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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Doc Watch ‘06

Posted by on January 25 at 18:10 PM

So, as I stated in My Platform a couple weeks back, I believe documentaries can save the world. With this in mind I have decided to go on a doc-watching binge. Last Tuesday I went to On 15th Video and took advantage of their “Half-Price Tuesday” deal. Four non-new release DVDs cost a mere eight bucks plus change. (Yeah, I know, Netflix is only a dime a month and you never have to leave your house and blah, blah, blah. You don’t run into cute girls on Netflix, dude.) This week I picked up Cane Toads, Word Wars, Hell House, and Trekkies.

Of the bunch, Word Wars was easily the best. The filmmakers follow four word warriors on their way to the Scrabble campionship in San Diego. Now, I’ve played a few rounds of Scrabble in my day, but I had no idea the depth of strategy or obsession involved in this game. Generally, to excel in the world of professional Scrabble one must devote the majority of your day to playing the game and studying the dictionary, leaving little time for such trivialities as regular meals, developing social graces, and being employed. The scene where we see the towering piles of paper cluttering G.I. Joel’s apartment (the G.I. stands for “gastro-intestinal”) hit a little too close to home. A truly fascinating film.

Hell House is a compelling look at that Pentacostal church in Texas that puts on an annual haunted house of the horrors that afflict those not saved. Apparently if you haven’t accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior you are damned to a violent death involving AIDS, guns, drug-induced gang-rapes, or a perpetually bleeding womb. Oh, and you get to hear them speak in tongues.

Cane Toads is about a species of big, ugly toads that is taking over Australia. They were brought over from Hawaii in the early 20th century to eat the cane grubs that were decimating Australia’s sugar-cane crops. Due to an anomaly of nature, the toads did nothing to stop the ravenous cane grubs, but did succeed in reproducing like rabbits (another problem on that continent) and eating anything else that crosses their paths (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a giant toad choking down a live mouse). Oh, and they secrete a deadly neuro-toxin as well. Fun! Also, if they are facing you when you run them down in your car, they make a satisfying pop as the air trapped inside them blows their ass out.

Trekkies is a relatively light-weight examination of just how freaky obsessive Star Trek fans can be. A highlight is interview footage with that weird Trekkie lady, a Starfleet Commander no less, who served on the Whitewater jury (and who, I believe, may have inspired the character of deputy Trudy Wiegel, my one true love, on Reno 911). It’s also fun to try and notice how many bits of Star Wars ephemera slip into the mix.

I picked up four more docs last night and I’ll report back with my impressions.

As always, suggestions are encouraged.

CommentsRSS icon

dude, american movie. check it out. and also, the aristocrats if you haven't gotten on that shit yet.

The Ross McElwee DVD collection was just released. "Time Indefinite" and "Sherman's March" are two of my favorite films, incomparable to most documentaries.

documentaries are pretty much the only movies that will keep my attention. "word wars" is brilliant, i hope you have seen "spellbound." i recently viewed "channel z" and strongly recommend it. "devil's playground" is a little slow moving but who doesn't like to see amish kids gone wild?

the wal-mart doc, "wal-mart: the high cost of low price," is a must-see for anyone with a conscience.

I borrowed "Murder on a Sunday Morning" from the library last week. It caught my eye because the case said it won the best documentary Oscar a few years ago and I like true crime movies/books (my mind candy). It's not as slick as the true crime shows on CourtTV but it's definitely worth watching.

If you liked "Cane Toads", check out "Vernon, Florida", the first doc from Errol Morris. You might have to watch it on VHS though. You definitely will have to watch the collected works of Les Blank on VHS; it's impossible to understand the documentary art without "Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers" and "Gap Toothed Women". I also recommend "Grey Gardens" by the Maysles brothers, about two completely kooky rich ladies (relatives of Jackie O) who live in insane squalor.

"Hands on a Hard Body", no it's not porn. It's about an endurance contest in Texas where people have to place one hand on a Nissan hard body truck. The last person standing wins the truck.
"In the Realms of the Unreal" about a artist/janitor/hermit who spent his entire life writing a 40,000 page novel, complete with illustrations.

if you didn't see the weather underground on pbs, definitely rent it. it's about the radical student organization that started in the late 60s. amazing.

Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers is definitely a must see. My absolute favorite is The Times of Harvey Milk. Other ones I really like: Crumb; Brother's Keeper; When We Were Kings; Rivers and Tides; Inside Deep Throat; and Rize. I can't get enough of good documentaries.

You should also check out Capturing the Friedmans. It won the Grand Jury Prize sundance film festivel in 2003 or 2004, sorry I can't remember which year. It was very good.

If you liked "Cane Toads", check out "Vernon, Florida", the first doc from Errol Morris. You might have to watch it on VHS though.

No, you shan't! It's available on DVD (and at the Seattle Pubic Library).

Southern Comfort. So surprising, and moving -- almost too much to bear sometimes.
Yes to Vernon, Florida -- but also Gates of Heaven, also by Errol Morris. Any Errol Morris, really.

Capturing the Freidmans should be at the very top of your list. It a troubling and thought provoking look at histeria that surrounds child-molestation charges.

DO NOT rent: prom night in kansas or chain camera. both are -horribly- made and painful to watch, and thats coming from somebody who watches law and order and reruns of "i love the 80s".

DO rent: born into brothels, spellbound, and the eyes of tammy faye.

Gates of Heaven.

I second Hands on a Hard Body.
Also "When We Were Kings- about Muhammad Ali Vs. George Forman in Africa. But you've seen that already haven't you Paulus?
Marjo- Charismatic evangelist preacher who shares his corrupt act with us. This documentary was his way of quitting the business. Truly amazing scenes of the faithful writhing about, speaking in tongues. He's just in it for the money and reveals his trickery to the camera.

i recommend: hybrid, again, which is not on dvd but everybody should have it etched into their brains in case in ever screens in seattle again. benjamin smoke, a beautiful music doc by jem cohen. the war room and don't look back. salesman. the thin blue line and mr death are my favorite errol morris films. the house is black, an awesome iranian short doc from the '60s, made by a (woman) poet, about a leper colony. streetwise and hype, if you want some grunge flashbacks. the gleaners & I, which is a digital movie by agnes varda. and i second in the realms of the unreal, hands on a hard body, southern comfort, and sherman's march.

oh, yeah, and marjoe, definitely, which is being released on DVD on tuesday.

The Fugazi documentary Instrument.

The Wal-Mart: High Cost of blah, blah, blah documentary gives you exactly what you expect, and I think it could have been so much better if it actually took the time to attack the root cause (lack of governmental oversight/concern) than just produce a laundry list of why our conscience should be shocked.
Also, American Movie is hilarious.

When We Were Kings is unbelievable. You will be a Muhammad Ali desciple for life. Also there is a documentary version of Manufacturing Consent. It's a full days commitment, but geeze the book is about a trillion pages. I can't get enough Chomsky delivering groin shots to the establishment. A life changing film fersure.

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Hey man...sorry I missed the party.

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