Opinions on the music aside, most of us would be intrigued by an inside look at the mythically sad and curious life of Whitney Houston. Screening in Bell Media’s Best of Hot Docs festival on Saturday (July 8), Whitney: Can I Be Me is sure to pack ’em in while offering one of the more luridly glamorous extensions in a fest that is otherwise interested in capturing the epiphenomena of chronic wealth and power disparity—whether the subject is popular culture, environmental degradation (The Last Animals, about the incipient extinction of the northern white rhino), or the topics covered in our three picks below.
The name would be more familiar if Antonia Santiago Amador, a.k.a. La Chana, had not been forced into a temporary retirement by an abusive husband. “He made me stop when I was at the summit that every artist craves,” says the fiery Catalan flamenco dancer, now in her late 60s, whose untrained style is scrutinized to this day by reverent students. That man, who eventually ditched his wife and took everything with him but the kid, is deliberately left opaque in this often painfully intimate (if slightly thin) portrait. In La Chana’s youth, she was courted by Hollywood (Peter Sellers put her in 1967’s The Bobo); here, we see her prepare for a final performance as a barely mobile sexagenarian, made all the more nerve wracking thanks to sizzling archival footage of a woman possessed by raw genius and unholy power whenever she hit the stage.
Friday, July 7 (6:30 p.m.)
Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World
Fast, witty, and totally infuriating, Blurred Lines leaves little doubt—despite a well-balanced presentation of views—that the upper realm of art collection is populated by the worst element on the planet. Here, brilliant, if despicable, sellouts like Damien Hirst rake it in while a complex dance between galleries, agents, art fairs (“Comic-Con for people with gobs and gobs of money”), and auction houses creates an entirely puffed-up spectacle and an endless inflation of phony value for a tiny, breakaway civilization of soulless idiots, many of whom are quite happy to talk on camera. (Others, like legendary superdealer Larry Gagosian, definitely aren’t.) It’s a tragic bonus that Blurred Lines offers so much in the way of rapid-fire eye candy, where even the work of an evil twit like Jeff Koons can stir the viewer’s soul.
Friday, July 7 (8:30 p.m.)
“Meals priced at $500 are bound to be great, but our goal is to create an amazing dining experience for just $8.” So says Osamu Tomita, named Japan’s greatest ramen chef four years running, who operates out of a hole-in-the-wall in Chiba. He’s happy to reveal his painstaking recipe, characterized by a heavy broth that takes days to make, and he generally acts as our guide in this delightful look at the history of a meal that is “rooted in Japan’s postwar sadness” but was refined into some sort of popular carrier wave for the nation’s soul. What is most striking about Ramen Heads is the intensity, passion, and dedication lent to something that—unlike, say, high art—is ardently meant to be enjoyed by everyone.
Saturday, July 8 (6:45 p.m.)
Bell Media’s Best of Hot Docs takes place at the Vancity Theatre from Friday to Tuesday (July 7 to 11).