dirac

Documentaries, good and bad

49 posts in this topic

Clipping innopac's post from another thread:

Two older documentaries I have found engrossing are Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (2006) and The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005).

I'd like to ask BTers about documentaries they've seen and liked, or disliked. (Would prefer to keep discussions of ballet documentaries to a minimum, as those tend to be discussed elsewhere on the board, but by all means list them if you like. :))

What was 'The Real Dirt on Farmer John' about, innopac - the meat producer?

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I highly recommend OT: Our Town, a 2003 documentary about a high school in Compton, CA that puts on its first play in 20 years: Our Town. Compton is a beleagured community near LA that's also produced many professional atheletes--so guess how much attention the arts have gotten. It's a very moving story, just when you thought you'd seen one Our Town too many (the video doesn't really focus on the play, rest assured, but on the people and their stories). I'm not sure why this hasn't gotten more attention.

If you have Netflix, OT: Our Town is available on demand.

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Word Wars about tournament scrabble players. All men, all...um ... strange ... weird ... odd ... peculiar ... different ... interesting :)

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Of course Hoop Dreams is one of the best MOVIES ever made. Not just a great documentary. It was made in 1994 but I teach in a rough inner city school which also happens to be a basketball powerhouse and so many things I see in the movie I see happening every day to my students.

Frederick Wiseman has made some very great documentaries. "Domestic Violence" will make your hair curl, and "Ballet" is also a beautifully made documentary.

Michael Apted's "Up" series which traces a group of British schoolchildren from the time they were 7, with a follow-up every 7 years, has really become a fascinating series too.

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I mentioned this in the Other Arts Forum but hey, I can't recomend it enough, so here it goes again, just in case you see it announced around your area. The documentary's name is "Outrage", from filmmaker Kirby Dick, and it basically takes issue with the secret lives of closeted gay politicians , especially conservative Republicans who outwardly oppose gay rights.

:)

The film, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, features tell-alls from men who say they've had relationships with various Republicans, including Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Bush strategist Ken Mehlman and former Senator Larry Craig.

I saw it last week at the Miami Beach Film society, and I guess it's playing in limited venues countrywide, but catch it if you can. It is worth it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outrage_(2009_film)

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I highly recommend OT: Our Town, a 2003 documentary about a high school in Compton, CA that puts on its first play in 20 years: Our Town. Compton is a beleagured community near LA that's also produced many professional atheletes--so guess how much attention the arts have gotten. It's a very moving story, just when you thought you'd seen one Our Town too many (the video doesn't really focus on the play, rest assured, but on the people and their stories). I'm not sure why this hasn't gotten more attention.

If you have Netflix, OT: Our Town is available on demand.

But Ray, whether one likes rap or not, that really is the art form that not only put Compton on the map, but Compton is also THE most important birthplace of rap. I would think that a documentary of a high school putting on 'Our Town' would want to play down the notoriety which is what Compton is certainly most famous for (the rap music scene 'straightoutacompton', with such figures as Suge Knight, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dog, the Bloods gang is identified with Compton as are the Crips with Long Beach), and even in the Compton Station of the Blue Line, you see efforts that reflect what I imagine the documentary is trying to show: This 'beleaguered community', as you accurately call it, that knows it's beleaguered, and wants to protect what is not violence-oriented within it. There were these high school student-type sculptures and murals on the platform--I've been there a few times, but won't wander very far, the place is not safe--that were trying to show a troubled community working to get beyond the gang-identified place it has long been.

So I can imagine it's worthwhile to see it, although 'Our Town' in Compton does sound a little Twilight Zone, however admirable.

Michael Apted's "Up" series which traces a group of British schoolchildren from the time they were 7, with a follow-up every 7 years, has really become a fascinating series too.

These are indeed very good, and I've seen all of them unless there's a very recent one to come up. I remember that in one of the last ones, the very wealthy one refused to continue appearing. I've never seen this form anywhere else, but it's very effective, and is a little like Reality TV when you watch all of them. That's why some of them didn't want to continue, I'm sure, it's really their personal lives that are being documented.

I've got tons of favourite documentaries, one was on PBS about a tragic African tribeswoman, I even have the script and will try to find it. Another great PBS documentary was about San Diego twin girls whose parents did not really see that they were not spending enough time with other kids or even conversing with their parents, and developed a language of their own, or dialect or linguistic something of other. I was very moved by this, and even still have a recording of the sound on an old cassette tape. Can't remember that title either.These litle girls were truly the most charming pretty creatures, and many years will have passed; I hope they made it.

