A hypothetical scenario is described at the beginning of Alison Ellwood’s documentary “Women of Troy.” What if after scoring a record-setting 63 points against Larry Bird’s Celtics in the 1986 NBA playoffs Michael Jordan had sustained a career-ending injury? Would he never have been heard from again?
Not very likely, but that’s what happened to Cheryl Miller, one of the greatest women basketball players of all time, after she tore her ACL in 1987. At the time the 23-year-old had already propelled the USC Trojans to NCAA championships in 1983 and 1984 and led the US team to a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics. For a while she was perhaps the most famous basketball player in the world — of either gender. But after her injury, she slipped into obscurity.
Other outstanding members of those teams also found themselves facing oblivion. Not because they were injured, but because they had graduated from college. Though some, like Miller’s USC and Olympic teammate Cynthia Cooper, would find opportunities to play in other countries, for most female players there was no place to go after college ball until the WNBA was established in 1996. That league likely would never have come about if these driven, superb athletes hadn’t transformed women’s basketball into an exciting sport that could pack arenas. Ellwood interviews Miller, Cooper, and other USC greats and shows clips of their thrilling achievements, which still arouse awe and admiration.
“Women of Troy” debuts March 10 at 9 p.m. on HBO. It will also be available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO, and partners’ streaming platforms.
The big picture
In his documentary “The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” (2016), Errol Morris’s tone is uncharacteristically cheerful as he profiles his friend and fellow Cantabrigian artist, the photographer of the title. No surprise, because Dorfman’s optimism, good will, and sense of humor are hard to resist as she relates her story from getting her first camera at 28 to her fame as a beloved master portraitist specializing in a rare large format, the 20x24 (and later a 40x80) Polaroid Land camera, of which only six are in existence. These pictures are simple but subtle with a rich texture and an ineffable aura. They also resemble Morris’s shots of interview subjects taken with his trademark Interrotron device.
Dorfman takes Morris on a tour of her cramped and cozy studio and shares with him some of the hundreds of pictures she has taken during her five-decade career. Before she got hooked on the big Polaroid, she sported a black-and-white 35mm camera that she used to photograph such literary lights as Robert Lowell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Anaïs Nin, Jorge Luis Borges, and Allen Ginsberg. The latter, who died in 1997 at 70, became a close friend and a frequent subject. He figures in one especially witty and haunting Dorfman portrait (shot in the life-size 40x80 format) in which he stands naked next to a photograph of himself nattily clad.
Dorfman feels that these pictures of friends who have died can sometimes bring them back. But she agrees that the photographs themselves, as Morris points out, are fragile and ephemeral. So is the medium used to take them. In 2008 Polaroid declared bankruptcy and ceased production of the film used for the oversize cameras. In 2015 Dorfman retired. But her spirit remains undimmed. “It’s my role in the universe,” she tells Morris, “to make people feel better.”
“The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography” can be seen on March 11 at 6 p.m. and March 21 at 10:30 a.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts and screens in conjunction with the exhibition “Elsa Dorfman: Me and My Camera” (through June 21).
The futurist Fereidoun M. Esfandiary, also known as FM-2030, died in 2000 at 69. Or did he? A transhumanist philosopher who believed technology could expand human limitations, both physical and spiritual, FM-2030 had pre-arranged for his head to be put into cryogenic suspension at the Alcor Life Extension Foundation — whose other clients include Ted Williams but not, as has been rumored, Walt Disney. He hoped that it would be revived sometime in the future with an evolution in robotic technology.
In “2030,” filmmaker Johnny Boston, who had known the philosopher since childhood, sets out to make a film that would be a tribute to Esfandiary and a memorial of sorts for his friend’s longtime companion, Flora Schnall. He interviews experts such as robotics designer David Hanson (who appears with a work-in-progress Philip K. Dick android) and inventor and futurist Raymond Kurzweil, who discuss FM-2030’s ideas, the feasibility of the cryogenic process, and the likelihood of that only the very wealthy and mega-corporations will benefit from such scientific advances.
Then the film seems to switch from documentary to science fiction. Boston gets word that the people at the cryogenics facility — here called CLEO and run by a villainous- looking scientist named Sebastian, who is played by the actor Nelson Avidon — are ready to revive FM-2030 in six months. It’s all hush-hush and off-limits to Boston’s film crew, so while he pretends to continue filming the original tribute documentary, he is sneaking in secret cameras to film what promises to be a turning point in the history of the human race. In other words, the real documentary becomes a fake film serving as a cover for the fake film which is supposedly real.
It’s a little like “F for Fake” (1973) except, well, Johnny Boston is no Orson Welles (sample dialogue: “Once you start the reanimation there is no turning back”; “So it’s like defrosting a chicken?”; “FM is not a chicken”). Despite the shaky execution Boston playfully blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction and poses some provocative questions about the ethics of technological progress in a world run by the super wealthy.
“2030” can be seen on-demand and on multiple digital platforms.
Go to www.2030thefilm.com