4 Documentaries to Watch

Kurt Cobain

The Tribeca Film Festival, which opens today in New York, can be a bit of an up-and-down ride, but there are always some strange and alluring documentaries along the way. Here are a few films that will add a little style, laughter, and mystery to your day.


The Artist Is Absent

For over 20 years, the designer Martin Margiela was fashion’s invisible man, cultivating his elusiveness behind the façade of the house that still bears his name. (John Galliano, perhaps an un-easy fit with Margiela’s stripped-down aesthetic, recently took over the label.) Still, even after he quit fashion to follow a second calling as an artist, Margiela’s work continues to influence the generations of designers that followed. Alison Chernick’s short film offers unusually intimate access to the man, even if there’s no guarantee you will see him.


Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

The cult of Kurt has hardly died down since the Nirvana frontman killed himself in 1994, and Brett Morgen’s film biography will only stoke those fires. It arrives authorized by Courtney Love (who appears in the film) and Frances Bean Cobain, but the film is too devastating to write off as hagiography—there are home videos that show Kurt and Courtney in all their blissful, drugged-out squalor. Cobain’s vulnerability, childlike spirit, and, ultimately, his despair leap off the screen; it’s a portrait of a man, not a myth.


Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

She spent entire days in bed with Samuel Beckett. She seduced Max Ernst (conquest 3,182, al-legedly). She married twice, and carried on with married men. The heiress Peggy Guggenheim was not beautiful—her large, tuberous nose was derided as the “Guggenheim potato”—but she was the type of woman who was sexy by sheer force of personality. And she was just as addicted to art as she was to sex. The super-patron discovered Jackson Pollock, introduced London to Wassily Kandinsky, and flooded New York with a European wave of artists like Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell. Guggenheim’s story is well-chronicled, but to get the full sense of her flamboyance, her life is even better seen in this film by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, who also di-rected a lauded 2011 doc about her auntie-in-law, “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel.”

Photo courtesy of Peggy Guggenheim Collection Archives, Venice.


Live From New York!

In an otherwise uneventful dispatch from the beginning of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign to-day, the New York Times reported that one millennial “said her only real impression of Mrs. Clinton came from ‘Saturday Night Live.’” Such is the cultural influence of “SNL,” a 40-year old institution that has served as a comedy finishing school for Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, John Belushi, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, and too many others to name here. Director Bao Ngyuen’s account puts all those silly sketches on Youtube into the historical context in which they appeared—whether it be in the good times or, even more necessarily, the bad.