The famed photographer Bert Stern set the template for many concert movies to come with his effervescent and intimate documentary about the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” (1959). The way his camera bobs and hovers about the stage and zooms in for extreme close-ups of legends like Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, and Dinah Washington — vividly demonstrating why they are legends — can be seen emulated to good effect in D.A. Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop” (1968), Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock” (1970), and Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Waltz” (1978).
Some of Stern’s stylistic choices don’t age well. Comic mini-vignettes, perhaps staged, fall flat (Stern initially planned to have the festival serve as a backdrop for a fictional narrative). Early in the film he digresses from the action on stage and inserts arty shots of rippling water, jokey sequences of an itinerant Dixieland ensemble tooling about in an antique car, and lingering close-ups of pretty women in the crowd grooving sensuously to the music. And the great Thelonious Monk’s performance becomes background music for scenes from Newport’s ongoing America’s Cup yacht race.
But as night falls Stern’s focus turns to the performers. Chico Hamilton’s “Bolero”-like percussion solo draws the audience into an ecstatic crescendo. Chuck Berry bursts onto the stage like a visitor from another movie as he performs “Sweet Little Sixteen” (cue the blue-denimed teenagers rocking out). Then Washington belts out “All of Me” and Armstrong caresses “Up the Lazy River,” and they make these old standards sound like they had just invented them. And for a finale, at midnight when Saturday turns into Sunday, Mahalia Jackson’s “The Lord’s Prayer” enraptures the tony Newport revelers, reminding them that there is a higher power.
When Mulligan and company play a taut and intense set it recalls a conversation from earlier in the film in which a hipster remarks that he’s looking forward to hearing the great baritone saxophonist. He asks his companion who her favorite performer is and she says she doesn’t have one — she doesn’t like jazz and she just came for the ride. It seems at first that Stern might have also just come along just for the ride but then stayed for the music.
You can see a digitally restored version of “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” on a summer night in the town where the festival took place when newportFILM, in conjunction with Newport Festivals Foundation/Newport Jazz Festival, screens it on Aug. 13 at 7:55 p.m. in an ad hoc drive-in at Doris Duke’s Rough Point, 680 Bellevue Ave., Newport, R.I. Or you can catch it online via the Coolidge Corner and Brattle theaters’ virtual screening rooms, starting Aug. 14.
Magical mystery cure
The wild and crazy filmmakers of the ’70s have become such teddy bears of late. Like Werner Herzog, whose documentaries about meteors and Gorbachev and appearances on “The Simpsons” seem a long way from “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” (1972). Then there’s Alejandro Jodorowsky, who blew minds with “El Topo” (1970) and “The Holy Mountain” (1973) and now seeks to heal shattered psyches in his documentary “Psychomagic, a Healing Art.” Spry, black-clad, and serene, the 90-year-old auteur and magus appears at the beginning of the film and explains that while psychotherapy treats people with words and is based in science, his Psychomagic relies on actions and is rooted in art.
The result combines the self-help classes of Tony Robbins and the performance art of Marina Abramović, except weirder. Intercutting case studies with apposite, surreal scenes from his movies, Jodorowsky’s unorthodox approach includes squeezing the testicles of a stutterer, painting him gold, and setting him loose on the streets of Paris to intone phrases like “One life is not enough,” “I like bread; I bite into it,” “Even if you don’t know, I know,” and “Don’t suffer.” The stuttering, apparently, is cured.
More affecting is the case of a depressed and embittered 88-year-old woman who feels cheated by life, even though she admits she has a beautiful home and family. She also angrily asserts that she doesn’t care about the plight of immigrants or any other suffering people. Jodorowsky embraces her, leads her to the Jardin des Plantes, and instructs her to pour a bottle of water on the roots of a 300-year-old tree. “In order to get out of the condition you’re in,” he tells her, “in order to be the master you are, you are going to have to start giving.”
“Psychomagic, a Healing Art” begins streaming Aug. 7 on Alamo on Demand. A virtual master class in Psychomagic with Jodorowsky is scheduled for Aug. 8 at 4 p.m. on the same platform.
Charles in charge
Charles Bukowski, subject of Matteo Borgardt’s documentary “You Never Had It — An Evening With Bukowski” (2016), would have been 100 on Aug. 14 — an unlikely accomplishment, given his prodigious consumption of alcohol and cigarettes. It’s remarkable enough that he lived to be 73 (Bukowski died in 1994). During that time he wrote the novel “Women” (1978), the short story collection “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness” (1972), and several volumes of poetry (the film’s title comes from the poem “Those Sons of Bitches”). These works chronicle with acidic humor and unapologetically squalid detail Bukowski’s demimonde of poverty, sex, drinking, writing, and more drinking.
In 1981 the Italian journalist Silvia Bizio videotaped a long, bibulous evening into the next morning with Bukowski and his future wife, Linda Lee Beighle. On the deteriorated U-matic videocassette tapes , with production quality appropriately reminiscent of ’70s porn movies, Bukowski pontificates on literature, writers, art, life, and sex (which he included in his writings to increase sales, or so he claims). Intermittent 8mm shots of the homeless in the streets of today’s Los Angeles punctuate the discourse. As the wine flows and the smoke gathers there are a few rocky moments, when Bukowski gets testy or squabbles with an uncomfortable-looking Beighle (mostly about not having sex).
Most of Bukowski’s opinions and observations have the mordantly ironic, balefully bemused tone of his writings. Until, that is, he turns to the subject of his childhood, which he was writing about at the time for what would become his novel “Ham on Rye” (1982). “Have you ever been beaten by a razor strop three times a week from the age of 6 until 11?” he asks. “My father was a great literary teacher. He taught me the meaning of pain. Pain without reason.”
“You Never Had It — An Evening With Bukowski” begins streaming Aug. 7 via the Brattle and Coolidge Corner virtual screening rooms .