"In an apparently relaxed, collage-like way, Almereyda combines interviews with
Shepard, his actors and staff with images of the rehearsals. The result is a
strikingly intimate group portrait and a unique glimpse of top actors seeking
their way through the material - sometimes under pressure, sometimes at their
ease. At the same time, the film offers a survey of the career of Shepard,
including a report of his stormy relationship with his father, who died in 1984,
which motivated this play."
Moira MacDonald, Seattle Times:
"Ultimately, you leave 'This So-Called Disaster' with renewed respect for
Shepard, who comes off as a kind of quiet hero: a man of words, confronting his
past with little fuss, and from it creating a legacy."
Perry Seibert, Allmovie.com;
"The best moments in the film take place away from the rehearsals when Shepard,
alone on a chair on a porch, reveals the autobiographical facts about his
relationship with his father. This often painful history has provided the raw
material from which Shepard has fashioned plays that have made him arguably the
most successful America playwright of his time. To hear him speak about these
facts is engaging."
Scott Foundas, LA Weekly:
"In the end, what takes shape is not just a significant unraveling of Shepard's
taciturn mystique, but a potent sense of the pain and rigor of revealing oneself
"A fascinating meeting of the minds — between iconic New York indie filmmaker
Michael Almereyda and laconic American cowboy and dramatist Shepard. A natural
for arts-oriented tube outlets, the added marquee value of stars Nick Nolte,
Sean Penn and Woody Harrelson (all of whom starred in the “Henry Moss”
production) will also ensure a measure of theatrical exposure for this low-key
Lisa Schwarzbaum, EW:
"Shepard gives his cast a few notes and runs them through an interesting,
quick-time table reading, but mostly he watches, strikingly photogenic in
repose, while his players do the various things actors do to find and develop
their characters... 'Disaster' also includes interviews with the principals,
most handsomely with Shepard, who talks about his hard-drinking father, whose
death inspired the play."
Ty Burr, Boston Globe:
"The title makes it sound like it's going to be one of those unmaking-of-an-epic
documentaries about film directors gone loco, like 'Hearts of Darkness' but
'This So-Called Disaster' turns out to be one of the finer peeks into the
creative process of staging a play. Granted, that's a tiny genre, and the film's
core audience - theater majors and the people who love them - is narrow. The
lessons, however, are big."
Marnohla Dargis, LA Times:
"In its vision of the push-and-pull of rehearsal and the revelation of how a
play comes to breathing, snorting life onstage, Almereyda's film brings us close
to the act of creation."
David Noh, Film Journal International:
"Consistently engrossing, with nary a dull moment, and very enlightening on what
is popularly called 'the actor's process.'"
Bill White, Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
"Micheal Almereyda's documentary is an eye-opener on the art of acting. The
public generally is privy only to the end result of work that is exploratory and
risk-taking. Here actors are shown in their natural habitat, not in glamorously
framed close-ups, but out on the edge, searching for ways to penetrate and
illuminate the writer's vision. In one scene, Penn tells Shepard that no matter
how much he suffers in bringing the character to life, it is little compared to
what the writer had to live in order to create it."
A.O. Scott, NY Times:
"Creative people of all kinds, but perhaps especially those involved in
performing, love to talk about process, that mystery-shrouded road between the
raw material of experience and the high finish of a work of art. Process is so
fascinating to insiders and outsiders because it is hard to convey. Interviews
with actors, directors and writers tend to devolve into truisms and
abstractions, while attempts to dramatize artists at work often suffer from
melodrama and foreshortening, missing the small details, the trial and error,
and the sheer tedium of artistic labor. All of which makes Michael Almereyda's
new documentary, ''This So-Called Disaster,'' especially fascinating."
David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor:
"Almereyda's movie is riveting for several reasons: its inside look at
Shepard in action, its vivid account of how a challenging play is brought from
printed page to public stage, and its glimpses of Shepard's troubled youth,
which inspired key aspects of 'Henry Moss.' Its title notwithstanding, 'This
So-Called Disaster' is anything but."