I also liked 'Riding Giants' about surfing the biggest waves in the Pacific, and Thom Anderson's 'Los Angeles Plays Itself', which shows buildings and locales in Los Angeles that were often used in films, like the Bradbury Building downtown, and the various filming done at Bunker Hill before it was destroyed from what it was; these includ 'Double Indemenity', Stanwyck's house. Those are just two from 2004.

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But Ray, whether one likes rap or not, that really is the art form that not only put Compton on the map, but Compton is also THE most important birthplace of rap. I would think that a documentary of a high school putting on 'Our Town' would want to play down the notoriety which is what Compton is certainly most famous for (the rap music scene 'straightoutacompton', with such figures as Suge Knight, Dr. Dre, Snoop Doggy Dog, the Bloods gang is identified with Compton as are the Crips with Long Beach), and even in the Compton Station of the Blue Line, you see efforts that reflect what I imagine the documentary is trying to show: This 'beleaguered community', as you accurately call it, that knows it's beleaguered, and wants to protect what is not violence-oriented within it. There were these high school student-type sculptures and murals on the platform--I've been there a few times, but won't wander very far, the place is not safe--that were trying to show a troubled community working to get beyond the gang-identified place it has long been.

So I can imagine it's worthwhile to see it, although 'Our Town' in Compton does sound a little Twilight Zone, however admirable.

Any Twilight-Zoneishness is due to my inadequate powers of description--the documentary is very self-aware (although now I realize it is deficient in at least mentioning its role in the development of rap). I hope someone does make a documentary on rap and Compton, too.

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I agree with other posters about - Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? - I loved it.

One of my favorites is Fog of War. I watched it again, upon the death of Robert McNamara. I think is should be required viewing for all in decision making positions when it comes to waging war.

I'd strongly suggest - Genghis Blues. This is a film about a blind blues musician's journey to Tuva to compete in a national throat singing competition. Most people that I mention it to have never heard of it, but watch and love.

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Clipping innopac's post from another thread:
Two older documentaries I have found engrossing are Who the #$&% is Jackson Pollock? (2006) and The Real Dirt on Farmer John (2005).

What was 'The Real Dirt on Farmer John' about, innopac - the meat producer?

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

"The epic tale of a maverick Midwestern farmer. An outcast in his community, Farmer John bravely stands amidst a failing economy, vicious rumors, and violence. By melding the traditions of family farming with the power of art and free expression, this powerful story of transformation and renewal heralds a resurrection of farming in America.

The film is a haunting odyssey, capturing what it means to be different in rural America. "

"Defying all odds, he gradually transforms his land into a revolutionary farming community, a cultural mecca, where people work and flourish providing fresh vegetables and herbs to thousands of people every week.

The Peterson family farm has become Angelic Organics, one of the largest Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the United States, a beacon of today’s booming organic farming movement."

Angelic Organics

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Another good documentary is "Daughter from Danang." It chronicles the reunion of an Amerasian daughter with her birth mother in Vietnam. The reunion is disastrous, and the cameras are there to capture it all. Very heartrending.

"Dark Days" is a film made of NYC's "mole people," who live in abandoned subway and train tunnels. It's shot in B&W and the filmmaker actually lived with the people for I believe two years. Again, an incredible documentary and surprisingly uplifting and filled with humor.

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"Dark Days" is a film made of NYC's "mole people," who live in abandoned subway and train tunnels. It's shot in B&W and the filmmaker actually lived with the people for I believe two years. Again, an incredible documentary and surprisingly uplifting and filled with humor.

Oh yes, this makes the name come to me of a very similar NYC documentary 'Salt Mines' from the late 80s when the trucks and piers were still lived in by addicts and drag queens. They lived right in the garbage, not just in the abandoned lots and trucks. Really upsetting, and by the end, they've vanished. We knew they would eventually, and you could see how weak their 'strong bonds' were with each other, their lovers, etc., but carrying it through to the point where they were dispersed literally anywhere and with little control over it themselves, was powerful. I've seen these people for decades, as these scenes were a part of the area several blocks over from me that is now the parks on the Hudson and the Meier apts. for movie stars, etc., so that all that underworld life has disappeared forever, beginning, I think, in the 80s with the erection of Battery Park City. There's barely even a trace of it left.

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vipa wrote:

One of my favorites is Fog of War. I watched it again, upon the death of Robert McNamara. I think is should be required viewing for all in decision making positions when it comes to waging war.

Fog of War is a fascinating film, although I couldn’t decide if Errol Morris was going too easy on McNamara or just giving the old sharpie enough rope to hang himself with. The Thin Blue Line is remarkable, too.

Terry Zwigoff’s film about Robert Crumb is one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen – truly revealing.

Robert Flaherty’s techniques wouldn’t be acceptable in documentary filmmaking today, but Nanook of the North and Man of Aran are beautiful pictures.

PeggyR wrote:

Word Wars about tournament scrabble players. All men, all...um ... strange ... weird ... odd ... peculiar ... different ... interesting

I saw that. Reminded me a bit of chess club.

Thanks for posting, all. Any others?

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Robert Flaherty’s techniques wouldn’t be acceptable in documentary filmmaking today, but Nanook of the North and Man of Aran are beautiful pictures.

I haven't seen 'Man of Aran', but 'Nanook' is definitely beautiful, and his widow speaks on the vhs, and maybe dvd, I can't remember which I saw. But ALSO, and only saw this a year ago, Flaherty's 'Louisiana Story', about the Cajun boy and the beginning of oil-drilling in the bayou country is beautiful, however dated and somewhat 'corporate progaganda'. It has a wonderful, Pulitzer Prize-winning score by Virgil Thomson.

Which reminds me of Pare Lorentz's 'The River', about the Mississippi River in the Depression. Thomson was one of the really great film composers, as was Copland, as in 'The Red Pony', although that's not a docu, of course.

Of these, 'Louisiana Story' is the best IMO. Really wonderful b & w photography.

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"Dark Days" is a film made of NYC's "mole people," who live in abandoned subway and train tunnels. It's shot in B&W and the filmmaker actually lived with the people for I believe two years. Again, an incredible documentary and surprisingly uplifting and filled with humor.

Thanks for recommending Dark Days. It is one of those films that pulls you out of the day to day mindset it is easy to fall into and makes you confront some of the realities of life. I was disappointed to see the film maker has not made another documentary. He tried to do one on soldiers in Iraq but it didn't come off.

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"Fog of War" and the Crumb biography were both indeed great watches. "Genghis Blues" is slowly working its way up my Netflix queue -- maybe I need to give it a nudge ...

I recommend two relatively recent documentaries: 1) "Chris and Don: a Love Story," about Christopher Isherwood the writer and his life partner Don Barchardy, who was an artist and 2) "Moving Midway," in which the filmmaker documents his cousin's relocation of the family plantation house (yes, they literally pick the thing up and truck it to a new site), examines the role of the plantation in southern culture, and meets his many African-American relations along the way.

I highly recommend Werner Herzog's "Grizzly Man, about Timothy Treadwell, a man who adored and identified with grizzly bears, appointed himself their protector, filmed them, and finally, was eaten by one. "Little Dieter Needs to Fly" is good too, but go for "Grizzly Man" first.

And if you're a Herzog fan (I am) you must of course see "Burden of Dreams," Les Blank's documentary about Herzog's travails filming "Fitzcarraldo" deep in the Peruvian jungle. Crazytown! Best of all is Herzog's utterly demented monologue about the "obscenity of the jungle" ("the birds are screaming in misery") -- someone please give this man a hot shower and a cold beer! You can find clips of it on YouTube if you search under "Herzog" and "Burden of Dreams."

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Grizzly Man is fascinating, although at the end I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, or poor Treadwell (who seems to have wanted to wind up as hot lunch). It certainly is worth seeing and I'm annoyed that I didn't mention it first. :)

The Isherwood/Bachardy film is wonderful, too. I admit Bachardy's voice grated on me a bit, but I got used to it and he's a most interesting man and a great interview.

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I just watched Salesman (1968) directed by Albert Maysles, David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin. This documentary follows four door to door salesman as they try to sell Bibles to working class families.

In speaking of the Maysles film shortly after it opened, Arthur Miller wrote: '' 'Salesman' is an adventure into the American dream where hope is a sale and a sale is confirmation of existence itself. It seems to me to penetrate deeply the men who make the wheels go round in a form of cinema that has never been used in quite this way.'

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... and speaking of the Mayles, their cult classic "Grey Gardens" is well worth a watch, too. The brothers document the daily life of reclusive one-time socialites "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Bouvier (yes, there's a Kennedy connection) Beale while their once splendid Hamptons mansion collapses around them, their cats, and some resident racoons.

