RIDM weekend: time twisting, soul survival and wayward teens

Our picks for the weekend at Montreal’s documentary fest: The End of Time, Charles Bradley: Soul of America and Only the Young.


The End of Time

Canada’s veteran experimental documentarian Peter Mettler (Picture of Light, Gambling, Gods and LSD) is back with his most abstract and conceptually ambitious work to date. The End of Time is about nothing less than the concept of time itself, which Mettler explores on a sprawling journey that ranges from particle physics to Buddhist philosophy to Detroit techno, with psychedelic visuals complementing the head-tripping themes.

Early on in the film, Mettler visits the Large Hadron Collider, where (as far as I understand it, which isn’t very far at all) scientists are essentially trying to replicate the Big Bang and/or understand the fundamental secrets of the universe. It’s heavy stuff, and the huge chamber of the LHC looks just like it sounds, like something out of the furthest reaches of science fiction. Later, Mettler drops in on a man who’s the sole inhabitant of a Hawaiian island with an active volcano. The Herzogian character lives in a house surrounded by rivers of flowing lava, which provide the most visually stunning sequence of the film (captured in the photo above).

The Detroit sequence is the weakest by far. Starting off with the same Detroit devastation porn we’ve all seen over and over again, Mettler then veers into a sequence with Canadian techno musician Richie Hawtin sharing his own thoughts about the time-space continuum and performing his music. Not only is it tenuously related to the rest of the film, it feels like the result of an old hippie discovering the decades-old rave culture for the first time.

Mettler goes into some deep and essential topics, but the film is so slow-paced and abstract that it feels long, even though it actually clocks in under two hours. It requires considerable patience and open-mindedness, and though I would certainly never encourage our readers to ingest mind-altering substances, a psychedelic frame of mind would undoubtedly be helpful to appreciate it fully. Time may be simply a human construct, as Mettler suggests, but you have to be in the right mood to give those two precious hours to his metaphysical musings. (MF) Friday, Nov. 9, Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 Maisonneuve E.), 5:30 p.m.


Charles Bradley: Soul of America

New York-based Charles Bradley spent decades as a James Brown impersonator before deciding, in his sixties, to start composing his own songs. Hooking up with Daptone Records (the soul revivalists behind Sharon Jones, Lee Fields and the retro sound of Amy Winehouse’s breakthrough record), he cut an album and hit the road with an old-fashioned American dream still alive.

Poull Brien’s doc explores Bradley’s music along with his personal journey and his complicated relationship with his ailing mother, who he supports with his meagre income despite their difficult background. Bradley comes across as a true saint, someone who’s sacrificed his own happiness out of family loyalty and who, in late middle age, continues to push and improve himself (in one sobering scene, we find out that despite all his responsibilities he’s only now learning to read and write).

His story is remarkable — and while at first I thought the title was a bit overblown, there is something so quintessentially American about his belief in his dream in spite of all his struggles — but the doc’s best scenes are those of him performing. It’s quite amazing that someone who’s been grinding it out on a small-time circuit for decades still has the voice, and the energy, to give a Brown-worthy performance night after night, but Bradley is that rare form of entertainer who combines natural talent, work ethic and passion. He cares about his music to an unusual extent; his lyrics are bracingly personal, and you can see tears in his eyes even during rehearsals.

For a jaded and cynical critic who’s seen a lot of shows and a lot of films, to be moved this much by a performer onscreen was a pleasant surprise (more like a shock). I highly recommend the film, but would even more strongly suggest catching Bradley in concert the next time he comes through town. (MF) Saturday, Nov. 10, Grande Bibliothèque (475 Maisonneuve E.), 9 p.m. and Monday, Nov. 12, Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 Maisonneuve E.), 7:30 p.m.


Only the Young

When I first became interested in filmmaking as a teenager, I had grand ideas for a documentary that would show teenagers how they really are. None of this Hollywood hokum; this movie would show the lives of my friends and I (which contained absolutely nothing worth filming) in all of its gritty, down-to-earth glory.

Looking back, I realize that a) that movie already existed in many, many forms at the time, and b) self-important much, teenage Alex? In a lot of ways, Jason Tippett and Elizabeth Mims have made the perfect antidote to the self-important fake documentary of my youth in the funny and poignant Only the Young.

Swapping the traditional handheld, cinema verité approach inherent to “personal” documentaries for a more deliberately cinematic style, the film follows the life of two teenage skateboarders, Garrison and Kevin, who live in a Southern California desert town. Christian punk rockers (they routinely appear in Black Flag and Minor Threat tees) and inseparable best friends, the duo and Garrison’s ex-girlfriend/platonic life partner Skye wax poetic about life and love, while killing time in the various empty homes and swimming pools of their dilapidated home town.

There’s not much structure to Only the Young besides the linear passage of time, but it doesn’t need one; Tippett and Mims have found charismatic, likeable protagonists who are entirely at ease onscreen. Even if their problems are hardly anything new to anyone who was ever a teenager, they come across as genuinely unaffected. With beautifully composed cinematography, a sharp sense of humor and a general sense of wistful hope, Only the Young is miles away from the navel-gazing miserabilist bullshit that so many young filmmakers would’ve applied to a similar situation.  (AR) Sunday, Nov. 11, Cinémathèque Québécoise (335 Maisonneuve E.), 4:15 p.m. and Tuesday, Nov. 13, Excentris (3536 St-Laurent), 9:15 p.m. ■

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