Taking another look at my favorite documentaries available via Netflix stream.
Click here for Part One
No Direction Home
I'm not as big on Dylan as most people but this fascinating documentary focuses on his early career, about which I was largely ignorant. I know Desire/Blood on the Tracks Dylan, but aside from a couple of overexposed DA Pennebaker clips and a paragraph or two in a newspaper or magazine article this stuff was all new to me. It does a great job presenting a searching, confrontational Dylan and putting his work in context. Not essential for those already familiar with his early career, but it gave me a new appreciation for a guy I had some misconceptions about.
Bigger, Stronger, Faster
A fascinatingly objective, clear-eyed look at steroid use and abuse from inside the culture. Also tremendously engaging and entertaining, following the steroid 'careers' of the filmmaker and his brothers. Expert at detailing the impact of steroids on both their bodies and their personal lives and relationships. A tremendously affecting cautionary tale all the more powerful for its balanced perspective and refusal to preach.
Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
Films like this are the reason I love documentaries so much- it isn't fantastically crafted, but the subject is so infallibly entertaining you're carried along anyway. That's a much harder trick to pull off with fiction, but the gravity of reality can pull a so-so documentary along to a very satisfying conclusion. You can question the value of a basically hagiographic film on a character who obsessively self-chronicled, but it's got some great footage and the coverage of his run for Sheriff of Aspen on the Freak Power ticket justifies the whole endeavor.
Beyond the Mat
You'd be hard pressed to find someone less interested in pro wrestling than me, yet I found this unsanctioned documentary absolutely riveting. I think it's the primary reason I wasn't as blown away by Aronovsky's The Wrestler as most folk- this doc got there first, and IMHO did it better.
Please Vote for Me
A tremendously affecting film about the election of a 3rd grade Class Monitor in China. As with all great documentaries, it's also about everything else. A great movie, check it out.
Into Great Silence
Saying a film documenting life at a remote monastery whos inhabitants have taken a vow of silence isn't for everyone seems obvious enough, but I'll make it explicit just in case. You'll either fall in love with the gorgeously hypnotic rhythms and drift through it as in a dream, or howl "Christ, not ANOTHER snow-dappled slate roofline!" while hurling your remote at the screen.
There are no real in-betweens.
The idiocy and misinformation of the 'atomic age' transformed into sardonic hilarity.
Suggested cinematic pairing: Dr. Strangelove
Michael Apted's UP series: 21 Up, 28 Up 42 Up 49 Up
Can't resist linking these, even though you really, really, really ought to see the whole series in order, from 7 Up on. I'm not sure what the logic of having nearly all of them streaming is, but oh well. The conceit is Apted checking up on a demographic cross-section of schoolchildren every seven years, the genius is the filmmaker sticking with it across the decades. The result is a deeply affecting window into the lives of others.
Sherman's March / Time Indefinite
Ross McElwee's masterpieces.
I'll do a longer post on his stuff at some point, for now just trust me and watch both of these ASAP, preferable back to back.
I caught this four episode documentary series on PBS and it rapidly nullified my concerns about the Navy's thumb on the editorial scale. The subject is can't miss, the filmmakers focus in on a diverse, interesting group of subjects and there are no obvious censorial fingerprints evident. A fascinating, in depth examination of an exotic environment.
Anvil: The Story of Anvil
A sort of real-life Spinal Tap, following a potential titan of metal that went from playing festivals on equal footing with groups like Metallica and Slayer to fitting occasional bar gigs in round the lead singer's day job delivering school lunches. The arc of the story is familiar from any number of generic 'Behind the Music' style rise, fall, redemption docs, but the endearing charisma of the musicians here and the quality of the direction (by a professed fan who manages to root for their success without ignoring the reality of their situation) raise it above the pack. Hilarious, touching, inspiring- everything you want in a doc about a down-on-their-luck Canadian metal band.
Insider's examination of Seattle's "grunge" scene, taking on both the music that created the scene and the explosion of marketing that destroyed it. An exhilarating historical document and cautionary tale all in one. My only complaint would be the underrepresentation of female groups, but a movie is only so long and you can't fault the quality of the acts that were included. But 'Grunge Grrrrrls' or whatever would make an interesting companion piece.