LA 92 (2017; Dir. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, November 17, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
The best documentary of the year so far, a harrowing, sweeping, intelligent, dynamic and elegantly constructed montage about the Los Angeles riots of 1992. LA 92 begins with footage from the racially charged Watts riots of 1965 and proceeds to build a strong cast of root causes for the inevitable sequel, with racial inequality, police brutality and economic insecurity receiving plum, above-the-title roles. An intensifying anger finally found its release after two high-profile cases of racially motivated violence against African-Americans – first the senseless murder of teenager Latasha Harlins by an Asian store clerk, then the horrific beating of Rodney King by four white policemen – resulted in revolting injustice. Much of this territory was covered in last year’s epic O.J.: Made in America, and we’ll presumably see many of those same iconic clips (e.g., the Rodney King beating, and the assault on Reginald Denny) in John Ridley’s just-released Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992. But Lindsay and Martin (Undefeated) have also assembled a fair amount of rare and never-seen footage, much of it culled from on-the-scene camcorders, and a lot of it utterly unbelievable (e.g., the blood-soaked nightmare at the intersection of Florence and Normandie, or the man coolly lighting palm trees on fire as he strolls down a lawless street).
Rat Film (2017; Dir.: Theo Anthony)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, October 27, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Director Anthony makes his feature debut with this unconventional documentary about the persistent rat problem in Baltimore, and the connections between the thriving vermin and the city’s long history of racist zoning laws. Rather than the usual deadening context of talking head interviews, Anthony follows several different people devoted to killing and/or caring for the rats, including a laid-back city exterminator and several amateur hunters with a wide array of weapons, everything from a dart-spewing blowgun to a fishing line and a baseball bat. Meanwhile, an omniscient female narrator intersects with historical insights on the local housing laws that segregated the black (and rat) population in unhealthy ghettoes, as the well as the connection between rats (and black people) and social/medical research, including studies conducted by Johns Hopkins University in inner-city Baltimore. Rat Film tackles an unusual and complex subject in an original and engrossing manner, although the oversimplified [rats = black people] metaphor is somewhat offensive. Anthony really falters when he reaches for Herzog-ian fascist-humanist fantasy-babble in the final segment, imagining a dream scenario where Baltimore-ians gather to celebrate the destruction of their city, with plans to randomly re-distribute the lots (of smoldering ash, I guess) at “corner stores.” Whatever.