The Boy Who Sold the World

Directed by Adam Barton

Rating: 2 out of 5.

It doesn’t matter what idea you come up with, just so long as you can sell it. The thirsty fangs of capitalism seek to draw talent from any source, but if you want to plant your feet in its home territory, then America is the place to be. Ben Pasternak, “The Boy Who Sold The World” (2020), an undeniable person of brilliance, with a knack for technology, digital applications, but at the heart of it – marketing, seeks the opportunity of a lifetime. Moving to the states, with investors & financiers snapping at his heels for a chance to support him can Pasternak follow in the footsteps of high-school dropouts, who rise the ladder quickly, or are the stresses of money, success and being away from home too heavy a burden? Oh, did we mention he was fifteen during this?

By and large, the principal issue with Adam Barton‘s documentary is its framing, specifically Barton’s manoeuvres to humanise Pasternak, raising concerns to the film’s agenda. It attempts to find balance but offers much leeway for Pasternak to flaunt or to showboat, rather than posing questions or seeking answers. Barton structures the documentary with a fly-on-the-wall technique, relegating the camera to the side-lines and refraining from having an active presence. The predominant issue? A lot of this is smoke, mirrors and staging on the part of Pasternak, and given his age (between fifteen – nineteen throughout the filming) doesn’t feel authentic. Perhaps not premediated, but instead someone ‘hyped’ at the attention of filmmaking, Barton’s film doesn’t feel credible, its cinematic style is hands-off, but its storytelling is manipulative.

No doubt a marketing marvel of our times, Pasternak behaves less like a Zuckerberg, and far more like a kid out of his depth. There’s an eerie reflection of our societies gluttonous need for ‘likes’, ‘retweets’ and shares, rather than substance. Pasternak’s drive to push his creations to the peak of the app stores comes not out of pride or business ambition, but a disturbing ‘collection’ of sorts, for the thrill over success. Sam Mink’s editing results in an inability to inject much momentum into the dynamic, difficult given how much of the film is simplistic shots of Pasternak or his team on their phones, but there’s next to nothing in the way of visuals stimulation.

Quite shallowly, the film focuses its attention on the achievements of Pasternak, and when questions arise to the help he may have received, does little to counter his protestations that he managed this alone. Questions relating to teammates, previous employees and designers focus on their opinions of Pasternak, neglecting the work they have put into these ventures. Even after we hear audio-conversations with his mother, who argues that without their financial aid he would never have been able to start these ventures, the audience may be left to form their opinion, but the film still offers nothing as a rebuttal to Pasternak’s assertions.

Barton’s film, therefore, pedestals Pasternak, suggesting a large body of the work was his own, when in reality it’s quite evident there was help. In the film’s blind attempt at neutrality, it allows Pasternak to weave his own narrative, a self-made genius, who really, has had opportunities many would dream of. The lacking depth of the film struggles to engage, and while, correctly, encouraging the audience to form their own opinions on Pasternak as a person, much of the documentary feels empty. At under an hour and a half, much is glossed over, swept aside, and Barton places heavy emphasis on aspects which, to be blunt, are utterly meaningless and feel like a preamble.

The Boy Who Stole the World” won’t be stealing any hearts, nor minds, failing to capitalise on a tremendous opportunity to dive into a potential rising entrepreneur. Troublingly, perhaps the documentary reflects Pasternak’s early career, with a stratospheric rise, followed by a swift, plunge back into obscurity awaiting a future project.

A maestro of marketing, Pasternak can rest assured that despite an effort to balance opinion, “The Boy Who Stole the World” doesn’t do much to act in the way of negative PR, but then again, it doesn’t manage to do much of anything. This is a tremendous story, an authentic coming-of-age experience of a rising entrepreneur balancing the harsh world of business as it melds with an angsty, hormonal teenage mindset, the real shame is how mundane Barton’s film makes the experience: ineffective, but harmless.

Review originally published for In Their Own League:

The Kingmaker – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Written & Directed by Lauren Greenfield

Lies have found their place as currency in politics, haven’t they? Well, it’s certainly no different than the past. The only difference lies in the medium in which propaganda is broadcast. One woman who appreciates the value of an image, claiming to have solved the Cold War within ‘five minutes’, and rubbed shoulders with history’s wealthiest, influential is the former First Lady of The Philippines, Imelda Marcos; A fascinating woman who may play the part of the innocent ‘Mother’ of the nation but is first and foremost The KingmakerFollowing the death of her husband, President Ferdinand Marcos, she has her eyes set on a new King, her son Bongbong, ascending to the leadership of the Philippines.

What starts as a documentary, seemingly offering a platform for Marcos, turns into a nightmarish, honest and cold-cut horror piece of reality. The Kingmaker is as repulsive as it is engrossing, without resorting to forced perspective. Filmmaker Lauren Greenfield masterfully stitches the truth against Marcos as an unreliable narrator, producing an insightful documentary on the obsessive allure of power, wealth and legacy.

Refusing to maintain this platform, subverting it instead, Greenfield admits that upon meeting Marcos, she was unsure of the former First Lady’s intentions. Poised with an image in mind, it takes little time to realise that for Marcos, as with her life, this is another tapestry to weave. To paint her visage once more, to outright deny, distract and cast smoke around her history. The stories she tells, the way she feigns ignorance to the billions she and her husband robbed from the Filipino public and the attempt to control the direction of the documentary, Imelda Marcos is no ‘trophy’ first lady, but a tactician.

