As in such previous documentaries as the Oscar-winning "Fog of War: 11 Lessons from the Life of Robert McNamara” (2003) and “The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld” (2013), Errol Morris’s “American Dharma” allows his subject, Steve Bannon, plenty of time to explain his point of view and thereby incriminate himself. But the entrepreneurial, right-wing gadfly, who is as disingenuous and crafty as he is megalomaniacal, proves Morris’s slipperiest challenge to date.
Morris holds the interview in a replica of the Quonset hut from “Twelve O’Clock High” (1949), a film that the cinephilic Bannon claims to have inspired his philosophy of leadership. By the end of the film, however, that set is burnt to the ground in slow-motion. Meanwhile the self-proclaimed architect of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory — later to be sent packing from his White House post as senior counselor — waxes at length about his plans to save America and the world by promulgating an international wave of nationalism.
Morris doesn’t ask a lot of questions or always challenge Bannon’s free-and-easy way with the truth. But by holding back he elicits perhaps more information than Bannon might otherwise have divulged. Morris also often intercuts montages of headlines or media clips that contradict him. An under-appreciated addition to Morris’s canon, “American Dharma” is also an urgent and essential reminder of what happened four years ago and what to look forward to in campaigns ahead.
“American Dharma” can be seen Jan. 3-9 at the Brattle Theatre. Morris will participate in a Q&A following the 7 p.m. screening on Jan. 3.
A different drum
A few weeks ago, Linda Ronstadt, now 73, attended a State Department dinner held for this year’s Kennedy Center honorees. While introducing her, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referenced one of the singer’s many hits by facetiously asking “When will I be loved?” Ronstadt replied that he might be loved when “he stopped enabling President Trump.”
Ronstadt has been loved by legions of fans for some five decades, at least since releasing her first hit, “Different Drum” in 1967, while with the Stone Poneys. Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s documentary “Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice,” the Critics’ Choice Documentary Award Winner, follows a career during which Ronstadt has released 30 albums, 11 of which went platinum, won 10 Grammy Awards and 26 nominations, filled arenas during her many tours, was for a while the highest paid female rock singer, and demonstrated her extraordinary vocal range by starring in a Broadway production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”
Epstein and Friedman tell Ronstadt’s story with archival footage of her performances, interviews with friends and colleagues including Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, who were her collaborators on the 1987 album “Trio.” They also delve into Ronstadt’s roots growing up on an Arizona ranch, where she learned Mexican folk songs from her father, who was of Mexican descent. She ended her career when Parkinson’s disease robbed her voice of its power and nuance but not its sweetness, as she demonstrates at the end of the film when she joins a nephew and a cousin singing one of that ballads that first made her enamored of music.
“The Sound of My Voice” will be broadcast on CNN on Jan. 1 and Jan. 4 at 9 p.m. and Jan. 5 at 12 a.m. It is also available on digital and DVD at www.lindaronstadtmovie.com.
In 2010 the Iranian government convicted Jafar Panahi of bogus sedition charges for speaking up for political reform; he was sentenced to six years in prison and was banned from making movies for 20 years. Despite this Panahi has been able to make four films since and smuggle them out of the country.
The latest is “3 Faces” (2018), a hybrid documentary-drama in which Panahi and his friend the actress Behnaz Jafari receive a video of a teenage girl apparently committing suicide. She says she is driven to this desperate act because her conservative family has forbidden her to pursue a career in movies. Alarmed, Panahi and Jafari head to the girl’s remote village to investigate. There they find suspicion and resistance from a variety of locals and assorted oddballs who offer exaggerated hospitality to the visitors — especially Jafari, who is an Iranian celebrity — while at the same time insulting them and their supposed show-biz lifestyle.
Their search is stymied until they come across an old, once-famous actress who lives there in benighted circumstances. Despite being ostracized by the villagers and embittered by the sexist treatment she endured during her career, she remains proud and defiant and is a key to the mystery of what happened to the girl in the video.
The result is a peripatetic detective story, a profile of rural Iranian society, a critique of traditional patriarchal culture, and a reflective look at the ethics of filmmaking. But how much of it is true? Panahi might be providing a clue when he takes a call from his mother who chides him for not visiting her. She asks if he is making a film. He denies it; his mother (or is it really his mother?) replies, “You’re telling me fibs now as well?”
“3 Faces” can be streamed on the Criterion Channel beginning on Jan. 2.
Go to www.criterionchannel.com.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.