Movies

doc talk | peter keough

Films about creativity and destruction

 08doctalk EXHIBITION ON SCREEN: THE CURIOUS WORLD OF HIERONYMUS BOSCH at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
“One More Time With Feeling” by Andrew Dominik

The adjective “curious” in the title of David Bickerstaff’s documentary “The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch” seems a bit understated. Perhaps more to the point would be modifiers such as “nightmarish,” “terrifying,” and “diabolically hilarious.” A cinematic guided tour of the exhibition celebrating the 500th anniversary of Bosch’s death curated at the Noordbrabants Museum in the painter’s hometown of Den Bosch, Netherlands, the film provides insights into his bizarre and brilliant oeuvre.

Best known for the densely detailed, whimsical monstrosities of the triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” which has vied with Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and the map of Middle-earth as the preferred poster art for generations of undergraduates, Bosch was not a psychedelic proto-hippie but a pious, bourgeois churchgoer whose fantastic allegories sought to instruct his medieval audience about the wages of sin and the rewards of righteousness. Or, as one learned interviewee in the film explains about the image of a homunculus with a tiny sword wearing a funnel in Bosch’s “The Temptation of St. Anthony,” “God knows what that is.”

His visions will trouble your sleep, as they have the generations of artists he has inspired from Goya to Guillermo del Toro.

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“The Curious World of Hieronymus Bosch” can be seen at the Museum of Fine Arts on Jan. 14 at 3 p.m. and on Jan. 15 at 12:30 p.m. It is part of “Exhibition on Screen,” a series of documentaries about major museum shows.

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For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/series/exhibition-on-screen-the-curious-world-of-hieronymus-bosch.

Cave art

Ostensibly a documentary about the making of punk rocker Nick Cave’s album “Skeleton Tree,” “One More Time With Feeling” by Andrew Dominik (2007’s “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”) records the struggle of the creative imagination as it is drawn inevitably toward the recognition of an all-consuming void. In other words, don’t expect much in the way of dance music.

Dark though it may be (it is shot in shimmering black and white with parts in 3-D), the film achieves a transcendent beauty and might be the best film, let alone the best documentary, of 2016.

A stark contrast to “20,000 Days on Earth,” Cave’s whimsical and ingenious 2014 “autobiographical” documentary made with Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, “Feeling” transforms the subjective process of making art into a vivid objectivity while at the same time providing a subtle commentary on the making of the film itself.

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It combines the layered creation of the haunting tracks on the album (Cave’s collaborator, the bearded, fiddle playing Warren Ellis, is a Gandalf for our times) in a studio located in an old converted church with gnomic ruminations by Cave in voice-over.

From time to time, Dominick employs techniques meant to depict transcendence, as when his camera zooms into a singer’s face, passes through the vessels and neurons of her head, slips through a hole in the wall radiating light, and sails off, into the infinite.

“One More Time with Feeling” screens at the MFA on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

For more information go to www.mfa.org/programs/film/one-more-time-with-feeling.

Reasons to be fearful, Part I

Life as we know it almost ended in 1980.

At a Titan II complex in Damascus, Ark., a technician dropped a wrench during routine service of one of the missiles. It bounced down the cavernous silo and punctured the missile’s fuselage. Rocket fuel poured out, and desperate efforts began to prevent the warhead — 600 times greater in explosive power than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima — from detonating.

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With reenactments the equal of any thriller and gripping interviews with participants, experts, and survivors, Robert Kenner’s “Command and Control” shows how close we came to the brink of annihilation, and how likely the chances are of such an accident occurring again — with potentially catastrophic consequences.

“Command and Control” is available Tuesday on DVD for $24.95 from PBS Distribution. It also airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS.

For more information go to www.pbsdistribution.org/blogs/press-releases/explore-the-long-hidden-story-of-one-of-americas-most-dangerous-nuclear-accidents-in-the-high-stakes-documentary-thriller-american-experience-command-and-control.

Reasons to be fearful, Part II

Peter Galison and Robb Moss’s documentary “Containment.”
Redacted Pictures/Tim Cragg
Peter Galison and Robb Moss’s documentary “Containment.”

While “Command and Control” tells the story of a nuclear catastrophe that nearly happened in the past, Peter Galison and Robb Moss’s documentary “Containment” shows how the distant future — as in hundreds of thousands of years from now — might be a little dicey, too.

The problem is the hundreds of millions of gallons of nuclear waste, some with a half-life in six digits, the residue of weapons making and reactors, that litter the landscape. Not only must secure places be found to store it, but some way must be devised to warn future generations who might not share the same language as us. Moss and Galison employ startling documentary footage and scintillating sci-fi-like animation in examining the danger.

“Containment” can be seen Monday at 10 p.m. on Independent Lens on PBS.

For more information go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/containment.

Peter Keough can be reached at petervkeough@gmail.com.