New York is full of landmarks that are recognizable to the point where they’re the whole world’s shorthand for the city. Now, a trio of HBO documentaries lay out the backstories of familiar sights we take for granted, as well as school us on the vibrant history of the Bronx. The result is a primer on a city that is in many ways the unofficial capital of the world, yet still an enigma to many. Taken together, they can make natives and visitors alike look at New York with new eyes.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles
The Statue of Liberty has been a powerful symbol of American ideals — and protest — for over a century. Liberty: Mother of Exiles, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, provides an in-depth history of Auguste Bartholdi, the Frenchman who came up with the idea for the statue and undertook a long campaign to get it built. It also follows the delightfully quippy designer Diane von Furstenburg, the “godmother” of Lady Liberty (she also acted as executive producer on this film), as she sets out on a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign to build a new museum on Liberty Island.
The film also contextualizes the statue’s position in our current political climate. There are interviews with activists like Patricia Okoumou, who scaled the statue in 2018 to protest President Trump’s immigration policies, as well as one of the people who covertly hung a banner reading “Refugees Welcome” on the statue’s base. Featuring extensive, intimate views of the statue that you could never get as a tourist, the doc is a thought-provoking look at a treasured American symbol, as well as the New Yorkers who make it possible to accommodate four million visitors each year.
The Bronx, USA
Director Danny Gold tells this story of The Bronx, USA through the eyes of veteran television producer George Shapiro (Seinfeld). In this comedic “sociocultural history,” the Bronx native pays a visit to the neighborhood where he grew up in the 1940s and makes sense of the fact that the majority-white Bronx of his youth is now mostly populated by black and brown people. The film features interviews with famous Bronx natives, like Colin Powell, Alan Alda, Grandmaster Melle Mel, and Carl and Rob Reiner. Shapiro also interviews graduating seniors at DeWitt Clinton High School, his alma mater, to get a sense of what their experiences have been compared to his own.
It’s a nostalgic look back which Gold calls “a love letter to New York City.” He wants to celebrate “what connects us across racial backgrounds, cultures, and generations, ultimately emphasizing the hope that exists for the future of America.” This isn’t exactly the Bronx tale you might hear from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Showtime’s Desus and Mero, but it is an earnest multigenerational perspective on New York’s most diverse and distinctive borough.
Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Ella Fitzgerald are just a few of the great musicians who got their start performing on the stage of Harlem’s Apollo Theater. This film from Oscar winner Roger Ross Williams (Music By Prudence, Life, Animated) fittingly premiered at the Apollo at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. The movie begins in April 2018, featuring a monologue from the stage adaptation of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir Between the World and Me, delivered by veteran actor Joe Morton. From there it guides us through the theater’s 85-year history, through its opening, its eventual closing due to bankruptcy, its reopening under new management, and its current status as a nonprofit. Drawing on interviews with theater staff and famous musicians alike, the film’s history of this one location is also a cultural history of America.
Liberty: Mother of Exiles premieres October 17. The Bronx, USA premieres October 30. The Apollo premieres November 6. All three films will be on HBO, and will be available to stream on the service afterward.
An extraordinary variety of artists came to Jon Swihart and Kim Merrill’s backyard potlucks, discussing not just their work, but also the events and challenges of their lives.
With A Lion for Every House at the Art Institute of Chicago, Floating Museum riffs wildly on the art rental programs of some museums.
Art and photographs, publications from the 19th and 20th centuries, manuscripts, posters and more are set to cross the auction block on August 18.
A Thing for the Mind takes Philip Guston’s 1978 painting “Story” as a starting point to examine the myriad ways in which this piece has filtered into the work of other painters.
An Oakland librarian and a French teacher in Oklahoma City collect ephemera they discover in returned and used books, from photos and recipes to love letters.
Until you’ve seen a place for yourself, it’s a bit of an abstract idea. So why not ask Artificial Intelligence to create your travel poster?
Incarcerated people will be allowed to read Heather Ann Thompson’s 2016 Blood in the Water, except for two pages featuring a map of the prison.
The Nevada Museum of Art in Reno welcomes guests to learn about “The Architect to the Stars” through captivating black and white photography. On view through October 2.
The long-lost painting resurfaced at the upscale Urban Gallery in Tel Aviv, sparking the anger of Palestinians.
“Guests in love, please understand — most of the exhibits in our museum are objects ‘born’ many years ago and subject to completely different moral standards,” said the Fort Gerhard museum in a statement.
This week, the Webb space telescope wows, übernovels, crappy pigeon nests, the problem with “experts,” and much more.