A few of our favorite documentaries. By Bill Vaughn
Although Hollywood is still making some terrific Hollywood-style features (In Good Company and Cinderella Man come to mind), an argument can be made that the industry's body of work the last few years generally sucks. Consider The Lake House, for example, or another Sandra Bullock stink bomb, Premonition. Some people, such as directors Sidney Pollack and Peter Bogdonovich, think this erosion in quality is because the movie business has fallen so much in love with the new technologies it’s forgotten that audiences want believable stories brimming with close-ups of other human beings they can love or hate.
By their nature, documentaries have no use for animation, claymation, audioanimatronics or any of that other dreadful whiz and bang that makes it possible to produce movies without any people in them. The documentary form, in fact, only works when the audience believes that what it’s seeing is the truth (or as much of this illusive thing other flawed and biased beings can apprehend for us). Still photographs, home movies, and jerky, grainy untouched film lie at the heart of some of the best examples of the form.
Anyway, at Dark Acres we compiled a list of our fave documentaries. Here they are:
Dixie Chicks: Shut Up And Sing. The professional fortunes of the Dixie Chicks head south after lead singer Natalie Maines tells a concert audience in London just before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that she’s ashamed George W. Bush hails from her home state of Texas. Disgruntled country fans, mostly southern rednecks and other imbeciles, throw away their Dixie Chicks CDs, and cracker radio stations refuse to air their songs. But then, as the war heads south and Bush’s ratings plummet, the music that has made the Chicks the best-selling female group in history wins back its fan base. Their rise back to the top was capped in February of 2007 when they won five Grammies for their monster hit album, Taking the Long Way, featuring the single “Not Ready to Play Nice,” a musical fuck-you for George Bush.
When We Were Kings. The story of one of the greatest boxing matches ever, pitting Muhammed Ali against George Foreman in the “The Rumble in the Jungle,” the bizarre 1974 fight staged outdoors at 3am in Kinshasa, Zaire. Ali was attempting to regain his title against Foreman, who was younger and picked by all the oddsmakers to triumph. First, Ali surprised Foreman by attacking him with a right lead in the first round. Then, employing what he called the “Rope-a-Dope,” he compelled Foreman to punch himself out in subsequent rounds. Early in the eighth round Ali knocked him out. Telling insights into the characters of both men, and some great footage of the people of the former Belgian Congo. Plus, Norman Mailer analyzing the fight, speaking in a weird southern accent.
When the Levees Broke. Spike Lee’s four-hour examination of the catastrophe wrought on New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the city on August 29, 2005. Much of the suffering caused by the storm could have been avoided. Matchstick levees designed by he Army Corps of Engineers failed, even though the formula for earthworks that do the job was discovered decades ago in places such as Holland. The Federal government could have rushed aid to the city immediately. Local and state official could have coordinated their efforts to evacuate people who lost their homes within hours of the last gust. Lee’s film, in which the brazen and outspoken director stays far away from the action, is carried by a score of funny, angry, distraught, bewildered and hurting people who made the mistake of living in a city the Bush Administration doesn’t give a shit about. We found ourselves squirming with rage as we watched, wondering how Washington could possibly handle a national emergency.
The Music in Me. Six amazingly accomplished kid musicians, aged 7 through 11, who could no more stop playing music than they could order their hearts to cease beating. The opposite of all those reluctant little drones force-marched to violin and piano lessons, these gifted musicians are already better at their art than the vast majority of Americans will ever be. Here are cellist Nathan, flutist Elena, zydeco accordion player Guyland, composer/rock guitarist Una, jazz trumpeter Tyler, and percussionist Qaasim, who says: “The music is in everything. And you can make music with anything.” This half-hour segment is the first installment of a series produced by HBO.
Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater. Produced by the grand-daughter of the five-term Arizona Senator and 1964 Repulican candidate for president, this 90-minute profile reveals Barry Goldwater’s humor, humanity, and wide-ranging interests and accomplishments. He was a pilot, a Ham radio enthusiast, a talented photographer, and a successful businessman, in addition to creating the core of the anti-New Deal, conservative Republican right that eventually put Ronald Reagan in office. Although Goldwater’s dangerous ideas about using thermonuclear devices to end the war in Vietnam resulted in his landslide defeat by Lyndon Baines Johnson, he was a libertarian and no friend of the Kristian Rite. While he railed against corrupt labor unions and the welfare state in the 1980s he also led the charge against efforts by bigoted born-again Bible thumpers to curtail abortion and gay rights. After the death of his wife of five decades he retired from politics and flew home to Arizona, piloting his own plane. The documentary is brimming with Goldwater’s excellent photographs, and the copious home movies he loved to take of his family.