Doc Talk | Peter Keough

Returning home, rendering a pig, remembering old Boston, relocating punk

A still image from the WGBH program “Michael Ambrosino’s Show,” showing Legal Sea Foods.
A still image from the WGBH program “Michael Ambrosino’s Show,” showing Legal Sea Foods.

The Mexican family in Erick Stoll and Chase Whiteside’s “América” may be unconventional but it is exemplary.

Diego makes a pretty good living in Puerto Vallarta, waxing surfboards and working as an Elvis-impersonating stilt walker entertaining tourists. But when América, his nonagenarian grandmother, falls and injures herself, and his father, her sole caregiver, is unfairly jailed for elder abuse, he must return to his hometown of Colima and help out.

He summons his two estranged brothers, Rodrigo and Bruno, both with circus performance skills like himself, to join him. Together they tend to América, who is lapsing into dementia, and try to raise enough money to bail their father out of jail. All three are burdened by their own responsibilities, have their own interests, and are pursuing their own goals. The eldest, the entrepreneurial Bruno, has the most commitments; he has a girlfriend and operates an unusual meditation class. The three squabble and separate but somehow come together to care for their lovely and vulnerable grandmother.

The directors spent three years off and on with the family and their film captures their uniqueness and commitment to universal family values.


“América” is a POV production and can be seen on PBS on Oct. 7 at 10 p.m.

Return to Hale County

RaMell Ross’s impressionistic “Hale County This Morning, This Evening” (2018) about the lives of young African-Americans in the rustic Alabama community of the title emerged from obscurity to receive an Academy Award nomination for best documentary. He returns to the same locale in the 14-minute short “Easter Snap.”

In it five men engage in the traditional “processing” of a butchered pig, which comes wrapped in a cloth decorated with Stars and Stripes emblems, under the direction of Johnny Blackmon, a one-armed elder. Ross follows the festive proceedings with a handheld camera and abruptly drops it when Blackmon collapses and he rushes with the others to his aid. An EMT comes and treats the old man. He recovers and groggily rejoins the team, and the rendered pig is driven away in a pick-up to be sold. The only white people to be seen are the EMT and a group glimpsed in a rearview mirror, apparently interested buyers.


A vivid slice of life and a glimpse at a little-known culture, Ross’s film seems like an allegory just eluding interpretation.

“Easter Snap” can be streamed on Vimeo, YouTube, and both the Field of Vision Facebook page, and website.

Go to fieldofvision.org

TV time traveler

In 1969 and 1970 WGBH presented “Michael Ambrosino’s Show,” a program in which the host visited various local neighborhoods, landmarks, and other points of interest. With humorous and sometimes barbed commentary he features the newly finished Boston City Hall, Haymarket before it became an elaborate mall and tourist attraction, and Inman Square, when it was an unfrequented working class neighborhood with friendly people and unpretentious shops, including a quaint family-run fish market called Legal Sea Foods.

Clips from the series will be screened at the Coolidge Corner Theatre and they serve as a kind time machine surveying five decades of change, for better and worse. In one show Ambrosino takes a helicopter tour of a toxic Charles River, a filthy harbor, trashed harbor islands, a noise- and air-polluting Logan Airport, and a Boston Edison plant belching black smoke. It’s a graphic exposé of the environmental squalor that had inspired the Standells’s 1965 song “Dirty Water” and would be showcased in George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign ads against Michael Dukakis, in 1988.


Ambrosino decries the garbage and neglect that have befouled places that could be developed into parks and other public resources. Today the water is clean, and the harbor islands recreational attractions. But Ambrosino hints of a future when such improvements turn out to be exclusionary, that developments then in the planning stage for the waterfront and other areas might serve the interests of the wealthy and not members of the working class like those then living in Inman Square.

Clips from “Michael Ambrosino’s Show” will screen as part of a “WGBH in The Neighborhood” program on Oct. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Coolidge Corner. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion with Ambrosino, Boston City Archaeologist Joseph Bagley, and the WGBH’s Karen Cariani. All seats have been claimed for this free event but there will be a rush line and empty seats will be released prior to the show.

Desolation celebration

They weren’t as big or famous as Woodstock, but the outdoor concerts that sprung up in the California desert in the 1980s might have been as influential. So argues “Desolation Center,” directed by Stuart Swezey, who originated and organized the punk music series of the title.

In the late 1970s, when Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates was coming down hard on the punk scene, Swezey and others decided to take their music out of the city and into the Mojave, where they wouldn’t be harassed. Because of their secrecy the attendance was never more than a couple of hundred, but the events drew big name acts like Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets, avant-garde groups like Einstürzende Neubauten, whose instruments included chainsaws and rocks, and a pyrotechnic artist who almost wiped out an audience with an explosion.


Desolation Center established the template later adopted by Burning Man, Lollapalooza, and Coachella — though as Swezey notes the cost of admission to those huge bashes is a lot higher and an attendee is more likely to be a Silicon Valley millionaire than an anti-establishment punkster. With eye-opening archival footage and interviews with participating musicians, journalists, and cryptic experts identified as Failed Visionary and Future Trauma Psychologist, Swezey does justice to this overlooked chapter in rock history.

“Desolation Center” screens at the Regent Theatre, in Arlington, on Oct. 10 at 7:30 p.m.

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