Refuting this, Greenfield seamlessly provides rebuttals to Marcos’ attempts at drawing her narrative. Without false pretense or unneeded pathos, brutal accounts of the martial law, the sexual assault and violence the people suffered under the Marcos’ rule are played directly after interview segments. The Kingmaker’s editing is fluid, without awkward transitions of showcasing, instead noting the importance of reporting a direct truth against the lies told. We flow from Marcos’ words of vindication for her family to the imagery of poverty, a broken nation and first-hand accounts of the brutality they suffered. 

Expanding on this unreliable nature, Greenfield’s documentary-style achieves a precise cinema verité in the construct of multiple scenes. Enabling multiple shots to have this ‘fly on the wall’ reach means that when Marcos’ pre-planned image fails, Greenfield captures the moment. It’s an open form of cinema where the camera is acknowledged, a raw documentary style which captures every motion, smile or servant bustling away with photos, portraits or bags filled with cash.

Reflecting her privilege, Lars Skree and Shana Hagan’s cinematography knows precisely where to focus in the Marcos family home, without obvious crassness. Framing Marcos near the stolen paintings she claims to have never owned, their cinematography forces nothing. Instead, it allows Marcos to fall on her opulence. Candidly walking, showcasing her prized Picassos or Michaelangelos, Skree and Hagan capture the decadence in which Marcos lives, contrasting it with wide shots of the countryside, which then crash into the reality of the surrounding slums of the Philippines.

The Kingmaker is a sublime piece of cinema verité, and moulds itself around the subject, acknowledging the attempts Marcos makes in constructing an image she can ‘sell’ to the world to reclaim former glory. Greenfield’s film is no less brave than it is insightfully smart, rather than direct opposition to the Marcos family, it humbly presents indisputable accounts to provide a balanced documentary, mesmeric in its deconstruction of dictatorial corruption and its analysis of lies.

Review originally published for The Wee Review:

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Directed by Nick Broomfield

USA/ 2019/ 102 mins

CalliopeDora MaarPatti SmithGala Dalí and yes, Rhianna all share one thing in common. To one person or a number, they are Muses; inspirational figures who evoke artistic passion into (largely male) writers, painters, sculptors and astronomers. Nick Broomfield’s documentary Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love superficially excavates a 50-year relationship between an artist and his muse.

The Leonard on which Broomfield focuses is the one and only Leonard Cohen. The Canadian singer, poet, novelist and the man behind ‘Hallelujah’, undoubtedly his most well-known song. Marianne Ihlenwas, not only for Cohen, a Norwegian Muse and mother. She was Cohen’s lover, friend and inspiration for ‘So Long, Marianne‘.  His use of the term ‘Words of Love’ ties to various aspects of the documentary, more so than one would first expect. The letters the pair would send to one another, and the songs she would inspire. Despite top-billing, Nick Broomfield’s documentary retains focus on Cohen, with Marianne’s input slinking in and out of focus. His theory seems to derive from her impact rather than the women herself.

From their meeting on the isle of Hydra, we leave Marianne behind as Cohen propels his career into the lands of drugs, sex and religious monasteries. While creating a documentary principally on Cohen, Broomfield intentionally weaves the isle itself into the narrative. Not only examining the pair but Marianne’s influence on other people and the impact she had. A chief success is Broomfield’s brutal discussion on the essence of island life, and those left behind by the sixties counterculture of free love.

Presentation for the production is primarily archive footage and audio clips from numerous sources, chiefly the BBC. One appealing aspect of the documentary is new interviews with the likes of Judy Collins and Ron Cornelius. These offer a substantial reason for fans of Cohen to watch the documentary, and for those unfamiliar, they are the nearest to real engagement we receive. Floating questions, Broomfield allows them to flow into their own stories, allowing for clear answers to the subject, but offhand jokes, stories and insights.

As you watch, you’re forgiven for asking where Ihlen is. Broomfield seems to relegate the driving force of the film into the background. She ebbs and flows, never being too prominent in the documentary. The audio clips and footage, when brought into use, are touching and quite often the documentary’s legitimate points. Perhaps intentionally, she is kept to shadows. Ihlen is not a permanent fixture for these men, but instead, her input is more akin to an occasional guide. Broomfield may place her in high respects but pays respect to the woman as more than a muse. As a mother, friend and human.

Broomfield has an auteurist habit of placing himself within his work, nowhere more so than Marianne & Leonard. Evidently, due to his close involvement with the pair, openly stating his previous position as a lover of Marianne. It’s no wonder that this elevates the documentary outside of the realistic realms. There’s a definite sense of pedestalling both Ihlen and Cohen, the former especially.

There is no doubt in the poignancy of the documentaries deeply compassionate scenes. It’s ending leaps, beyond touching into an earnest look at genuine humanity. Few and far between, small islands of sincerity exist in an ocean of inconclusive intention. Fuelling Broomfield’s documentary is a deep intimacy. It’s a documentary which, despite its namesake, feels less a study on the closeness of the pair or Marianne’s impact and instead, a condensing of Cohen’s life. Broomfield achieves tremendous heart, moments of genuine emotion but frustration in the direction taken.

Review originally published for Wee Review: