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The Netflix documentary The White Helmets (nominated for an Oscar for documentary short), about a group of rescuers in the Syrian Civil Defense, is not for the faint of heart, but I'm glad I watched it.  Seeing these people rush towards a bomb is really something, especially knowing that "double tap" attacks - hitting a target a second time to kill off first responders -- have become frequent, and in fact nearly 150 White Helmets have been killed.

There's a scene where a rescuer, who hasn't been able to get in touch with his son after an attack, finally hears a message from him and realizes he's okay.  Within moments of that relief, he wonders to his colleagues, "But what's really the difference between my son and another person's?  Aren't they all innocent?"  To so quickly go from relief for himself to empathy for others was incredibly moving to me.

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I just finished the three-part Netflix series "Five Came Back", based on the book of the same name, about five Hollywood directors who entered the WWII war effort. It was really interesting to see how they did (and didn't) work within both the Hollywood and the military political systems to get things done, their efforts to maintain artistic visions without being asses about it, and what their post-war lives were like. A bonus is that Netflix is also streaming many of the short films directed by The Five, since you'll likely want to see them after having watched the documentary.

The five US directors are John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra, and George Stevens.

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On ‎7‎/‎15‎/‎2016 at 0:30 AM, JustaPerson said:

I watched a documentary called Shenandoah on Netflix yesterday, about the murder of a illegal Mexican immigrant by a group of high school football players in Shenandoah, PA who beat him up. The local police tried to cover it up to (not much) avail. Most of the boys weren't convicted until it went to federal court. 

I live somewhat close to Shenandoah, and the mentality in that area is disheartening, and I'm sad that I was not shocked that this happened there.  It's an area we call "coal country", and has been economically depressed since the 70's.  Homes can be bought there many times for under $30,000 - nice ones at that, but there are few job opportunities, so if you want to live there, a long commute is in your future.  There is little future for many of the kids coming up through the ranks.  If they don't get out of town as soon as they're 18, they likely never will.  Athletes - especially football players - are put on a pedestal.  Those small towns will pretty much shut down on Friday night.  They will often suffer from Big Fish In A Small Pond syndrome if they manage to get in to college to play football.  Many won't go to college at all.  There are, of course, exceptions, but this wasn't surprising at all.  Some of the schools in that area are real powerhouses when it comes to football.  While I can't speak for that area, a school that's north of that region was a powerhouse for years, until they were busted for recruiting kids from other high schools, and offering their parents jobs so they could move to their town.  It was a widely known rumor for years, so again,  I was not surprised when it came out.

 

I haven't seen any really good docs recently, but some of my "favorites" (using that term loosely, as some of these were gut-wrenching) are:

Capturing The Friedmans (I still think his son was railroaded)

Just Melvin, Just Evil

There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane

25 Cromwell St, and several others I can't remember the titles of about Fred and Rose West

Baby Beauty Queens

Sharp Edges

Manson (released in 1972 - a look at "The Family" after the trials)

This Was The XFL (a very well done 30 for 30 episode)

Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The Peoples Temple

Jesus Camp

One that I can't remember the title - it was about a cult that existed at one time that promoted pedophilia and published bizarre books about it featuring a little boy they named "Davidito".  He grew up to be an extremely disturbed adult, and it's a look into what led him to do some horrible things.  It was incredibly sad.  **ETA: The cult was The Children Of God led by David Berg.  I believe it was called "Cult Killer"

And I 2nd the above post about the 30 for 30 on Hillsborough.  They now have an extremely long version of it that goes through to the most recent trial.  It's extremely worthwhile.

Edited by funky-rat
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I'm watching a doc called "What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy" and what is blowing me away is the son of Otto Von Wachter, the governor of Ukraine that was in charge of the final solution for the area. He completely denies his father having any responsibility whatsoever because there are no pictures or documents of his father actually pulling the trigger. He insists, against all proof, that his father tried to stop what was happening. Compare him to the son of Hans Frank,  who  travels the world denouncing racism and making sure nobody forgets what he did.  Von Wachter just keeps saying to the host, who lost his whole family in Lviv, that so many people died during the war that it didn't matter about these few thousand, and his father was a decent man. Grrrrr.....

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I watched Lost for Life, about people serving life without parole sentences for murders committed when they were juveniles, something the U.S. is pretty much alone (certainly in the "developed world") in allowing.  It was during the making of this film (which was produced over the course of four years) that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled mandatory life sentences for juvenile offenders unconstitutional.

I thought it was well done, so went looking for a little more information; here's an article on how it came to be (what first set it in motion was the filmmaker talking to a judge about the case that most troubles him, which was having to impose a life without parole sentence on a 15-year-old girl).

