist reportedly disliked her immensely, considering her a dilettante.

As she moved through the cultural madness of the 20th century, she collected not only art, but it has been said, also artists. Guggenheim became an art addict but she was also a bit of a sex addict, according to those who knew her best. Art was the heiress’ joy as well as her refuge from a personal life that was often marred by tragedy. The only man she claimed to have truly loved died young, and her two husbands were – according to Guggenheim - nothing but trouble. She too was no walk in the park, and frequently despaired about her own inadequacies. Not a conventionally attractive woman, she hated her nose and was actually one of the first people to have plastic surgery. She visited a surgeon in 1920 and requested a nose like the one she had read about in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, "tip-tilted like the petal of a flower".  It has been reported that she had the doctor stop in the middle of the procedure because it was so bloody painful, and he apparently didn’t succeed in getting her the nose she wanted. She decided to never have the badly botched nose job fixed and was widely mocked for it. Artist – and clearly, complete douchebag - Jackson Pollock reportedly said that you would have to put a towel over Guggenheim's head to have sex with her, which is a particularly horrendous given that she was his most ardent and committed patron! It comes as no surprise then when you hear that he was one of the few artists whose lives she helped prop up that she didn’t sleep with.

Guggenheim also struggled with motherhood - her daughter died of an overdose of barbiturates after a series of suicide attempts – and once again, art was her saviour. While fighting personal tragedy and loss of self-esteem on a regular basis, she maintained her vision to build one of the most important collections of modern art. This film is a testament to her achievements, and a startlingly good portrait of a patron of the arts extraordinaire who transformed a family fortune and great eye into one of the world’s most precious collections of twentieth-century art.

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT premieres Thursday 27 October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 39

VERY SEMI-SERIOUS – inside the minds of the New Yorker’s highly respected cartoon team

Posted on Wednesday 10/19/2016 October, 2016 by Rialto Admin

The rather long winded, official title of the documentary, VERY SEMI SERIOUS is actually Very Semi-Serious: A Partially Thorough Portrait of New Yorker Cartoonists, which gives you a hint of what’s to come when you watch the deliberately droll, pretty fun outing.

It gives us behind the scenes access at the New Yorker, specifically its cartoon division. Newspaper and magazine editorial cartoons are graphic expressions of their creator’s ideas and opinions, sometimes reflecting the publication’s viewpoint too. They are based on current events and therefore produced under restricted time conditions in order to meet publication deadlines, and also generally have an educational purpose to boot. They are intended to make readers think about current political issues and have a delicate balance of all of the above to achieve each issue, which is no easy feat. It is believed that the team of artists at the New Yorker does this better than most, and VERY SEMI SERIOUS lets us meet some of that talented bunch of oddballs and outcasts.

Bob Mankoff, a seriously droll guy and purveyor of graphic wit himself, has been the cartoon editor for almost 20 years. His job each week involves looking at about 1,000 submissions for consideration and whittling them down to an essential 15. That is a hell of a lot of evaluation involving multiple thought processes, which when you stop and think about them makes the average grey matter feel like its about to burst at the seams.

It has been said that VERY SEMI SERIOUS confirms what many might have expected: while the magazine’s editorial staff (and fancier than most readership) may be well-heeled, the cartoonists are a marvelous band of kooks who one could even say look and dress as if they belong in a New Yorker cartoon. “Getting teased as a kid is a prerequisite,” says artist Emily Flake wryly, whilst veteran Roz Chast offers a long list of reasons why she doesn’t much like going outside. It is interesting to observe that the inspirational Mankoff is grooming a younger generation of geniuses who might not have become functional members of society were there not an outlet for their unique vision. Reviewers have picked up on rare talent in the team like the painfully shy, very young British artist Ed Steed, who claims he only recently heard of the iconic magazine while vacationing in Vietnam. Despite being raised on a remote sheep farm, he produces insightful, timeless work that one could easily assume came from an artist many years his senior.

It was interesting to find out that the New Yorker artists featured are all freelancers, and none of them are able to do their much-loved jobs full-time. Most supplement their income in other creative ways like the aforementioned Roz Chast, one of the first women to be regularly featured and also a renowned illustrator who makes pillowcases based on the designs of old soup cans.

