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TELEVISION REVIEW

'Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me'

August 27, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

Bruce Weber the fashion photographer is also a maker of art films. The Sundance Channel has been showing some of them this month and tonight, as a finale, it premieres his latest, "Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me," shot earlier this year in an African American/Afro-West Indian neighborhood of Miami. It caps an evening of Weber's quirky, personal shorts, including "Backyard Movie" (1991), "Gentle Giants" (1994), "The Teddy Boys of the Edwardian Draper Society" (1996) and "Wine and Cupcakes" (2007). ("Liberty City" has also been streaming online, via the Sundance website.)

Although Weber's films reflect some of the values of his 1950s-inflected, surface-loving still photography, they have more to do with one another. They are less "professional" than his photos. They juxtapose disparate elements to make a point. They feature old photos and films and songs. Dogs abound. He uses music that seems at odds with the image but makes you see a little more sharply. If anyone is talking, it is usually Weber, as a voice-over narrator. He loves the smoothness of youth but also its opposite, as seen in his best-known film, "Let's Get Lost," on the wrecked beauty that was Chet Baker, or in tonight's brief "Teddy Boys," which looks at England's aging rock 'n' roll subculture -- to a soundtrack of Maria Callas.

"I'm not sure where this is going," Weber says at the top of "Liberty City," which was shot by brothers Theo and Frank Stanley. (He is not the cameraman for any of tonight's films.) And it is indeed a crooked amble through several loosely connected sections that celebrate ordinary people and the hope for a better day, as symbolized by the election of Barack Obama. Paris and Liberty City are linked in the filmmaker's mind because life is lived there from the ground up.

There is a preamble, a written text about meeting the African American filmmaker Gordon Parks, to whom the film is dedicated. Then we leaf through the pages of an old book of photographs of Paris over dialogue from the movie "Paris Blues." There is footage of the Martin Luther King Day parade in Liberty City, set to a French pop song, and scenes from Inauguration Day 2009 to the accompaniment of the Rev. Joseph Lowery's benediction: "Help us to make choices on the side of love not hate, on the side of inclusion not exclusion." In the last section, Broadway dancer Kenita Miller and anonymous others dance in the streets to Sammy Davis Jr.'s recording of "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'."

Like the night's other shorts, "Liberty City" is less profound than heartfelt. It is not a complicated or particularly consistent film, but it is a joyful one. At its end, Weber asks of the world exactly what his film gives back -- "just a little bit of understanding, love and encouragement for the soul."

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'In Short: Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me'

Where: Sundance

When: 10 tonight

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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