“Martha: A Picture Story”, available on video on demand, is optimistic, nimble and very entertaining and celebrates the photographer Martha Cooper and her decades-long love affair with graffiti and street art.
Like the documentary “Bill Cunningham New York”, this first full-length documentary by Australian director Selina Miles features a wonderful protagonist in her photographer’s subject – an artist of integrity known for capturing images of human self-expression on the streets of New York City do .
Cooper is primarily associated with her photographs of graffiti and subway art and helps give legitimacy to that art.
She attributes the effectiveness of her images to her motifs. At the same time, as admirers note, it is Cooper who selects and frames her subjects, and she presents them with striking humanity
An opening passage with film material from 2018 contains the action and tension of a thriller: “Somewhere in Germany”, 70-year-old Cooper, dressed in black and equipped with camera equipment, secretly makes her way through a dark train yard with the 1UP crew . She takes photos of the graffiti artists rushing into a subway station and uses color-filled fire extinguishers to spray huge smileys on the wall before they leave the premises.
The plot is similar to the methods Cooper used in the 1970s and 1980s, and she still feels the thrill.
Combining news and artist material, home videos and interviews with graffiti writers and two wonderfully reminiscent friends, Miles travels through Cooper’s career: Peace Corps Service in Thailand; a National Geographic internship (the magazine’s “first girl intern”); Photographing Japan’s underground tattoo scene.
As an employee photographer for the New York Post, Cooper took pictures of the poorer neighborhoods in the dark 1970s.
Her topics included “people who rise above those around them” and outsiders who make New York their own.
Cooper used her camera to capture the beginnings of hip-hop and take photos of breakdancing kids.
The graffiti scene, whose “writers” used walls as canvases and wrote their names very artistically, fascinated Cooper.
Cooper documented street art, vilified at the time as an unsightly manifestation of vandalism, and showed that it was actually about imagination, skill, beauty, and other qualities associated with art.
Her pictures of subway paintings, painted in stations and trains, published in her 1984 book “Subway Art” (with Henry Chalfant), inspired young street artists and made Cooper legendary in the community.
Her photographs and her dedicated interest in street art have led to lasting friendships with artists and given her access to their projects.
Miles created a solemn, non-penetrating profile of Cooper that appears practically flawless in the movie.
But that’s the kind of documentary Cooper deserves: a joyful, dynamic, loving appreciation.
Of course there are still critics of graffiti. In a head-shaker passage, a prominent gallery owner tells Cooper that pictures with smileys are not a serious art.
Cooper expresses little concern about her legacy. (“I’ll be dead,” she says.) She doubts Google will honor her with a scribble, she says.
Martha: A picture story
With: Martha Cooper, Sally Levin, Susan Welchman and Dondi
Directed by: Selina Miles
running time: 1 hour 22 minutes
“Groomed”, a documentary by Gwen van de Pas, shows how sex offenders gain the trust of their victims. (Courtesy Yellow Dot Films /: Discovery +)
“Groomed” examines how sex offenders use the process known as “care” to hook their victims, gain their trust and silence them.
In this debut film, documentary filmmaker Gwen van de Pas combines interviews with therapists, child welfare experts, abuse survivors and a convicted criminal with her personal journey.
Van de Pas recalls her Dutch childhood and tells how at the ages of 12 and 13 she was abused by her swim coach who presented himself as a caring adult who cared about her well-being.
In what van de Pas now sees as the case of foster care (a term child care professionals claim to use several times a day), the man selected her as prey and sensed her vulnerability (classmates bullied her). He wrote her letters and bought her presents. He made her believe that she was special in his eyes.
At other care services, the perpetrator gained the van de Pas family’s trust and convinced van de Pas that their increasingly physical relationship was something she wanted. For two decades she believed that he really cared for her and posed no danger to others.
The film traces her progress from these long-held thoughts to more precise insights that van de Pas achieves by dealing with her past. This involves a difficult visit to her parents’ home.
In a particularly poignant passage, van de Pas, who now lives in San Francisco, discusses her child abuse with her parents for the second time in 20 years. She reads letters that her perpetrator sent her and that are now making her sick.
Van de Pas structures her film efficiently and, despite the dark themes, creates an easily observable mixture of facts and figures as well as trauma and healing. This documentary is both an informative overview of nursing practice and a bold first-person story that will resonate with many.
“Groomed” debuts March 19th on Discovery +.
With: Gwen van de Pas
Directed by: Gwen van de Pas
running time: 1 hour 22 minutes
Movies and television
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