Feasting on New Documentaries
Darleen Ortega | 7/10/2019, 9:55 a.m.
"The Apollo" exhaustively mines the history of the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem, which has been a showcase for African American talent since the 1930s. Its stage has been the host and often launching ground for a virtual who's who of African American entertainers ranging from Billie Holliday and Louis Armstrong to Gregory Hines to the Supremes--and this film invites them to share war stories about what they were paid, how they were received, and how hard they work. It also lingers on the open of a play based on Ta-Nehisi Coates' book, "Between the World and Me," an occasion to reflect more deeply on black pride and freedom of expression. It's essential viewing for any student of African American history and an occasion to savor the cultural riches hosted here. The film premieres on HBO this fall.
"Fly Rocket Fly" tells the story of the first private space company and its founder, Lutz Kayser, a sort of Elon Musk of space travel. Kayser founded his company in 1975 as an alternative to national space organizations, thinking he could do it better and more cheaply. Maybe so, but there were some flaws in the execution; since rocket-building was prohibited in Germany after World War II, Kayser moved his operation to Zaire and cobbled together an ill-conceived process enlisting local folks in protecting the operation, and after much chaos and a tragic accident, the experiment was shut down. The film is weirdly interest, but also not wholly successful. It serves up a lot of questions about what Kayser was doing without shedding much insight into why things broken down and whether there was another way to make them work. No American release has been set as of yet.
Darleen Ortega is a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals and the first woman of color to serve in that capacity. Her movie review column Opinionated Judge appears regularly in The Portland Observer. Find her movie blog at opinionatedjudge.blogspot.com.