I wanted to know your guys take on documentaries. But also why they are the best or why they have to be watched.
A couple of my favs…
-…and the pursuit of happiness.
I love watching documentaries, well at least the good ones. It appears rather hard to make a good documentary for the masses, as they tend to focus narrowly on a subject. It is only through humanizing it, or showing a deeper correlation of the subject and of things people experience, that the documentary can have broad appeal. Also many documentaries aren’t widely available . I saw Mechanical Love in Scotland last year, but once I got back to the states it took for ever to find and it was expensive to ship. I think why documentaries need to be watched is that they are an observation of what the director sees as an important unobserved issue that needs clarification and attention.
If a documentary is done right, it can be as engrossing, entertaining, and even more important – educational – as any attempt at putting it to a feature film with fictionalized characters and subplots to bolster ticket sales. For example, I found “Dogtown and Z Boys” far more entertaining and compelling than “Lords of Dogtown.” I found “For All Mankind” far more inspiring, entertaining and educational as any film on this subject, from “Apollo 13” to “The Right Stuff.” In their own right, good documentaries tap into our most base emotions while educating us and helping us see things from multiple viewpoints. They do what the maintream news media can’t on a daily basis: Take an important social topic, expand on it and tell it from a human perspective. Among the best documentaries I have ever seen and would highly recommend, aside from those aforementioned, are:
1) Hearts and Minds (perhaps the best doc ever made about Vietnam, from both American and Vietnamese perspectives)
2) Harlan County U.S.A. (a flat-our masterpiece and an often overlooked gem of a very dark chapter of American history)
3) Idi Amin Dada (Barbet Schroeder knows what he’s doing when it comes to documentaries, and how he landed this historic interview with the barbarous dictator is beyond me)
4) Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (Who would have thought that a documentary about the making of a movie would be so personal and expose an individual’s vulnerability, trials and tribulations so well)
5) The Bridge (perhaps the best film I have ever seen about the stark subject of suicide and, like Harlan County USA and Idi Amin Dada, a magnicent work of journalism)
6) The Civil War (Ken Burns freshman project that introduced the world to his monumental talent. mandatory viewing for any high school history class)
The Thin Blue Line.
In no particular order:
Man on Wire
Who Killed The Electric Car?
Touching The Void
Visions of Light
War Made Easy
No End In Sight
Hearts of Darkness
Capturing The Friedmans
Etre et Avoir
The King of Kong
One Day In September
A Crude Awakening
When We Were Kings
Anything by Erroll Morris
I’d have to go with Errol Morris’ Mr. Death, about a holocaust denier who designs execution devices for a living, as my personal favorite, probably followed by Emile di Antonio’s Point of Order, which is the footage from the Army-McCarthy hearings cut to feature length.
‘This Film Is Not Yet Rated’ — A documentary about the MPAA’s film rating system and the people behind the job. It’s amusing and informative, which is always a good combo. Although far from being deep or socially critical to view, I was enraptured through the entire thing and it really makes one look at ratings differently (for those who even bother to look at them in the first place). However, it is incredibly sexually graphic amidst proving the point of the film, hence, the film is not rated.
I haven’t seen a whole lot of the canonical documentaries, but “F for Fake”, “Sans Soleil”, and “Salesman” are three of my favourite films, regardless of genre. (Not that documentary is necessarily a genre… but that’s a whole other topic…)
Oh, and “The Corporation” is the best horror movie of all time. ;)
Anything from Herzog.
Malle’s God’s Country is superb.
Personally, I’m a huge, HUGE fan of The King of Kong. Not even that it’s groundbreaking or anything like that. But I have been part of the gaming community since I was very young, and that film captures that so perfectly.
I’ve heard really unpleasant things about the guy who made This Is Not Yet Rated. Look at me, a Gossipy Gus!
Anyway, Brother’s Keeper is the best documentary ever made. I established that on here a few weeks ago. And, by the same guys, Paradise Lost, which I saw a loong time ago but didn’t realize they made both docs.