Naturally the run up to the latest US presidential election has provided rich fodder for the cartoonists, which I wholeheartedly believe you need to have a gander at. The work of Benjamin Schwartz in particular echoes the mood of those saner members of the once-great nation, and Mankoff seems to be reveling in having Donald Trump as a regular point of focus for his team.

Academics, art critics, art historians and the like have too often tended to dismiss editorial cartoons as silly, yet many over the years have wreaked havoc throughout history. As Leah Wolchock's documentary VERY SEMI-SERIOUS shows, cartoons can have a powerful psychological, emotional, and political impact, and this is a look at some of the best.

VERY SEMI SERIOUS premieres Thursday 20th October at 8.30pm

PORTRAIT OF WALLY – the story of the Viennese Mona Lisa

Posted on Thursday 10/13/2016 October, 2016 by Rialto Admin

It has been called “the face that launched a thousand lawsuits”, which from the point of view of many a holocaust survivor would be putting it extremely mildly.

The story of a Nazi-looted painting, Egon Schiele's 'Portrait of Wally,' it is a fast-paced watch for a subject so steeped in research. The aforementioned painting was discovered on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in 1997, triggering a historic court case that pitted the Manhattan District Attorney, the United States Government and the heirs of a Viennese gallery owner against a major Austrian Museum and MoMA. Filmmaker Andrew Shea deftly paints the surprisingly political saga of the infamous artwork after it was wrenched from a Jewish gallerist by the Nazis. We get to follow what amounted to a 70-year struggle to reclaim it, even as it hung publicly in major museums.

So, what is the big deal about the painting, and who IS Wally? Well, the small 1912 painting by the Austrian artist Schiele is perhaps the best-known representation of his model, lover, and co-conspirator, teenage beauty Walburga ‘Wally’ Neuzil. Hailed as a masterpiece, with its enigmatic grin the work has been dubbed the “Viennese Mona Lisa”, and other, more overtly erotic images of Ms. Wally – including “Wally Neuzil in Black Stockings” or “Wally in Red Blouse with Raised Knees” – have fascinated art lovers for decades.

Her hypnotic eyes and tawny hair are familiar, but the life of the woman who stood by Schiele from 1911 until 1915 remains in large part a mystery. Who really was Wally Neuzil? She was born in August of 1894 in the Lower Austrian town of Tattendorf and her family background was firmly lower-middle class. Her father Josef Neuzil, from a town in what is now the Czech Republic, was a grammar school teacher for a time, a position that, if not well-paid, was at least well-regarded. After his early death, Wally apparently moved with her remaining family to Vienna in 1906 and met Schiele in 1911 at the age of 16. The story goes that she was also Gustav Klimt’s model and perhaps even mistress, leading to even more intrigue around her mysterious gaze.

The story of the relatively small painting might never have come to light had it not been loaned to a traveling exhibition. Days before the closure of the show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1997, a New York Times piece exposed the sketchy provenance of the “Portrait of Wally” and owner Rudolf Leopold’s alarming collection practices. Several artworld and political players called for the painting - valued at the time at about USD$2 million - to be removed from the show and returned to the heirs of Lea Bondi Jaray, the painting’s original owner. The piece was confiscated by the federal government and stored as a more than decade-long battle raged over its ownership. Tonight’s documentary tells that story in a pacey, uncluttered way, clocking in at just 90 minutes.

The story is compelling, and the fallout of the 13-year legal battle over the painting helped establish important legal precedence regarding art looted from Holocaust victims. One would assume that returning property pilfered from Jews during World War II should be a moral no-brainer, but apparently not.

 PORTRAIT OF WALLY premieres Thursday 13th October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD – told and untold

Posted on Thursday 10/6/2016 October, 2016 by

“Comic books should strive always to be subversive. They should represent counterculture"  -  Pat Mills, founder of 2000 AD and the godfather of British comics.

As a kid – and into my teens – I loved a good comic book. I collected various series over the years like Archie digests when I was under ten, and even had a large ‘Muhammed Ali versus Superman’ book that I read and read. Into my teens I got more into the likes of Love & Rockets, and naturally, the work of 2000AD and its iconic characters such as Judge Dredd and Halo Jones.

