Easy does it
SAVING JAZZ (Leslie Woodhead, UK). 60 minutes. Friday (May 11), 7 pm. Rating: NN
After Hurricane Katrina, many of Herman Leonard 's photographs of more than half a century of jazz legends were destroyed. Director Leslie Woodhead follows the spry octogenarian as he rebuilds his archive and decides whether to stay in New Orleans or relocate to L.A.
The film works best when it focuses on Leonard's portraits, which include all the jazz icons, usually captured with smoke twirling around them. Even Miles Davis, who hated having his image taken, allowed Leonard lots of access. Surviving subjects comment on his importance, which didn't really come to light until a British exhibit in the late 1980s.
Unfortunately, Leonard's not a great on-camera subject, and there's little tension in the film. As well, Woodhead's attempts to chronicle the resurrection of New Orleans aren't nearly as compelling as Spike Lee's recent doc. And Leonard, who also produced, narrates the film with a plummy British accent that's hardly evocative of American jazz.
MEG PARTRIDGE SPOTLIGHT , including DOROTHEA LANGE (Partridge, U.S.), 46 minutes; PORTRAIT OF IMOGEN (Partridge, U.S.), 28 minutes. Saturday (May 12), 7 pm. Rating: NNN
Meg Partridge isn't the most gripping director, but these works shed fascinating light on two pioneering female photographers.
Dorothea Lange , best known for her Depression-era pictures of migrant workers, gives lots of insight into this period in a series of audio interviews. (We even meet the model for a character from Steinbeck's The Grapes Of Wrath.) Less well known is her work chronicling the relocation of Japanese-American citizens during the second world war or her brief time in Ireland and Asia, which are both covered here, interspersed with a good collection of interviews with her family and colleagues.
Imogen Cunningham seemed to struggle to find a definitive subject. Her early nudes were called immoral, and she later went on to photograph her children, plants, hands and Hollywood celebrities (she liked working with "ugly men," she says, because they didn't complain).
Cunningham doesn't quite come into focus, but Partridge gives us a good look at her range. And the photographer's audio comments are intelligent and modest.
TIERNEY GEARON: THE MOTHER PROJECT (Peter Sutherland, Jack Youngelson, U.S.). 70 minutes. Sunday (May 13), 5 pm. Rating: NNN
Photographer Tierney Gearon achieved notoriety with her series of pictures of her young children, many of them nude. Directors Peter Sutherland and Jack Youngelson follow her as she moves back from London to the States to continue her next project, photographs of her aging mother, who happens to be a depressive schizophrenic.
There are big ethical issues at play here about exploitation and artistic limits, and the directors capture many moments that'll leave you shuddering. Gearon's clearly a good photographer. But is she a good mother and daughter? Should that matter?