One of the stories that interested me most was that of Brian and Torey, the guys who committed what has been referred to as the "Scream murder" of one of their high school classmates.  Brian looks so old for 21; this whole process has aged the hell out of him (he's pretty much haunted by it, dreaming of the victim all the time and tortured by what he did to his parents, as well, in the moment he told them he actually did do it).  I think the difference between him and Torey is striking, with Brian spot on in saying Torey is the same now as he was the day he entered prison -- still proclaiming his innocence (at trial, they each blamed the other, despite all the evidence they planned and executed it together [they recorded themselves before and after]) rather than engaging in the painful process of admitting what he did.  I thought the recording of the phone call between Brian and his parents, back when he was first incarcerated and still saying it was all Torey's doing, was a terrific juxtaposition -- back then, Brian and his parents sounded just like Torey and his parents still do now, talking about how awful it is that the media lumps Brian and Torey together, as if they were the same type of person/did the same thing (um, newsflash...).

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"Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance" (1982)

Managed to track this down via Kodi over the weekend.  A friend recommended it a couple of years ago, but never really gave it much thought up until a saw a bit of it by accident not so long ago.

A very relevant film, even by today's standards whereby our First-World Lives are becoming even more chaotic compared to when this documentary was made back in the early 80s.  The juxtaposition between our Natural world and the man-made, technology-driven world in which we live, is quite remarkable and glaringly obvious. The former focusing in oceans, rock formations, valleys, gorges, and all that took million of years to slowly evolve; while at the other end of the scale is humanity, and it's need to be constantly on the move, always seemingly out of time, to do as many things as possible before it's too late!

Composer, Philip Glass adds the finishing touches with some remarkably haunting scores throughout, and the ending is really quite shocking, as well as thought-provoking. And the film's message is simple - we really do need to slow down and take stock of the world in which we live before we destroy it and thus ourselves. 

 

Koyaanisqatsi

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I've been interested in checking out some documentaries that are more upbeat. I still haven't seen the Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work film but I think it could be Illuminating and funny. I definitely don't have it in me to watch documentaries about people going to prison or dying or that kind of stuff right now. Any recommendations?

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I goggled "fun documentaries" to jog my memory of something I could recommend and Jackass came up.  Somehow, I never thought of that as a documentary! Have you ever watched Spellbound about kids competing in spelling bees? How about Wordplay with Jon Stewart and others rhapsodizing about the New York Times crossword?

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Morgan Spurlock's documentaries tend to be more on the light side. Supersize Me may be the heaviest subject, but it has a light touch.

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2 hours ago, DisneyBoy said:

I still haven't seen the Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work film but I think it could be Illuminating and funny.

It's good. 

The Tammy Faye documentary (The Eyes of Tammy Faye) is really good, too.

I second the recommendations for Spellbound and Wordplay.

The 30 for 30 series offers a lot of non-depressing options.  You don't have to be a sports fan for some (many?), although obviously being one adds another layer of enjoyment; they're ultimately about people as people, not just as athletes.  There's one that's a non-fiction version of Invictus.  One about Renee Richards, the transgender tennis player.  Also one about the Right to Play NGO.  Unmatched is basically Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova interviewing each other, and their friendship is wonderful to bask in.  The Marion Jones documentary (directed by John Singleton) is obviously full of low moments, but I find it ultimately uplifting.  Same with the one about Michael Jordan's life at the time of his public announcement of his HIV status.

The Farmer's Wife (a multi-part episode of Frontline) is fantastic.  It's certainly not all sunshine and roses - no one's life is, let alone the lives of people trying to keep a family farm alive - but it's not depressing.

Similarly, the Up series and the Doctor's Diaries series.

There's a short Smithsonian Channel documentary, Shuttle Discovery's Last Mission, that I love not just because I've been interested in the space program my whole life, but for seeing all these people so emotionally attached to their jobs.

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I have to really recommend a documentary about the Superman film that was never made called The Death of Superman Lives. It's quite a few years old now but it's a really awesome look at the Nicolas Cage Superman movie that got pretty far into production. Some of you may have heard Kevin Smith talking about it over the years and how he was directed to write a big polar bear fight into the script. His anecdote is funny and in the movie but what I really liked about the documentary was the wealth of pre-production artwork that was really interesting. I don't think the film would have been a hit if it had been released but it certainly would have been an interesting spectacle and our first look at the character of Brainiac who has yet to make it to the big screen for some reason.

I also stumbled upon a documentary about the Hollywood actor Billy Hayes on YT, though I think it was just a made-for-tv doc. I had never heard about the actor but he was openly gay in the early days of Hollywood and basically pushed out of the business for it, in spite of being a big box office draw. He ended up having his second career as a designer of celebrity homes while staying with the same partner throughout those years. Apparently he told the studio head who wanted him to marry a woman and stop being openly gay that he would only leave his partner if the studio head left his own wife. LOL that takes serious guts.

I think I'm interested in documentaries having to do with Hollywood and pop culture. Did any of you watch that documentary about the guy who wanted a date with Drew Barrymore? Obviously they didn't end up happily married but I was wondering if this thing was just a goofy film or something worth checking out...

