Tuesday, September 03, 2019

IFFBoston 2019.03: Pizza: A Love Story and Not for Resale

Both Thursday and Friday wound up being loosely-themed double features for me, though Nancy and the rest of the Festival team don't necessarily plan it that way (I did have to get on the T between Them That Follow and The Death of Dick Long for my "Danger Down South" pairing on Thursday). These two are in the same room, though, and might draw locals and fans the way the music docs historically have.

First up we have Pizza: A Love Story director Gorman Bechard and producer Dean Falcone, who both hail from New Haven and have strong opinions on pizza in ways that only people from New Haven can have. They've tended to work on music documentaries together - you can tell from the rolodex of people they're able to call on to be talking heads, winking as they hint that they plan stops on their tours in New Haven for the express purpose of having good pizza afterward. Bechard and Falcone were animated, from how they are a bit wary of Netflix as independent filmmakers ("Netflix tells you how to finish") to anybody in the audience who implied that they liked inferior toppings on their pizza.

They probably did not approve of my going to Dragon Pizza, but would probably prefer that to Oath or whatever the other options are in Davis Square. Around that time, Pepe's opened a location at the Burlington Mall, but we haven't gone there for work yet.

Next was cinematographer Thomas Chalifour-Drahman and director Kevin J. James of Not for Resale. One of the video game shops they focused on is in Salem, so it's owner and some of its loyal patrons were on hand, and from some of the questions, college kids who shop at other featured spots when they're home on break. It's also worth noting that when they were talking about Pokemon Go, they location people were poking around was Davis Square, which isn't quite like seeing The Third Man in Vienna, but is still fun.

Just a generally fun talk, which goes along with how the film itself is upbeat and sees a great deal of potential in how digital distribution has changed gaming but wants to talk about how it's maybe not all great.

Pizza: A Love Story

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

Gorman Bechard's film about the famous "apizza" restaurants of New Haven, Connecticut could have taken the path of following how pizza came to America, took its first steps of evolution into its most ubiquitous forms in that city, and then spread from there, but instead it stays hyper-local and specialized. It's the kind of movie that, from a commercial perspective, initially seems like it won't travel at all and is kind of an act of madness. Those movies are kinds of great, though, a drill-down that maybe doesn't increase general knowledge but feels like half specific insight and half gleefully useless (but delightful) trivia.

That trivia starts coming early with the very words New Havenites use for this dish: Pizza is "apizza", pronounced "a-beatz", a plain pie does not necessarily include cheese - that is labeled "mozz" on the menu and pronounced "moots". It came to America via the Italian immigrants who came to find a job at Sargent Hardware and, having found one, wrote to their family and friends, initially a sort of sideline for bakeries just making simple bread. In 1925, Frank la Pepe opened what is today Pepe's, though it was a small concern until 1935, with Sally's and Tony's opening in 1938, with the latter rebranding itself as "Modern Apizza" in 1944. The original locations still have the original ovens from that time, monsters that take hours to get up to 600-700 degrees Fahrenheit, giving the crust a distinctive char. Locals will tell you that the continuous use of those ovens for eighty-odd years imbues rich smoky flavor that even the most well-intentioned imitators will never match.

Naturally, the film is not entirely about pizza; one can watch it and see Bechard laying out the history of his city, a cycle of immigration, assimilation, and gentrification that extends well beyond New Haven. It's not the deepest possible dive into the topics by a long shot, but tying it into the story of the city's pizza likely gets it a bit more attention even within the city. Bechard never loses his focus, but he does well to establish that the Italian-American neighborhoods where these apizza shops opened and remain despite their no longer necessarily being Italian-American neighborhoods have their own arc that's tied in with the restaurants themselves, and that one shouldn't necessarily ignore that as the price of getting to eat delicious pizza.

Full review on EFilmCritic

Not for Resale

* * * (out of four)
Seen 26 April 2019 in Somerville Theatre #5 (IFFBoston, DCP)

There's been a lot of recent talk online about the potential death of physical media for movies as I begin to flesh the capsule I wrote the night I watched this out, but that's not much of a coincidence; that talk started the moment Netflix announced the "Watch Instantly" option and hasn't slowed down since. Not for Resale covers how that same dynamic is at play in the world of games, from the point of view of the proprietors of video game shops, but it's worth a look even for those of us whose most recent game system purchase is a Sega Dreamcast; this medium is different from others in many ways, but in others it's just a few steps ahead.

It starts by introducing Neil Crockett, who has owned and operated GameZone in Salem, Massachusetts for over 25 years, long enough to see his business go from retail-priced new releases to buying and selling used copies to stocking "retro" games from the days when he first opened for the collectors' market. Other people operating such stores across the country are similar, although some are younger, not necessarily having been alive to play the Atari 2600s in the back when they were new. Despite the video game industry growing to massive size, this sort of retail long been a business for people aiming to make a little money off their hobby rather than a lot, and times are getting tighter - new games often don't get physical releases at all, and as older gamers leave the hobby, there aren't as many new collectors looking to buy what they're selling off.

There's a recipe for despair in that, and I suspect that director Kevin J. James probably wound up talking to some people whose shops closed by the time post-production was done, and who could have provided some bitter interview footage. He doesn't show much of that, to the point where one of the things that struck me early on about Not for Resale, compared to other documentaries about industries in transition, is how positive many of its video game retailers were about the shift to digital marketplaces; they're too much in love with the medium to look past that potential. It's an attitude that manifests in the film, which is able to look at its subjects in whole without framing them as quixotic.

Full review on EFilmCritic

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