Two documentaries premiered within the last week on HBO/HBO Max that center around two amazing talents, who both left this world way too soon.
The first documentary, DMX: DON’T TRY TO UNDERSTAND, is the second in HBO’s MUSIC BOX series, which delves into the lives of several iconic artists and musicians – the first being the incomparable Alanis Morrisette with the film “Jagged.”
“DMX: Don’t Try To Understand” chronicles a year in the life of late rapper Earl “DMX” (Dark Man X) Simmons while he attempts to re-establish his career and reconnect his industry and personal relationships after his 2019 prison release.
Director Christopher Frierson films with a realistic, up close and personal style while capturing a complicated man in all his humanity. As enigmatic as he could be energetic, DMX is shown at his highest points – e.g., with concert footage and adoring fans – and his lowest, like his entering rehab or arguing with his son’s mother within earshot of his son.
Highlights for me were the moments that fans shared, like one with a 52-year-old former prisoner who waxed poetic and described the rapper as a prophet regarding his impact, or the young man so overwhelmed with the artist’s visit and words of wisdom that he shed tears while speaking with DMX.
Stopping shy of the rapper’s death in early 2021, the documentary culminates in what I can only describe as one befitting of a man who lived and loved music and impacted so many people before leaving this earth. If you’re a softy like me, have a few tissues ready, it’s certainly a tearjerker.
I rate it 5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
DMX: DON’T TRY TO UNDERSTAND premiered on HBO and HBO Max on November 25.
The next documentary was as informative for me as it was tragic. I knew of the film “Waitress,” even though I’ve never watched, and I’d also known that the woman who starred, Adrienne Shelly, had also written and directed it. But I had no remembrance that the late multi-hyphenate was murdered at age 40 in 2006, one year before her film’s theatrical release.
ADRIENNE is a posthumous love letter directed by Shelly’s husband, actor/producer Andy Ostroy, that explores the life and work of the late actress, as well as the grief suffered by her friends and family – especially Ostroy and their (at the time) two-year-old daughter – after her death.
Since its 2007 release, “Waitress” has sustained cult like popularity and was adapted into a hit Broadway musical, the first with an all-female principal creative team, of the same name. Early in the documentary, Ostroy visits theatergoers standing in line to see the production and inquires if they know who Adrienne Shelly was – to which many responded with a no.
It’s heartbreaking because, even before the film’s end, you know that you’re experiencing the journey of another life that has ended way to soon, with so much more to offer the world, and is sadly underappreciated.
It’s hard to critique a film that’s so personal and for the most part I found it to be engaging – especially when you learn about the tenacity of Ostroy – who single-handedly triggered a re-investigation into his wife’s death, which was initially labeled a suicide but later confirmed to be murder.
And this persistence is evident in how he chooses to document the life of Shelley – with intensity, yet at times not as quick or lithe, and warmth albeit at times a little dull for the length.
One of the highlights of the film is Ostroy’s visit to Dieggo Pillco, the man who murdered Shelly, to seek answers and finally speak his peace as a victim impacted by the horrible tragedy.
It’s an intimate portrait of a creative spirit via home video, archival footage, and anecdotal interviews by family and colleagues who loved Shelly including Paul Rudd, Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, and singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles.
The most powerful thing about the film, other than the titular subject, is the emphasis on Shelly’s lasting legacy which includes the creation, by Ostroy, of The Adrienne Shelly Foundation – which provides production grants for women filmmakers – one of whom is 2021 Best Director Academy Award-winner Chloe Zhao.
Celebratory and bittersweet, “Adrienne” is effective in its purpose, even if it lulls a bit at times. I rate it 3.5 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
ADRIENNE premiered on HBO and HBO Max on December 1.
Until next thought, Thomasena