LGBTQIA+ Pioneers, Eye-Popping Brain Science, and Little Richard | Real Reels

The mysterious intricacies of the brain, a groundbreaking architect of rock and roll, and a no-holds-barred history of YouTube are among the subjects of this month’s must-see documentaries. 

Casa Susanna. 97 min. PBS. 2022. DVD UPC 4188704740. $24.99.

During the 1950s and 1960s, transgender women and cross-dressing men found a safe haven in a nondescript Victorian boardinghouse, known as Casa Susanna, in the Catskills of New York. Director Sébastien Lifshitz traces Casa Susanna’s origins and impact as it became a beloved weekend destination for those who discovered it in an era when LGBTQIA+ people faced social and legal persecution. There are some surviving records and photographs from the house’s heyday; Lifshitz also interviews former Casa Susanna guests about the destination’s role in their lives. The film’s tone is overwhelmingly positive (without shying away from challenges and prejudice) as Casa Susanna’s devotees explain the joy and freedom that the house and its community gave them. VERDICT A touching story of LGBTQIA+ pioneers from a distant era, and the place that was their refuge.

Little Richard: I Am Everything. 101 min. Magnolia Pictures. 2022. DVD UPC 7696401792. $26.99.

Simply put, there is no story of rock and roll music without Little Richard. One of music’s true originals, he was there at the very beginning, breaking down racial barriers and influencing the wave of artists who came after him, with his raw, up-tempo songs. Lisa Cortés’s film captures all the complicated elements of Little Richard—he was openly gay and deeply religious and at various points in his life denounced rock music and his own sexuality in favor of preaching and singing only gospel music. Little Richard’s life is a fascinating roller coaster of ups and downs, anchored by that unique voice and free-spirited personality, making for a wonderful and important documentary subject. VERDICT A multifaceted look into the life and music of a groundbreaking architect of rock and roll.

Your Brain. 110 min. PBS. 2023. DVD UPC 4188704766. $24.99.

The functioning of the brain is perhaps the greatest mystery of the human body. In a two-part series from PBS’s Nova, neuroscientists attempt to both understand and explain the incredible complexities of the organ. Surprisingly riveting viewing, the doc devotes a lot of time to the subjects of perception, reality, and illusions; a key theme is how very subjective these ideas are. Dozens of thought-provoking experiments are shown, and the program’s deep investigation of the enigma of consciousness could spark a lot of philosophical pondering for viewers. VERDICT The mysterious intricacies of the brain get a fascinating, eye-opening documentary series from PBS.

The YouTube Effect. 99 min. Drafthouse Films. 2022. DVD UPC 1013494268. $26.99.

When YouTube debuted in 2005, it had millions of views a day. Eighteen years later, it has billions of views per hour and a $20 billion profit margin. Alex Winter’s revelatory documentary will make viewers think twice the next time they get sucked into the vortex of the YouTube algorithm, where view counts are king. It’s no surprise that there might be negative effects to the endless consumption of content on the website, but Winter goes deep into the rabbit hole of YouTube’s ability to facilitate a “misinformation apocalypse” that could influence nearly every facet of human life. The film shares plenty of frightening examples of how YouTube has spread radicalizing ideologies. VERDICT A no-holds-barred history of one of the world’s most powerful and influential websites.  

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