Living in Dallas, even if one doesn’t listen to music or make weekly pilgrimages to the local thrift shop/independent bookstores scouring for music, one is probably still aware of the cultural imprint from Chris Penn’s Good Records.
Major artists in town for their world tours make it a destination stop and the organic feel of recognizing and distributing music seems to take a backseat to generating honest love for the art. Beyond just a brick and mortar building, however, Penn dedicates massive time and energy in arranging concerts in his store.
One of those events gave rise to a documentary entitled Alice Cooper, Live From the Astroturf. In 2016, after members of the original Alice Cooper Band were booked for a show, the standout front man himself made an impromptu appearance and carved out a short set that revisited classic tunes not heard from the surviving members in decades. Penn himself admits to some shrewd, cunning timeliness in gerrymandering the concert, but what’s not forced is the outward joviality Cooper and his bandmates exude while playing their hits.
Naturally, a film with such regional deep roots and surface-level giddiness from audience members — my 5:00 p.m. screening was seemingly nothing compared to the previous night’s premiere with an Alice Cooper cover band providing some background — had to score high with the crowds, and the film did just that in taking home the audience documentary award.
I also don’t hesitate to say the physical dynamics of the film’s presentation, which included a dozen or so five-foot beach balloons unleashed into the crowd while “School’s Out” played on the screen, elevated a seemingly routine documentary into propulsive collaborative performance art.
As Benedetta Barzini tells her intrusive filmmaker son Benjamino in his documentary The Disappearance of My Mother, this is a film about separation, not unity. In fact, the filmmaker takes his gaze to an almost uncomfortable level, routinely disarmed and avoided by his mother as he observes her decluttering and preparing to leave Italy for good. Her destination? Even that’s unclear, but it’s somewhere she feels disconnected from the entire world and absorbed by nothing but an old world lifestyle.
At first, we wonder if her desire to flee it all stems from a health issue. Or perhaps this is a shattering glimpse of painful self-examination before suicide. For all of the film, Benjamino and his mother keep the reasons obscured, which creates a simmering tension wherein identification and his mother’s past are only elusive puzzle pieces to the present.
The fact that Benedetta was one of the most iconic and famous models of the 1960’s only widens the misunderstanding. Being filmed/recorded/observed/compartmentalized has been Benedetta’s life since her early teens. By the time her son decides to comprise these images of her- now in her 70’s- it becomes thorny both for their exploitative manner and her seemingly authentic desire for everything in her life to simply be turned off.
Rarely coming to any conclusions, The Disappearance of My Mother is a mood piece where nothing really happens but everything happens. There are moments of bracing honesty and warmth that only exist in private moments between a parent and child. Benjamino includes it all, crafting a documentary that’s loving and hateful at the same time and balances the walk between both admirably. And any film that features a Bon Iver song immediately has my heart.
Festival Award Winners:
Grand Jury Prize – Jr “Bob” Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius (Sandy Boone)
Always In Season (Jacqueline Olive)
Ms. Purple (Justin Chon)
Audience Award Winners:
Short – Queen’s New Clothes (Ashley Jordan)
Documentary – Alice Cooper, Live From the Astroturf (Stephen Gaddis)
Narrative – This World Won’t Break (Josh David Jordan)