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Ah, well then, I can recommend Weiner,  20 Feet from Stardom and History of the Eagles.

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On 7/6/2017 at 0:29 PM, DisneyBoy said:

I think I'm interested in documentaries having to do with Hollywood and pop culture.

Reel Injun (about how Native Americans have been portrayed in film) is fantastic, as is the Indie Sex series about the presentation of sex in film.  Others that spring to mind:

-Beyond Clueless (about teen movies)
-Miss Representation (not strictly about pop culture, as it covers the under-representation of women in positions of power in general, but the way women and girls are portrayed in the media is a big part of that)
-Moguls & Moviestars (history of "classic" Hollywood)
-And the Oscar Goes To ... (history of the Academy Awards; very glossy, but still worth a look)
-Thou Shalt Not (about pre-Code films)
-The Celluloid Closet (about Hollywood's depiction of LGBT people)
-Good Hair (Chris Rock exploring the various issues surrounding black women's hair)
-The Wrecking Crew (about the studio musicians behind some of the '60s biggest acts) 

What Happened, Miss Simone? and Janis: Little Girl Blue are two good biographical documentaries currently on Netflix.  Life Itself (Roger Ebert) and I'll Be Me (Glen Campbell) are two other semi-recent ones that are interesting and moving.  Madonna's Truth or Dare is definitely worth a look if you haven't already seen it.

There are quite a few pop culture documentaries about fans and collectors.  King of Kong generated a lot of talk (good and bad), but I haven't seen it.  I did see one about a guy who collects VHS tapes, and one about 8-track tape collectors (So Wrong They're Right).

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I have King of Kong on my towering To Watch pile along with Searching for Debra Winger. I also enjoyed Every Little Step about the creation of Broadway smash A Chorus Line.

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19 hours ago, DisneyBoy said:

I think I'm interested in documentaries having to do with Hollywood and pop culture.

To add to @Bastet 's list, This Film is Not Yet Rated is about the MPAA rating system -- how it's membership & methodology are shrouded in secrecy, how there are no clear guidelines or rules for filmmakers or raters to follow, and how violence, sex, and LGBT sex are viewed differently.

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I watched Soaked in Bleach, which is about Kurt Cobain. It's told from the POV of a private investagator, Tom Grant, who was hired by Courtney Love to track down Kurt a few days before his death. It's got interviews with Tom and several other people, recordings made by Tom when he was on the phone with Courtney and also actors portraying several events throughout. So it's like a movie/documentary. Spoiler tag just in case.

Spoiler

I've never thought the death of Kurt Cobain was  anything more than a suicide. This doc didn't really do anything to change my mind but it did raise a few eyebrows. He never actually said it but I think he believes that Courtney Love somehow orchestrated his death and made it look like a suicide. I don't know if I believe that. Courtney was a junkie herself. The way Tom spoke about her and also listening to some of the recordings, she was all over the place. According to Tom, Kurt wanted a divorce and since a prenup was in place, Courtney would get nothing. With Kurt's death, Courtney inherited his estate. I honestly don't think she had the mental capacity to orchestrate his suicide but that's just me. 

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12 hours ago, Qoass said:

I have King of Kong on my towering To Watch pile along with Searching for Debra Winger. I also enjoyed Every Little Step about the creation of Broadway smash A Chorus Line.

I also enjoyed "Every Little Step".  (I must confess though, that as I scrolled down the page and saw A Chorus Line in bold, I thought you were recommending the movie of A Chorus Line.  Ugh...)

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10 hours ago, dusang said:

To add to @Bastet 's list, This Film is Not Yet Rated is about the MPAA rating system -- how it's membership & methodology are shrouded in secrecy, how there are no clear guidelines or rules for filmmakers or raters to follow, and how violence, sex, and LGBT sex are viewed differently.

Yes, thank you!  That was a pretty glaring omission from my list; I had the distinct sense there was a big one I was forgetting, but it just wasn't coming to me.

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"Rush: Behind The Lighted Stage" (2010)

Being a bit of a Rush fan (Canadian rock band going back to the late 60s early 70s), a friend of mine recommended I watch this documentary about their careers, how the three guys met up and "clicked", the highs and lows etc etc, interspersed with the usual concert clips, soundbites from other "appreciative" musicians - Gene "Kiss" Simmons, in particular; and all the usual copy & paste stuff you always find in these "a history" rock-docs. 

But to be honest there's nothing really new here; nothing that most Rush fans didn't already know. And for non-Rush fans, you're not really missing anything. 

It was okay, but nothing special.

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16 hours ago, MaggieG said:

I watched Soaked in Bleach, which is about Kurt Cobain. It's told from the POV of a private investagator, Tom Grant, who was hired by Courtney Love to track down Kurt a few days before his death. It's got interviews with Tom and several other people, recordings made by Tom when he was on the phone with Courtney and also actors portraying several events throughout. So it's like a movie/documentary. Spoiler tag just in case.

  Reveal hidden contents

I've never thought the death of Kurt Cobain was  anything more than a suicide. This doc didn't really do anything to change my mind but it did raise a few eyebrows. He never actually said it but I think he believes that Courtney Love somehow orchestrated his death and made it look like a suicide. I don't know if I believe that. Courtney was a junkie herself. The way Tom spoke about her and also listening to some of the recordings, she was all over the place. According to Tom, Kurt wanted a divorce and since a prenup was in place, Courtney would get nothing. With Kurt's death, Courtney inherited his estate. I honestly don't think she had the mental capacity to orchestrate his suicide but that's just me. 

I never thought that Courtney had Kurt killed. There was a radio show about it i listened to years ago. Most of what they call evidence is Kurt acting irrationally; like why did he load multiple shells in the shotgun if 1 is all it took. But the guy was a heavy duty heroin addict on a pretty big bender, nothing he would i expect to be rational. 

Plus Courtney love does not seem like the type of person to have her shit togeter enough to pull off a murder for hire. Plus she is not a good enough actress to fake her emotion when she read the note at the memorial.

On 2017-7-6 at 10:42 AM, DisneyBoy said:

I've been interested in checking out some documentaries that are more upbeat. I still haven't seen the Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work film but I think it could be Illuminating and funny. I definitely don't have it in me to watch documentaries about people going to prison or dying or that kind of stuff right now. Any recommendations?

I love documentaries about comics. This and the Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian one were great. The amount of work they put into fabricating every last word of a set is amazing, to the point where it has to lose all its funny is really interesting. Joan's huge library card catalog with jokes on every subject was great.

On 2017-5-8 at 3:35 PM, funky-rat said:

Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The Peoples 

I watched this on PBS years ago, American Experience i think. It was super facinating to find out the actual information on something that gets referenced so often. I had no idea about the US congressman that was killed. And the people forced to drink poison at gun point was really sad. It was just amazing how many people followed this crazy conman with stupid sunglasses all the way to Guyana.

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On 7/8/2017 at 6:47 AM, Kel Varnsen said:

I watched this on PBS years ago, American Experience i think. It was super facinating to find out the actual information on something that gets referenced so often. I had no idea about the US congressman that was killed. And the people forced to drink poison at gun point was really sad. It was just amazing how many people followed this crazy conman with stupid sunglasses all the way to Guyana.

I thought the same thing, until I realized how frequently otherwise rational people fall for strong personalities like Jones's (e.g. Manson, Koresh, etc.).  There's definitely something to be said about our susceptibility as human beings to the power of suggestion.  It's downright scary.  In the case of The Peoples Temple the documentary did a good job emphasizing that Jones was, in part, so successful because he targeted the disadvantaged (economically, intellectually, racially, etc.).  If you're someone who has been stepped on your whole life and someone comes along and offers you a refuge of equality and/or acceptance, what do you have to lose?  

I think the real tragedy is that, upon realizing they would be forcing cyanide down their children's throats, quite a few people realized what a huge mistake they had made in following Jones but of course it was much too late.  To this day, the whole thing still chills me to the bone.

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On 5/8/2017 at 2:35 PM, funky-rat said:

Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The Peoples Temple

I wonder how many people under 35 actually know the origin of the popular phrase, "Drink the Kool-Aid"?

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6 minutes ago, AimingforYoko said:

I wonder how many people under 35 actually know the origin of the popular phrase, "Drink the Kool-Aid"?

I'm 45 and most people my age or younger don't know.  I was young when that happened.  Most kids my age didn't pay attention.

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I finally watched Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work and thought it was alright. I think I had already seen that clip of the man heckling her over her Helen Keller joke and since that was one of the best parts of the film the rest wasn't especially revealing (I've also watched a few interviews with her).

The most unexpected part for me was her giving a meal to that photographer who had lost her eyesight. Poor woman. Think they staged that or just stumbled into someone with an interesting story? (boy has reality TV made me jaded)

It was interesting to see a bit of how her stage show developed and then failed to take off and why.

Overall I felt the film didn't do the best job of giving us a sense of just how busy Joan's life really was over the course of a year. Maybe that had to do with when they had pre-arranged to film her, but it seems like a lot of stuff was left out. Wasn't Joan doing QVC at the time that she did Celebrity Apprentice? I was going to complain about the lack of Fashion Police but then it occurred to me that program might have only started after Joan appeared on the Celebrity Apprentice and won.

Maybe if they had broken the film down into months (January, February, etc) it would have been easier to follow. Instead it seemed to just sort of hop around the year.

I couldn't help but feel a little uncomfortable about the influence John had had over those in her personal life. I suspect it's probably like this for most celebrities who are working hard to stay in the game, but it seems like no one's life went unaffected by her showbiz aspirations. Her husband's suicide, Melissa's career (whatever that is), even Cooper and that flaky manager all got entangled in Joan's drive to be a success. I don't begrudge anybody wanting to be a success in Hollywood of course but it's sad to see how everybody else's life can be affected by that in a negative way to the degree where said person ends up feeling completely alone or resented.

Eerie how the film ended with her joking about it being a document of the last year of her life. It wasn't, but Joan didn't last too much longer. Sucks that she had to die getting more plastic surgery.

Did Melissa ever successfully sue the doctors involved in that surgery who also took a picture of Joan on the table?

I wonder if Joan and her former manager ever reconciled before her passing...

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I forgot there was a thread about documentaries, and posted a general alert in the TCM thread, but I'll put out the alert here, too (since others might be in my boat--I can't stream videos, so I'm at the mercy of what's show on TV).

On Thursday night (September 21), Turner Classic Movies is showing: 

Monterey Pop
Don't Look Back
Gimme Shelter
Woodstock Director's Cut
Jimi Hendrix

I think it would be more interesting to see the concert ones in the order in which they occurred:  Monterey Pop, Woodstock, and then Gimme Shelter, so you can see the quick progression (or digression, I suppose).  I've seen Monterey Pop only once, and it was in a theater so I couldn't rewind, but I remember Mama Cass Elliot's reaction to seeing Janis Joplin for what must have been the first time--she turns to someone and you can see her say, "Wow" in amazement.  That doesn't happen any more (much less get caught on camera) because in these days of youtube and whatnot, there really aren't any surprises like that.  And Jim Hendrix setting his guitar on fire to out-do The Who, but it's a little fire and almost reminded me of Stonehenge in Spinal Tap, but it was the first fire I assume, so there's that.

And Gimme Shelter is always fascinating, for the fly-on-the-wall perspective (Maysles, same ones who did Grey Gardens), and realizing just how evil things can be.

Woodstock is Woodstock.  I happen to love it, and can watch Ten Years After's performance of I'm Coming Home on an infinite loop.  (Or is it I'm Going Home? I'm terrible with lyrics and my internet is wonky and it'll be a miracle if this gets posted, so I'm not going to worry about background verification this one time).

I've never seen Don't Look Back and am looking forward to it even though I'm not a Dylan fan (Pennebacker), and I'll watch anything about the short life of Jimi Hendrix. 

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Have any of you seen the movie Whitney Houston: Can I Be Me? I was really moved by it and finally understood so much more about how she ended up the way she did. I didn't know a thing about her assistant/friend Robyn and now I'm not surprised I barely heard of her. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't watched it but if those who have want to discuss it I'm game.

Now, as much as I loved those Deborah Skelton MadTV Whitney Houston comedy sketches, I don't know how I'll ever find them as funny. Whitney was in really, really bad shape and had no friends on her side who could pull her out of her tailspin.

Superstardom seems like just a massive curse, doesn't it?

And once again I'm left with a very low opinion of organized religion. There are moments in this film where we see Whitney praying to God because "only he can fix things that we can't." It's just heartbreaking, first that she thinks that way and second that it might actually have been true in her circumstances.

I was also surprised by how much wasn't included in the documentary. We don't see anything from the reality TV series Being Bobby Brown and no footage of her concerts in the months before she died. In a way that's kind of a blessing, because I don't think anybody wants remember her that way. She was so sick and surrounded by vipers in the end.

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4 hours ago, DisneyBoy said:

I didn't know a thing about her assistant/friend Robyn and now I'm not surprised I barely heard of her. I don't want to spoil anything for those who haven't watched it but if those who have want to discuss it I'm game.

I haven't seen it, but am I correct in assuming the film delved into the fact they were almost certainly in love with each other and almost as certainly involved romantically, yet everyone - primarily the record label and her crazy-ass bible thumper of a mother - worked overtime to not just hide but destroy that (with limited success with respect to the former, since the majority of the public at large seemed not to know, but significant chunks did from jump), only to find themselves thinking "Aw, fuck" when bisexual Whitney entered into a high-profile relationship with a man at the peak of her career, only to have that man be "bad boy" Bobby Brown?  And then regrouped with a narrative in which she was a "good girl" until he came along, despite that being utter crap as verifiable by anyone who knew the slightest thing about her behind the gloss?

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I watched it years ago when it came out on VHS, but I was thrilled to finally came across a stream for Ray Muller's extensive, brilliant documentary "The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl."  She was such a polarizing figure.  She was so talented and made what is still considered on of the best propaganda films ever made -- "Triumph of the Will" -- yet she maintained to her dying day she was not a Nazi. 

Totally worth the three hours. 

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10 hours ago, Bastet said:

I haven't seen it, but am I correct in assuming the film delved into the fact they were almost certainly in love with each other and almost as certainly involved romantically, yet everyone - primarily the record label and her crazy-ass bible thumper of a mother - worked overtime to not just hide but destroy that (with limited success with respect to the former, since the majority of the public at large seemed not to know, but significant chunks did from jump), only to find themselves thinking "Aw, fuck" when bisexual Whitney entered into a high-profile relationship with a man at the peak of her career, only to have that man be "bad boy" Bobby Brown?  And then regrouped with a narrative in which she was a "good girl" until he came along, despite that being utter crap as verifiable by anyone who knew the slightest thing about her behind the gloss?

....yup.

Mainly, I had no clue Cissey was such a bitch. I mean, I watched the Oprah interview and knew she was bitter and bigoted, but I hadn't understood what an active part of Whitney's life she was and how that negative energy was there all along. That she was crapping on the one person who came to her upfront to say Whitney had a drug problem is mind-boggling. Robyn loved her enough to go to her mother whp disliked her with that info in the late eighties...and Cissey didn't respect her?? Damn, that's cold. And Robyn stayed with Whitney through nine years of her screwy marriage to that egomaniac Bobby? That's love, plain and simple. I wonder what it was that made Robin walk away finally. I wonder if Whitney reached out to her after the divorce...that Robyn has kept quiet about Whitney all these years speaks volumes. Meanwhile Cissey wrote a tell-all once her daughter died. Class act, ain't she?

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On 7/8/2017 at 5:47 AM, Kel Varnsen said:

I love documentaries about comics. This [Joan Rivers doc]and the Jerry Seinfeld: Comedian one were great. The amount of work they put into fabricating every last word of a set is amazing, to the point where it has to lose all its funny is really interesting.

I love documentaries about comedians, too.  Until you get a glimpse into that world, you have no idea what hard work it is to get a joke right.  I'll dissect them myself sometimes, to see why a particular word might have been chosen--alliteration?  cadence? 

 

On 7/10/2017 at 4:00 PM, NumberCruncher said:

I thought the same thing, until I realized how frequently otherwise rational people fall for strong personalities like Jones's (e.g. Manson, Koresh, etc.).  There's definitely something to be said about our susceptibility as human beings to the power of suggestion.  It's downright scary.  In the case of The Peoples Temple the documentary did a good job emphasizing that Jones was, in part, so successful because he targeted the disadvantaged (economically, intellectually, racially, etc.).  If you're someone who has been stepped on your whole life and someone comes along and offers you a refuge of equality and/or acceptance, what do you have to lose? 

I believe that was Donald Trump's argument to black people on why they should vote for him.

Do any of y'all watch Book TV on C-SPAN2 on weekends?  It's strictly nonfiction authors, and the quality of presentation is all over the map, and I just hate Q&As (well, the Q part--the As can sometimes overcome the lame Qs)--and you have to be pretty special for me to enjoy having your read part of your book to me.  But there are some real jewels.

One a few months ago was a guy who'd written a book about Jonestown.  I've seen the documentaries out there about it over the years, but this interview (not sure about the book--haven't read it) focused on why Jones was so successful.  As you said, he did target certain groups, but I got the impression he really did want to help them, and wasn't just a maniac looking for followers for his own benefit.  The author of the book said he really wonders what might have become of Jim Jones if his life had gone even slightly differently, that he could very well see him ascending in politics.

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There's a documentary called "Obit," about the obituary writers at the New York Times.  It was on the festival circuit last year, and has been creeping around theaters lately--if that gives you an idea of where you might find it.

What a window on an unknown world.  The writers were stunningly well spoken, and this one woman who had a speaking style that would normally grate (very. precise. enunciation.) gets a huge pass because what she's saying is so intelligent and interesting.  And the guy in the morgue (clippings, not dead people) is straight out of central casting.

I thought it was great.

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I watched Strong Island, Yance Ford's Oscar-nominated documentary about her brother's murder.  The New Yorker has a good summary of the facts of the case:

Quote

 

On April 7, 1992, in Central Islip, a Long Island suburb of New York City, William Ford, Jr., a twenty-four-year-old man, was shot and killed by Mark Reilly, a nineteen-year-old auto-body-shop employee. Reilly had held onto Ford’s girlfriend’s car for longer than the couple had expected the repairs to take. His tow truck had hit them two months before, and a deal was struck whereby the auto shop would fix the damage if they didn’t file a police report. After an argument over the delays, Ford again went to the auto shop and was killed. The grand jury declined to indict Reilly for manslaughter, accepting the district attorney’s findings that, afraid for his life, he had shot Ford in self-defense. More than twenty years later, the investigating officer on the case assured Yance Ford, the director of “Strong Island,” that he had left no stone unturned at the time; it was just an “unfortunate thing.”

In Yance Ford’s powerful, disturbing, and very personal documentary, details are important. What happened in 1992 was the murder of Yance’s own brother, a black teacher, William Ford, Jr., who grew up in the black enclave of Central Islip. He was shot in the chest with a rifle by Mark Reilly, a young white man. The shop’s owner had a record of running a shady business. William Ford had no record and was about to take the entrance exam to be a corrections officer. Ford’s mother, Barbara Dunmore Ford, an educator who founded Rosewood, a school for women on Rikers Island, says in “Strong Island” that she will believe until her dying day that the grand jury of twenty-three white people did not return a true bill because her son was a black man. As the documentary makes plain, the grand jury didn’t care to find out what really happened. The police and the Suffolk County district attorney’s office shielded the white youth immediately, never doubting his testimony that he was frightened of Ford, a short but stocky young black man. As Yance Ford observes to the camera, William Ford, Jr., became the prime suspect in his own murder.

 

It's an infuriatingly familiar disgust -- being big and black turns shooting him seconds after he enters the room into justifiable homicide, no need to bother with a trial, no crime was committed.  The bitter irony that he had applied to be a corrections officer, and that hours before he was killed he'd been on the witness stand, testifying for the prosecution in high-profile case, because he’d seen the aftermath of a DA being shot at an ATM and had chased after and tackled the shooter, really brings it home.

And the film is incredibly personal, beyond even what you'd expect from his sister being the director.  As the New Yorker article continues:

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“Strong Island” is the story of a black family that could not sustain the blow of racial injustice and fell apart. They were doing everything right, and then were destroyed by all the things that they thought they’d left behind in black history.

...

A summary of the case gives no sense of the experience of watching “Strong Island,” in which the visual narrative, put together with subtlety and refinement, unfolds from the story itself. That story is handed from person to person, tied together by the voice of Yance Ford, who, at different moments in the film, reads from the last pages of William Ford, Jr.,’s journal, and from his autopsy report. Here are home movies, sixteenth-birthday parties or college graduations, and photographs from the nineteen-seventies and eighties, Polaroids that have turned into a family archive. Those are Yance Ford’s hands shuffling the photographs, laying them out, and Yance Ford’s voice interrogating the past, face tightly framed. It would be cowardly of the viewer to look away. The film is a form of justice.

One of the most powerful scenes is when his mother discusses her guilt over her perceived failure to keep her son alive.  She says, "I did him a great disservice raising him the way we did.  We taught you kids that you see character, not color.  And many, many times, I wonder how I could have been so wrong.” 

The most haunting is when Yance Ford lets out an anguished scream that fills the room, upon hearing from the investigator that the grand jury's decision not to indict was justified by the facts of the case - her brother had, after all, thrown a vacuum cleaner the month before.  That certainly creates a reasonable fear that justifies the use of deadly force the next time the guy walks in the shop, right?

It's an ugly case, and a familiar case, but the way the family unravels in its aftermath is the real story, and well worth a look.

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I just saw Andy Irons: Kissed by God and highly recommend it. Andy was one of the best surfers in the world in the 2000s, and this documentary (which includes interviews w/ his family and many top surfers) is about his struggle with bipolar disorder and addiction. It's heavy but also very, very good.

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Nothing Like a Dame/ Tea With the Dames is a must for Anglophiles and other fans of any or all the established performers Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith who get together for tea at Baroness Olivier's place and reveal that despite being up for the same kinds of roles virtually their entire careers have evidently been lifelong friends. Apart from some apprehension re  the current frailties (deafness and impaired vision) of the Baroness, there's not much in terms of actual plot but it has many great clips of their lengthy careers. Oh, and the British and US titles have to do with them having been made official UK Dames by Her Majesty (and in the case of Miss Plowright, a Dame in her own right as well as being Baroness Olivier due to her late husband Lawrence). I have to say that since they actually are willing to APPEAR their actual ages, it makes their protests of being typecast and shut out due to age have far more weight than some performers on this side of the Pond  protesting who use every kind of surgery, wig,etc. to try to make themselves look under 50 well past the other side of 70!

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Has anyone else watched They'll Love Me When I'm Dead on Netflix?  It's a recounting of the 50-year struggle to finish Orson Welles' passion project The Other Side of the Wind, and it's utterly fascinating.  Since it's been such a long time, a majority of the people involved are dead, but they get a lot of mileage out of the ones who aren't, particularly Peter Bogdanovich, who essentially played himself in the film.

The whole thing is painted as a tragedy.  Welles was this legendary figure who had to take the most humiliating jobs because he was so broke.  He was also making a movie that was the perfect New Hollywood film, and he was close to being able to put it together just as Jaws and Star Wars were about to obliterate New Hollywood.  

I don't know if it's something that would have mass appeal, but I'm honestly surprised Netflix didn't give it an Oscar qualifying run to try and score a Best Doc nom.  Perhaps they've given up on trying to fight the AMPAS, but given how much the Oscars like to reward movies that are about the film industry, I imagine they'd have had a pretty good change here.

