Arts and Culture

5 Documentaries…

…you should see right now.

This is the start of me chronicling my movie recommendations. I am doing this because I talk about movies too damn much anyway in every day conversation so hopefully this will curb that habit. Also, my mother always laments that I need to write my recommendations down and this will force her to read my blog. Hope you enjoy the suggestions and please leave your own in the form of comments if you– like me–are a documentary junkie.

American Movie: Anyone who knows me well has probably been shown this movie, by me. It’s actually a requirement of our friendship. This documentary is about a B-movie horror film obsessed man and his quest to make his own horror masterpiece. Mark Borchardt is a loser– he hasn’t finished anything in his life (including high school and military service) and likely hosts a cocktail of mental issues which, from an outsider’s stance, have very obviously hindered any real progress in his life.  He is accompanied in his quest to actually finish something by a rag-tag group of loser friends, weirdos, community play actors, and his family.

Mike Schank has forever changed the way I pronounce 'vah-kah'

The characters are just too priceless here– particularly his friend, Mike Schank who has been on one too many acid trips. Mike’s sweet disposition and desire to be sober is a perfect foil to Mark, who has endless energy and a bit of a mean streak.  The plot revolves around the making of Mark’s grand B-movie horror masterpiece, “Coven”, which Mark mispronounces as “c-OH-ven” throughout the entire film.

Other documentaries about people obsessed with pop culture: Darkon, King of Kong, I Think We’re Alone Now

Little Dieter Needs to Fly: By now many people know of Werner Herzog’s documentary, Grizzly Man, and may have seen Rescue Dawn with Christian Bale, the movie which is based off this documentary. After seeing both the documentary and the dramatization of the story, I must say the documentary was far more compelling.
The doc recounts the story of Dieter Dengler, a German born man who dreamed of being a pilot all throughout his childhood. That dream became a reality when he moved to the United States, joined the military, and was sent to fly planes in Vietnam. In Vietnam he was shot down, captured, and forced on a harrowing death march to his final internment site, where he was tortured and starved.  There, he and his fellow prisoners planned an escape from the camp. When he was found he was 85 pounds.

Dieter reenacting his capture. Craziness.

Of course this documentary has all the Herzog-ian touches—Werner’s strange and deliberate narration that sometimes makes you wonder how much the director is projecting on the to the storyline and strong real-life characters who are amazingly candid. Dieter is an incredibly interesting person– extremely bright and admirable. He actually goes back to where he was captured to re-trace his steps, which is amazing considering all the traumatic memories surely conjured up by the reenactment of his ordeal.

Other Werner Herzog documentaries: Encounters at the End of the World, Grizzly Man

How to Draw a Bunny: This documentary about pop artist Ray Johnson describes him as the most pop famous artist you’ve never heard of. As the layers are peeled back on this Warhol contemporary and you’re not sure if you admire his quirk and genius or are thankful you don’t have it. Interviews with artists who knew him such as Christo, Chuck Close, and Roy Lichtenstein reveal their bemused appreciation for his eccentricities and art pieces consisting of collages, mailed art and performance art. The lines between his life and his work are so non-existent that even the seemingly carefully constructed circumstances around his death make you wonder if it was his final performance piece.

The enigmatic Ray Johnson.

Other documentaries about art/art history: The Rape of Europa, The Art of the Steal, My Architect  

Marjoe: Marjoe is the story of Marjoe Gortner, a man who was raised by evangelical ministers who marketed him as a novelty child preacher throughout the Bible Belt.  As he grows older, he continues to preach, but secretly he is a non-believer. This film follows him through his final tent revival tour, giving the viewer a front and center view of the Pentecostal revivals Marjoe leads. We see how the preachers rifle through bags of money after their performance and explain all the different ways to ‘move’ people to donate to their ministry.

Marjoe's permed hair is strangely attractive. Maybe that's just me.

Despite the fact that Marjoe is essentially defrauding his fellow worshipers, he is an extremely likable and watchable protagonist who claims he never knew any other way. The scenes of Marjoe leading the revivals are fascinating yet respectful of the Christians in attendance.

Other documentaries exploring religion: Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple, Jesus Camp, Religulous

The Cruise: This documentary follows the stream of consciousness of Timmothy Levitch who is a strange mixture of Woodie Allen, Ira Glass, and my favorite Art History teacher, Professor Cunnally (You probably haven’t met him, but trust me, it’s spot on).  He is extremely eccentric and works as a double-decker New York city bus tour guide. His grandiose statements about the city around him mixed with his obvious love of the place make him incredibly entertaining to watch. I would love to be one of his passengers. This is a really hard movie to describe, but trust me, it’s worth it. And if I haven’t intrigued you, then maybe this trailer will. After all, isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

My description does not accurately portray the awesomeness of this film. Go see it.

Other documentaries about eccentric people in New York/the East Coast: Bill Cunningham New York, Grey Gardens, I Like Killing Flies

Do you have any favorite documentaries? I would love to hear suggestions and comments about the docs above!

Categories: Arts and Culture, Favorites, IMHO, Movie Suggestions | 3 Comments

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