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doc talk | peter keough

On the mat, on film, on his way, on the road

A scene from “Untitled,” compiled from footage by the late Michael Glawogger.
A scene from “Untitled,” compiled from footage by the late Michael Glawogger.Filmatique

If you are a fan of professional wrestling, or of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” (2008) , or simply like films that depict the tenacity and resilience of the human spirit, you might like Fulvio Cecere’s documentary “350 Days.

The title refers to the number of days a wrestler would be on the road in a typical year during the sport’s heyday in the 1980s. It was not an easy life, as demonstrated by the archival footage and interviews with such greats as Bret Hart, George “The Animal” Steele, Superstar Billy Graham, and Wendi Richter.

Loose themes emerge from their recollections, many relating to the loneliness of a life lived apart from their families, a problem somewhat mitigated, and probably exacerbated by the groupies, called “ring rats,” who followed them as if they were rock stars. The women weren’t the only temptation. Most gorged on booze, drugs, and steroids. As for wrestling being a fake sport, they insist that though the contests were scripted and the outcomes predetermined, the pain and trauma were real.

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When asked if they regretted their career choice, almost all say they would do it again. Despite the physical and emotional toll, they believe that pleasing crowds and attaining excellence in an endeavor that requires skill, panache, and endurance were worth it. Tellingly, the film is dedicated to a number of those interviewed who died before it was finished.

“350 Days” can be seen on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Fenway and several suburban theaters.

Go to bit.ly/2KRxoVK. 

Film preservation

Celluloid film has gone the way of all things made obsolescent by digital technology, and Tacita Dean’s film “Kodak” (2006), itself shot on real 16mm black-and-white and color film, provides a fitting epitaph. Her images of the last days of a Kodak factory in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, transform the process of manufacturing motion-picture film into a magical and aesthetically pleasing experience. Among the striking images are a yard-wide sheet of raw film that fills the screen, its vertical bands of sky blue, indigo, and viridian resembling a Rothko canvas, and sci-fi-like machines that send the shimmering product down assembly lines which look like printing presses spinning out water. 

Then all this activity is abandoned and Dean ends with stark images of the derelict enterprise: an empty garage with four stray office chairs; spirals of discarded film stock on a dusty bench; a dim corridor that ends with an arrow pointing nowhere. This film would make a good double feature with Peter Flynn’s documentary “The Dying of the Light” (2015) about the last gasp of old-fashioned, analog movie projection.

“Kodak” screens on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Menschel Hall, Lower Level, in the Harvard Art Museums, 32 Quincy St., Cambridge. Jessica Bardsley, a PhD candidate in film and visual studies at Harvard, will introduce the film.

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Go to  bit.ly/2IPTC93

World tour

In 2013, filmmaker Michael Glawogger set off on a long journey during which he planned to film everything that struck his eye with no regard for theme or any other organizing principle. His project ended four months and 19 days later, in Liberia , where he died of acute malaria.

He left behind a body of film taken in Austria, Africa, the Balkans, and Italy. Glawogger’s longtime collaborator and veteran film editor Monika Willi took this footage and Glawogger’s diary and from them came the impressionistic, poetic, and sometimes brutally realistic documentary “Untitled” (2017) . 

Themes do emerge in Willi’s assemblage of Glawogger’s material. There is a motif of animals transported on vehicles, such as a placid duck riding in the back of a jitney and a nervous sheep in a cage being hauled by a tractor.

More substantive is Glawogger’s humanistic vision, like that of Wim Wenders’s in “The Salt of the Earth” (2014), as in a scene when kids fight over items in a garbage heap, or a long shot of ant-like figures toiling in search of diamonds on a lofty cliffside. Glawogger also demonstrates a detached, empathetic eye for the absurd like that of Werner Herzog in “Fata Morgana” (1971), as in a sequence involving a soccer match on an African beach played by one-legged men.

“Untitled” can be seen on Filmatique.

Go to www.filmatique.com/watch-films/2018/untitled.

Road movie

Dan Protess’s documentary “10 Streets that Changed America” includes the Boston Post Road but doesn’t show much of our city beyond a highway sign for Waltham and a quick glimpse of a Green Line trolley. It does offer some unique insights into American history beyond being a mere tourist guide.

The Post Road, for example, was first established in the 17th century by the British to provide a mail route from New York to Boston. Later developments by American colonists improved the road and reduced the travel time from three weeks to a neck-snapping three days. Postmasters at stops along the way would print newsletters to keep the populace informed; and the route would increasingly become a conduit of anti-British sentiment. When the Revolution finally broke out, in 1776, the road served as a means of communicating military intelligence.

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On the other hand, the segment about Greenwood Avenue, in Tulsa, Okla., will not stir patriotic pride. Though segregated from the white community, African Americans in that city nonetheless were able to prosper financially in their part of town. Greenwood Avenue, their main thoroughfare and business district, became known as the “Black Wall Street.” This did not sit well with the white community, and in 1921 an incident sparked a riot which took the lives of many black people and ended with the district burnt to the ground.

“10 Streets that Changed America” can be seen on PBS on Tuesday at 8 p.m. It will also be available for streaming on Wednesday and on DVD for $24.99 on August 14.

Go to www.pbs.org/show/10-changed-america.


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