Thanks, Christopher, for the link to the older thread. While not exhaustive, that thread pretty much sews up the whole cloth. Although now I have a list of 12 docs I must track down, it’s the prime reason I stick to this site.
Double post — first time that’s happened to me. Why, when it occurs and you choose to “edit” the second post, clicking the “cancel” button doesn’t delete the duplication?
Speaking of This Film Is Not Yet Rated, Kirby Dick’s new doc “Outtrage” was a pretty damning account of gay Republican hypocrites. For anyone who votes, a good film to check out.
My favorite is Hearts of Darkness, but I know zero about documentaries. It is the main area in film I need to improve on.
THELONIOUS MONK – STRAIGHT NO CHASER (1988). Yes, it’s a music doc. Yes, it’s great.
War Dance (2007) is documentary filmmaking at its best.
Though not particularly groundbreaking, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room remains my favorite for taking what had been reported in the media in such a piecemeal fashion as to be unintelligible and making it into an engaging, fascinating, and above all, lucid presentation of the events leading to the fall of Enron, and the devastating (to those who had placed their trust in its leaders) aftermath. An almost perfect cautionary account.
India Matri Bhumi, then Sans soleil, The Last Bolshevik, A Grin without a Cat and Night and Fog.
There are many, but a few that come to mind:
Born Into Brothels
Hearts of Darkness
How to Draw A Bunny
If you appreciate jazz, then Jazz on a Summer’s Day is worth a look or listen.
As far as documentaries go, I can’t recommend the “Up Series” enough. It may seem daunting to try and take on a 7-film series, but it’s so rewarding I found. I couldn’t wait for the next disc to arrive in my mailbox, so I’d highly recommend giving that a chance. If you aren’t familiar with it, they take a group of 7-year old school children and interview them, and then interview them again 7 years later, and again another 7 years later. The last film was 49 Up, and it’s absolutely fascinating to see how these kids turned out.
“Harlan County, U.S.A”. was another incredible film. The subject matter didn’t seemlike it would be of all that much interest to me, but it’s incredibly told, and I think it’s another must see.
I also love “Gimme Shelter.” The tension just builds during Altamonte and even though the events were well reported, the dread you feel as you know something’s about to go so very very badly is pretty riveting.
“Capturing The Friedmans” is my personal favorite documentary of the decade. It just leaves you questioning and then questioning your own judgments. And make sure you watch the disc of extra material as well.
I saw some mentions of Kirby Dick’s “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” which I thought was fairly lousy actually, but one I would cautiously recommend is Dick’s previous film, “Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist.” It is absolutely not for the squeamish – it’s a film about a man living with cystic fibrosis who is also a performance artist very much embroiled in the world of S&M (and you will see things that will make you squirm!!!), but you get such a interesting look at such a fantastically dynamic and funny man. And he allows Dick an unfliching look at his life and his illness. It’s a pretty remarkable story.
Another one I try to recommend to people (because it seemed to escape attention when it was released) is a recent film called “Dear Zachary: A Letter To A Son About His Father.” I’ll be upfront in that I don’t think it’s a necessarily well made film. But the story will rip your heart out through your throat. I don’t cry easily, but this one got me choked up. In short, the filmmaker’s best friend was murdered by his ex-girlfriend after he dumps her, and then she announces that she is pregnant with his child. So the director sets off to make a film that will allow the child to get to know his father. Along the way, the story takes some twists and it left me with such a feeling of sadness and anger that I hadn’t felt from a film in a long time. Here’s a trailer for that one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtyY0CXdiNo
There are a number of other great documentaries to write about, but I’ll leave it there for the night. Heading to bed.
BELLS FROM THE DEEP.
LESSONS OF DARKNESS.
Seconding: anything else by Herzog.
FOREST OF BLISS. Boom.
CANE TOADS. Boom! Boom!
THE CORPORATION and MANUFACTURING CONSENT together. BA-BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!!!!
Overnight and Lost in La Mancha deserve mention
anything by frederick wiseman+ les blank in incredible, a list without them is of no use…
I really enjoyed Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer.