I never used to like documentaries. That's not entirely true, it wasn't that I didn't like them it was just that I didn't watch them. Perhaps jaded by boring nature videos and film strips in school, to me just the word "documentary" conjured up images of the dull and uninteresting and I avoided them at all costs. However, I now realize the folly of my ways and really appreciate how great documentaries can be.
Boring? I think not
Just recently I saw EVERY LITTLE STEP, a film about the revival of the Broadway musical A Chorus Line. In what will certainly be the most ironic film of the year, it follows several dancers/singers as they audition for roles in a show about dancers/singers auditioning for a show. Just like in A Chorus Line, you really get to know these people and their stories and you understand how apt the lyric "God I hope I get it" is.
The film reminded me of another documentary called SHOWBUSINESS: THE ROAD TO BROADWAY. This film followed four brand new shows, Wicked and Avenue Q among them, as they prepared for the 2003 Broadway season and you
really get a fascinating peek behind the curtain (so to speak) into a world I'd never really thought about before.
Of course nature always makes a great subject for a documentary and there have been many, Disney's EARTH one of the more recent ones. In 2005 MARCH OF THE PENGUINS received a lot of acclaim and rightfully so; just the footage alone was remarkable. However, I think a more interesting documentary involving animals came out that year: GRIZZLY MAN. The character study of this obviously troubled man is fascinating and his end is brutal albeit not entirely unexpected.
MURDERBALL, also out that year, exposed me and many others I'm sure, to a captivating world I never knew existed.
And documentaries don't have to be about extraordinary animals or paraplegic rugby players or really anything terribly exciting to be wonderful. Kids in inner-city schools learning ballroom dancing, spelling bees, crossword puzzle enthusiasts. Do those sound like topics who'd like to see explored in film? Well, documentaries have been made about all three subjects and they were not
only really entertaining but enthralling. In addition to humor and drama, there was also a surprising amount of tension.
Yes, that's a referee for a video game
A movie that was both hard to watch but impossible to look away from was CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS. This film shows the disintegration of a family – mostly through their own home movies – as they deal with allegations of child abuse.
On a much lighter note, THE KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS is simply an amazing movie. Chronicling the race to the highest Donkey Kong score of all time (no, not in 1984 but in 2007 which makes it so much better), this film has everything you could ask for: an everyman hero, a smug villain, and loads of nerd hangers-on. If this had been a scripted, fictional film you'd think it was way too unbelievable. (Note: if you rent this film the extended interview with Mr. Awesome is well worth the time)
MAIL ORDER WIFE is another astounding film. The filmmaker follows a man as he orders an Asian bride through the mail. That might be interesting enough but what transpires is a bizarre story full of twists and turns that you
never saw coming.
Who could possibly think this wasn't legit?
Although for the most part I try to stay away from political material (I just find it all so depressing) I really like Michael Moore's work. FAHRENHEIT 911 was great as was the heartbreaking BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, but I wish I hadn't seen SICKO. Discovering all the stuff, including basic human rights, that citizens of other countries have that we in American don't just made me angry.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH – although "political" only in the sense that a former politician was involved – was powerfully eye-opening. And THE YES MEN was hysterical but also shocking (were those people really in favor of legalizing slavery?)
Some other great documentaries are the classic HOOP DREAMS, the charmingly goofy AMERICAN MOVIE, and the world-changing SUPER SIZE ME (hey, Mickey D's took the "super size" option off their menus as a result of this film).
Yes, documentaries can be wonderful and I welcome any chance I get to see one. Whether it might be about the fast-paced world of cat grooming or octogenarian stamp collectors, I'm sure it'll be highly engrossing.
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Jul 14, 2009 10:11 AM
|Thanks for promoting this genre that is too often overlooked. Now that reality tv is a mainstream genre, the feature-length documentary is gaining more popularity as well, it seems.|
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Thoughts, observations, conjectures, complaints about movies and mostly how they relate to me personally. If you're looking for something a little broader, try Ebert.
Born to write (literally – much to the displeasure of his mother, he emerged with a pencil clutched in one tiny fist), Tim spends most of his days crafting epic monosyllabic poems, new comical titles to his favorite Beatles' songs (Hey, Dude), and angry letters to local businesses that have wronged him in some way. He's really an okay guy once you get to know him.|
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