The two Edies are an extremely discomfiting mix of lucid and delusional. Little Edie suffered from alopecia, but was determined to be glamorous nonetheless, despite hair loss, straitened financial circumstances, and isolation; the results of her efforts are a combination of demented and awe-inspiring. Who knew you could construct a headdress out of a sweater and an old brooch?

Cult classic Little Edie fashion quote:

"This is the best thing to wear for today, you understand. Because I don't like women in skirts and the best thing is to wear pantyhose or some pants under a short skirt, I think. Then you have the pants under the skirt and then you can pull the stockings up over the pants underneath the skirt. And you can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape. So I think this is the best costume for today. "

The HBO biopic, which dramatizes the backstory, isn't bad -- Drew Barrymore's impersonation of Little Edie is spookily realistic -- but it's better to see the Mayles' film first. It always provokes me into a fit of house cleaning and home repair ... (And at some point I always yell "pick up a broom for heaven's sake" at the screen)

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Went to see Soul Power this afternoon.

Soul Power is a documentary/concert film which captured on film 1974 concerts in the former Zaire. (The concert occurred roughly in tandem with the famous Muhammed Ali-George Foreman "Rumble in the Jungle" heavyweight boxing match.) The filmmakers released a documentary of the Ali-Foreman fight in 1996:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_We_Were_Kings

Now, 13 years later, the filmmakers have released Soul Power, which utilizes the unused footage from the concerts to create a companion piece to the Ali-Foreman documentary.

I found that the documentary dragged for the first 40-45 minutes as this portion of the film dealt with the set-up for the concert. This wasn't terribly riveting as the concert preparations went more or less smoothly. But the film really picks up when the performances kick in. The roster of performers consisted of some of the most formidable acts of that (or any other era) -- James Brown, Celia Cruz, B.B. King, Miriam Makeba, The Spinners and Bill Withers. Unfortunately, due to so much time being spent on the concert preparations, most of the acts (with the exception of James Brown) are only seen performing partial versions of one song. (The absolute highlight for me was Bill Withers' intense performance of "Hope She'll be Happier" with only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment.)

If the music doesn't interest you, there's plenty of footage of Ali. Since the When We Were Kings documentary already covers the concurrent fight, though, Ali's appearances were redundant to me.

Even though the concerts only occurred 35 years ago, they may as well have occurred 350 years ago in terms of the hair, fashion and general "Seventies-ness" of the goings-on (i.e. cameos by Stokely Carmichael and George Plimpton.) Still, a not unpleasant way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

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A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash is a documentary about the demise of oil. Some reviewers criticized it as being one- sided. For that reason :wink: I recommend it highly, especially for the clear and rational explanation of issues by Dr. David L. Goodstein, Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Caltech.

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Thanks for reviving this thread, miliosr and innopac. When We Were Kings is a terrific movie, with commentary by Plimpton, Mailer, and all the usual suspects you would expect from the period. I wonder if the running time of this new film was extended with the footage of concert prep because not all the surviving musical footage was suitable or available?

You know, innopac, sometimes there is only one side. :wink:

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When We Were Kings is a terrific movie, with commentary by Plimpton, Mailer, and all the usual suspects you would expect from the period. I wonder if the running time of this new film was extended with the footage of concert prep because not all the surviving musical footage was suitable or available?

I don't know why there wasn't more footage of the actual concerts in the film. The pre-concert preparation footage was OK but really didn't add much to the movie. Unlike Woodstock, where the weather and the general disorganization were practically characters in the movie, the concert prep in Soul Power was rather orderly.

I suppose Soul Power will work better as a DVD than as a theatrical film. If additional concert footage exists, then some or all of it can be put on the DVD as extras.

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Pianomania

I really loved both this documentary and the "extras" on the dvd.

Link to review

"It does not, at first, seem the most promising of premises. But Pianomania, a delicate Austrian documentary about the painstaking work of a master piano-tuner, has spent the last six months scooping up international awards.

The film takes us into the life of Steinway's piano technician Stefan Knüpfer as he works on the instruments of the world's greatest virtuosos. In the pursuit of perfection, Knüpfer bounces tennis balls on piano strings, replaces the leg of one instrument with a cheap violin as an experiment – and spends an entire year working on one piano until it's the ideal instrument on which to play an unfinished masterpiece by Bach."

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This looks wonderful, innopac, and I hadn't heard of it. I'm going to look for this movie. Thanks!

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Oh, yes! I agree. :) It sounds like just the sort of movie I tend to enjoy.

Thanks for the reccomendation.

-d-

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