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Reviews: Surprisingly touching 'Narcissister Organ Player' and other documentaries

Reviews: Surprisingly touching 'Narcissister Organ Player' and other documentaries
Narcissister in the documentary "Narcissister Organ Player." (Film Movement)

‘Narcissister Organ Player’

The documentary “Narcissister Organ Player,” directed by and starring the performance artist Narcissister, leads with shock factor: TMZ footage of the mannequin-masked artist on the arm of Marilyn Manson wearing a gown with a vagina cutout; trolling the hosts of “America’s Got Talent”; pulling wigs and rubber masks from various orifices. But this film quickly reveals itself to be a beautifully heartfelt and poetic tribute to the filmmaker’s mother.

There are multitudes contained within the artist known as Narcissister and within her truly daring work — a blend of dance, sculpture, burlesque, drag and corporeal exploration that the New York Times has referred to as “avant-porn.” She uses her body but never shows her face, wearing the mask that allows her to so boldly grapple with cultural constructions of sexual and racial identity. Much of her work is inspired by the life of her mother, a Jew from Morocco who married an African American man from Watts.

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Each piece is inspired by events from her mother’s life and her own upbringing in La Jolla. Performances are interspersed with narrated memories while Narcissister’s tattooed hands sift through family snapshots, carefully covering her face. The artist crawls through goo-covered canals, rebirthing herself on the stage, and in an animated sequence, a tiny collage version of Narcissister moves inside her mother’s fragile heart. The film, a profoundly moving acknowledgement of the ineffable closeness of their bond, is an artist’s statement as much as it is a performance piece.

— Katie Walsh

‘Narcissister Organ Player’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m. Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; Laemmle Town Center, Encino; Laemmle Claremont; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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‘The Long Shadow’

Producer Sally Holst in her hometown of Meridian, Miss., from the documentary "The Long Shadow."
Producer Sally Holst in her hometown of Meridian, Miss., from the documentary "The Long Shadow." (Passion River)

Spanning American history from before its independence to the present day, “The Long Shadow” explores how African Americans are treated in the United States. Director Frances Causey’s documentary takes the Ken Burns approach — talking-head interviews with experts and panned shots over archival photos — to discuss how the echoes of slavery still affect the lives of black Americans today.

“The Long Shadow” has the look of a pre-“Pawn Stars” History Channel documentary, but there’s insightful content here, particularly in sharing lesser-known aspects of history. Causey deserves real credit for reckoning not only with America’s legacy of slavery and prejudice, but also examining her own ancestors’ specific roles in the racist treatment of African Americans.

— Kimber Myers

The Long Shadow’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes

Playing: Starts Nov. 23, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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‘Roll With Me’

Gabriel Cordell, front, in the documentary "Roll With Me."
Gabriel Cordell, front, in the documentary "Roll With Me." (Array)

For recovering addict and paraplegic Gabriel Cordell, a cross-country trip is no vacation in the documentary “Roll with Me.” As he attempts to traverse 3,100 miles and set a record in his unmodified wheelchair using only his hands for power, the journey proves to be a galvanizing experience for Cordell and the crew that joins him.

Starting in Santa Monica, with his hometown of West Hempstead, N.Y., as his final destination, Cordell travels with director Lisa France, his fellow addict and nephew, Chris, and a crew with issues of their own. Changes in elevation, environment and the team’s emotions challenge the group as Cordell goes through states and countless pairs of protective gloves.

As with any road trip, the team members grate on each other — and sometimes the audience — but France joins Cordell for an ultimately inspiring ride. “Roll with Me” avoids the tropes that narratives about people with disabilities often offer, instead giving a fully developed picture of a man who wants his family to be proud of him and his accomplishments.

— Kimber Myers

‘Roll with Me’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Playing: Nov. 26, 7:30 p.m. Laemmle Glendale; Nov. 27, 7:30 p.m. Laemmle Noho 7, North Hollywood; Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m. Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles

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