Beauty, the Biz, and Brian Jones | Real Reels

This month’s key documentaries spotlight a range of intriguing individuals: photographer Nan Goldin; “the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop,” Biz Markie; Irish funeral director David McGowan; and Brian Jones, a founding member of the Rolling Stones.

All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. 122 min. Neon. 2022. DVD UPC 1551529361. $29.99.

Art collides with activism in this powerful documentary about photographer Nan Goldin. Unflinchingly direct and fearless, much like Goldin’s photos, director Laura Poitras’s film unspools heaping doses of trauma, tragedy, and, yes, even beauty. It is a twin doc in its construction, telling of Goldin’s creative journey as well as her current efforts to have art institutions around the world distance themselves from the Sackler family, whose pharmaceutical company has been criticized for its role in the opioid epidemic. Goldin’s connection to underground subcultures in New York also gives her a window into LGBTQIA+ communities; for instance, she documented the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. VERDICT A blisteringly intimate, courageous, raw, and uncompromising film.

All Up in the Biz: The Life and Rhymes of Biz Markie. 101 min. Showtime. 2023. DVD UPC 1013494885. $25.99.

Dubbed “the Clown Prince of Hip-Hop,” Biz Markie was a beloved, fun-loving rapper known for his 1989 earworm “Just a Friend.” But he was much more than that one song, and Sacha Jenkins shows how important a figure Markie was in the early, golden era of the genre. This is a tremendously fun music documentary that imbibes fully of the spirit of the man—there are puppets!—and lots of time spent discussing Biz’s love of collecting and his hijinks. Viewers get insight into his life and free-spirited personality, but Jenkins also makes sure Biz gets proper respect for his music. VERDICT Go on a fun musical journey in appreciation of one of the more eccentric figures in hip-hop history.

The Funeral Director. 72 min. Dreamscape Media. 2019. DVD UPC 1007144756. $24.99.

Gillian Marsh’s character study of Irish funeral director David McGowan could have come off as macabre, with the omnipresent topic of mortality, but instead it’s a tender, respectful, and poignant look into one man’s approach to and philosophy regarding his profession. McGowan is likable and plain-speaking, running the business his father accidentally purchased in the 1970s when he thought he was only buying a pub; it turned out to be a pub and undertaking business. McGowan has embraced being an undertaker for decades and speaks with unwavering compassion regarding everything from bereavement to the various processes that occur after death. VERDICT A thoughtful, touching, and informative look at rarely discussed elements of what happens to the human body when it dies.

The Stones and Brian Jones. 98 min. Magnolia Pictures. 2023. UPC DVD 7696401806. $26.99.

Director Nick Broomfield tells the story of Brian Jones, a founding member of the Rolling Stones and key figure in the band during their blues-influenced years. Despite being the de facto leader of the group early on, Jones was sacked in 1969 due to his alcohol and drug use and died soon after. Though it dips a little too much into the troubled, salacious elements of Jones’s life, the best thing about this film is its collection of archival musical moments and images, which will be a treat for anyone interested in the music of this era. VERDICT Fans of music from the 1960s in general, or the Rolling Stones in particular, will love this one.

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