In 1977, IPC Magazines began publishing the aforementioned 2000AD, which at the time was called a “science fiction comic” by those less in the know. Before long, it would come to change the face of the industry. Not only did it introduce seminal creators such as Alan Moore (Watchmen, a personal fave) and Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman) to the comic world, it also had a profound influence on pop culture at large. 

It has been said that “2000AD dabbled with darkness way before it became normal for a superhero's nemesis to be their neuroses”, and it was definitely born out of the punk vibe so dominant in the UK at the time. Tonight’s film FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD is most definitely the long overdue documentary that actually tells the story of the legendary read, mainly through the eyes of those who were working within and alongside the unsung cult hero of the comics industry. The film was clearly designed to celebrate and pay respect to the comic phenomenon and explore its importance and influence on contemporary pop culture, and it’s a solid watch.

Through in-depth interviews with the creators, writers, artists and fans of the last 35 years, we find out more about what made the countercultural powerhouse comic tick, and it also examines the widespread cultural impact it had on not only the international comics industry but also in film, art and literature.

The documentary is the work of Paul Goodwin, whose main task appears to have been assembling an admirable wealth of talent to interview as the tale unfurls. With the exception of Alan Moore, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis, the big names are all present, which means you get to see Neil Gaiman waxing lyrical about the old days, Bryan Talbot (amusingly miming someone being impaled), John Wagner and Pat Mills, who us still displaying his preternaturally rage-y disposition even at the age of 67.

The most positive talk we get to hear is of the magazine’s legacy, and it also covers its less cool moves like unabashedly sexist marketing campaigns and frequent in-house bitching. This gives it a nice, rounded feel and a great deal more insight into the comic as a whole if you’re a major fan.

Nicely told, FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000 AD pays homage with aplomb to the comic name whose influence can be seen in everything from the post-apocalyptic madness of Mad Max: Fury Road to the Fallout video game.

Reserve you space on the couch and enjoy.

FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD premieres on Thursday 6th October at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel 39

CT FLETCHER: MY MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION - the man, the diet, the motivation

Posted on Thursday 9/29/2016 September, 2016 by Rialto Admin

“The body is merely a vessel for the mind; your body does what your mind tells it to. Command your body to grow, and it will obey. Simple, right? I think so! But some of you punk-ass mother**kers have the gall to come up to me and whine with shit like, "CT, I told my muscles to grow, but they wouldn't listen." Boo-f**king-hoo!”   CT Fletcher

A man who could correctly be called “the stuff that memes are mad of”, CT Fletcher is both man and beast. The six time champion power lifter and self-confessed “baddest motherf**ker of all time” definitely practices what he preaches, and in tonight’s documentary, CT FLETCHER: MY MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION he does one hell of a lot of that.

Brought to you by the creators of the awesome – and at times, terrifying - GENERATION IRON, it is a story that has been begging to be told for a while now. Deemed one of the most motivated and influential fitness trainers of all time, the film explores the pain, struggle and hardships that Fletcher has endured throughout his life. From an abusive childhood to world fame, Fletcher’s career and personal struggles demonstrate the real power that self-motivation can have on the human spirit. 

A former world champion power lifter who won titles in the bench press and strict curl, CT Fletcher knows what it takes to get big and strong. Unfortunately, in his younger years this meant chowing down on the kind of fast food diet that was thought then essential to bulking up back then, but which also may have contributed to having emergency open-heart surgery in 2005. Now in his late fifties, the YouTube sensation and gym owner talks openly in CT FLETCHER: MY MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION about his upbringing, health complications and rise to fame, and for the real enthusiasts there is also what those in the know term “hardcore” new and old training footage.

Fletcher was born in Arkansas but his family moved to Watts, California not long after he turned one. Then it was on to Compton, where he grew up. “Needless to say, it was a tough neighborhood and even tougher growing up the son of a preacher man,” says Fletcher, and his formative years certainly made an impact on the tough mother reputation he has today. “Strict is too subtle a word to describe the discipline required in our upbringing, spanking is too gentle a word to describe the physical abuse my older brother and I had to endure,” he has said of the abuse the family suffered at the hands of his devout dad. The extreme discipline and the severe physical abuse “was our way of life; it was all I knew,” says Fletcher, and his escape was the army. In the 80’s he discovered weightlifting and outside of my family, the sport became his life. 

This lead to massive achievements and crushing blows in his quest on the road to becoming “the strongest motherf**ker without steroids”, and he literally had to eat himself into oblivion. The fast-paced documentary covers the bodybuilding star’s descent into medical nightmares, and you definitely get swept away in the tale of Fletcher’s highs and lows.

But is CT FLETCHER: MY MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION any good? Well I enjoyed it, and if you leave your own prejudices about what makes a doco’s subject matter “worthy” or not at the door, you’ll be caught up in his tale before you know it too. The juiceheads will love it for sure, but even if you’re not in the business of #shredding I reckon you will too.

CT FLETCHER: MY MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION validates the fact that CT is an international fitness phenomenon, and for that I salute him. In his words: “F**k Average. Never be satisfied. Always move forward. Always grow. That's the last and most important commandment. Never. Be. Satisfied.”

STEVE McQUEEN – THE MAN & LE MANS

Posted on Thursday 9/22/2016 September, 2016 by

He was the ultra-cool male film star of the 1960s, who rose from a troubled youth spent in reform schools to being the world's most popular actor. Over 25 years after his untimely death from mesothelioma in 1980, Steve McQueen is still considered amongst the hippest blokes who ever lived, and he endures as an icon of popular culture.

Tonight’s film STEVE McQUEEN – THE MAN & LE MANS covers a point in his life where his midlife crisis and motor racing passion truly seemed to intersect, but for me it also demonstrated exactly how much the aforementioned “troubled youth” had grown into a very self-destructive man.

With a mother who was a prostitute and a father who was a circus stuntman who regularly beat him during his childhood in Los Angeles, McQueen didn’t have a great start in life (to put it mildly). Whilst still a kid he joined a gang and was sent to reform school for stealing hubcaps, and by 16, he was reportedly working as a towel boy in a brothel.


After being discharged from the Marines, McQueen spent time in South Carolina and Washington D.C., and worked as a getaway driver for bank robbers (weirdly foreshadowing his hit 1972 film, THE GETAWAY). The gig apparently ended abruptly when one of the robbers was shot and nearly killed, and after that McQueen became a pimp for a prostitute named Lindy and went into the business of flogging illegal handguns. "I thought I was making easy money - guns and Lindy. And no taxes to pay,” he once recalled. “But it never ends well.” Bizarrely this realization saw him travel across the US to New York to study acting. The rest as they say, is history.


Which brings me to tonight’s film STEVE McQUEEN – THE MAN & LE MANS, a story of obsession, betrayal and ultimate vindication. It is the story of how one of the most volatile, charismatic stars of his generation (at one point reportedly the highest paid actor in Hollywood) seemingly lost everything he held dear (even his marriage), in the pursuit of his dream, yet nevertheless followed it to the end. The film is a weird and sad watch, and an air of solemnity hangs over the tale of the film he took on in 1970 at the height of his celebrity prestige. It is clear from the outset that the film was something between a vanity project and a midlife crisis. McQueen could never decide on a script or story, and the movie went insanely over budget as his hand-selected team of professional drivers risked their necks shooting hours and hours of ambient race footage.


His passion for his sport and representing it on film is palpable, but scenes in the movie involving his children and then wife, Neile Adams are heartbreaking. It is also interesting – and terrifying – to see the times in which he lived and circles in which he moved, including a Manson Family connection. In Hollywood in the ‘60s, McQueen was a regular at the Whisky a Go Go, where he eventually met celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring. The pair soon hooked up with a beautiful young starlet named Sharon Tate there, and the trio engaged in drug and booze-fueled threesomes, reportedly even after she married director Roman Polanski. In the film we learn that McQueen was supposed to have dinner at Polanski and Tate’s house on the night Tate and Sebring were murdered by Charles Manson and his gang in 1969, but he canceled at the last minute. He later learned he’d been dangerously high on Manson’s “Death List” and this pushed an already paranoid, drug dependant man into near psychosis. After the close call, McQueen renewed his gun license and began carrying a concealed, loaded Magnum pistol at all times, which could have been disastrous considering his temper. He apparently even pulled the gun on wife Adams and demanded to know if she’d ever had an affair, which was rich coming from a bloke who while married to Ali MacGraw maintained a suite at the Beverly Wilshire in L.A. just for quickies.


Years later in 1978, McQueen developed a persistent cough that wouldn't go away. He quit smoking and underwent antibiotic treatments without improvement. Shortness of breath grew more pronounced and a biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, a rare lung cancer associated with asbestos exposure for which there is no known cure. The asbestos was thought to have been in the protective suits worn in his race car driving days, and the star later gave a medical interview in which he believed that asbestos used in movie sound stage insulation and race-drivers' protective suits and helmets could have been involved. Was it his passion that killed him in the end? The jury is out on that one, but this film definitely points to the effect that it had on his life, his loves and his sanity.


STEVE McQUEEN – THE MAN & LE MANS premieres Thursday 22 September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN, one hell of a man

Posted on Thursday 9/15/2016 September, 2016 by

For many, Paul Newman was a blue-eyed god, a kick arse acting talent and a man who turned salad dressing into serious philanthropy. Also a notable producer-director and political activist, he can be officially counted as the person who had distributed more money - in relation to his own wealth - than any other American during the 20th century. How amazing is that? And those blue eyes to boot… But despite all of his success on screen and as a major raiser of cash for those in need, the actor claimed to be happiest behind the wheel of a racing car.


Racing legend Mario Andretti has spoken about meeting Paul Newman back in 1967, when the actor sponsored one of his cars in a race. He took the superstar for an obligatory spin around the track, and noticed Newman was “white-knuckling” it. But Andretti saw something else, too. “I quite honestly think,” he has said, “that captured his imagination.”


Tonight’s film WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN (co-directed by comedian Adam Carolla) shows exactly how correct Andretti was. As a driver, Newman went on to win four SCCA National Championships, 24 Hours of Daytona, took true second at Le Mans (winning his class) and won multiple professional Trans Am races. The actor also owned Newman/Haas Racing with Carl Haas, and together with drivers Mario and Michael Andretti and Sebastien Bourdais, formed one of the most prolific Indycar teams in history, winning an amazing eight championships. To put it mildly: the star lived and breathed racing. To put pedal to metal bought him immense joy, and that is so obvious when watching the film.


Newman, who died in 2008 at 83, might have begun his career as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars, but much of the last half of his life was dedicated to auto racing and he widely acknowledged it as his true passion. But it was a passion he came to later in life. He was already a big star when, in 1968 he was cast with Robert Wagner in a racing film called simply, WINNING. The hunky pair took racing lessons to get into their roles, with one star falling head over heels whilst the other was happy to take or leave the new set of skills he had learned on the racetrack. “[Newman] embraced it and took it right into his soul,” Wagner later told the press, and for his co-star there was no looking back. While Wagner was all-too-happy for their lessons to end, Newman couldn’t get enough. He officially started racing for real at 48, and he wasn’t worried about starting at the bottom. “He wasn’t racing Ferraris. He was racing Datsuns. It was something the average guy could aspire to,” Jay Leno says in the film.


Soon, Newman was forcing film producers who wanted him in their films to schedule his work around his races. He was seriously hooked, and his star power saw many fall in line behind him if they wanted to work with him. He also took up championing the rights of others to race when and where they wanted, including one driver in particular who we meet in the film. Newman used his clout to level the playing field for others, and this included Willy Ribbs, a young black driver. In the film, Ribbs talks about how few people active within the sport supported him, and how the unbelievable amount of racist animosity from other drivers was palpable. Newman used his profile to arrange for Ribbs to be hired on a competitive team, making him a pro driver for the first time in his life. Ribbs later became the first black driver in the Indianapolis 500 and his indebtedness to Newman for his incredible support has lasted long after the actor’s death.


So there you have it - WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN. One hell of a talent, one hell of a driver and one hell of a man. Enjoy.

WINNING: THE RACING LIFE OF PAUL NEWMAN premieres Thursday 15th September at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel

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