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On 9/29/2018 at 6:56 PM, Blergh said:

Nothing Like a Dame/ Tea With the Dames is a must for Anglophiles and other fans of any or all the established performers Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith who get together for tea at Baroness Olivier's place and reveal that despite being up for the same kinds of roles virtually their entire careers have evidently been lifelong friends. Apart from some apprehension re  the current frailties (deafness and impaired vision) of the Baroness, there's not much in terms of actual plot but it has many great clips of their lengthy careers. Oh, and the British and US titles have to do with them having been made official UK Dames by Her Majesty (and in the case of Miss Plowright, a Dame in her own right as well as being Baroness Olivier due to her late husband Lawrence). I have to say that since they actually are willing to APPEAR their actual ages, it makes their protests of being typecast and shut out due to age have far more weight than some performers on this side of the Pond  protesting who use every kind of surgery, wig,etc. to try to make themselves look under 50 well past the other side of 70!

I enjoyed it a lot. It is really striking though when you compare UK dames to US "dames"- even Meryl Steep who looks pretty natural has to have some kind of work done. These ladies look completely natural.

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I watched the Oscar-winning short Period. End of Sentence. and really liked it.  I wish it had been subtitled, rather than dubbed, or that they'd hired more voice actors because it was distracting to have so many people voiced by each one.  But I'm glad it brought attention to being held hostage by your period in an area where you don't have access to pads and a culture where you're deemed dirty during menstruation, and how a grassroots solution can have a tremendous impact.  It's always wonderful to hear women tell their stories, and when tackling a taboo subject it's even more gratifying, so a documentary about period shaming in rural India is something I'm very much here for.  Plus, Rayka Zehtabchi became the first Iranian-American woman to win an Academy Award, so that's quite the bonus.

I read this in an interview with the filmmakers, and I wish it had been incorporated into the film as it really drives home how important education is -- they talked with a 70-year-old woman who'd never learned what her period was.  As someone raised in a family where periods were talked about just as casually as any other part of life, I always raise an eyebrow at parents who don't talk to their daughters about menstruation before it happens, leaving them confused and scared.  To go through all those decades between menarche and menopause never understanding what was happening to your body each month?!  I can't imagine.

I also learned via interview that when they met Sneha on their first trip, as strong and non-traditional as she was in some ways, she was closed off when talking about menstruation.  By their second visit, six months after the pad machine had been installed and she was earning wages to put towards her schooling for the police force, she was transformed into the woman we saw in the film.  I would watch a documentary just about her.

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I watched Nobody Speak:Trials of the Free press on netflix last night. It's the documantary about the Hulk Hogan Gawker trial. It was interesting, but I don't think I have ever seen a documentary before where everyone involved (at least with the Hogan trial) comes across as just giant assholes. Because everyone involved in the trial: Hogan, the Gawker people, Hogan's lawyer, the judge and the billionaire bankrolling the lawsuit and even the jury (for the ridiculous award, even though I might agree with their finding) all seem like awful people.

There was a second story about a Vegas newspaper that was bought out by a Monty Burns style evil billionaire that was a lot more watchable and I wish that could have been the focus of the movie.

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So many good documentaries, so little time.

I was afraid to watch Dear Zachary but when I finally did...well I am glad I read about it prior because knowing what I was getting into was helpful but still when it got to the point of finding out what that evil woman did to her own child and the pain she caused the grandparents - I was on a full out ten to fifteen minute sob fest.  That one ripped me to shreds.

Have to recommend from NF the Bobby Kennedy For President series, and The Fog of War.  When we have such volatile political times I'm drawn to that subject matter.  In the case of BKFP it all makes me think what might have been.

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On 4/22/2019 at 8:52 PM, Kel Varnsen said:

I watched Nobody Speak:Trials of the Free press on netflix last night. It's the documantary about the Hulk Hogan Gawker trial. It was interesting, but I don't think I have ever seen a documentary before where everyone involved (at least with the Hogan trial) comes across as just giant assholes. Because everyone involved in the trial: Hogan, the Gawker people, Hogan's lawyer, the judge and the billionaire bankrolling the lawsuit and even the jury (for the ridiculous award, even though I might agree with their finding) all seem like awful people.

I don't know if this was covered in the documentary, but the jury became convinced that one of the female editors at Gawker slept her way into the job because she was so young even though it was repeatedly stated that Nick Denton, the founder and publisher who they believed she slept with, was so so gay. I've heard that there are at least 2 films chronicling this story in preproduction now. Daulerio is such an awful human.

The funny thing is that Gawker did some awful things, but publishing part of this sex tape and even outing Peter Thiel are some of their least awful actions. Letting a blackmailer out an executive who worked for one of their competitors and was related to a high ranking government official was one of the worst things Gawker ever did. They got slapped down super hard and fast for that one. Nearly every major American media outlet had a piece excoriating Gawker for that within 4 or 5 hours.

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I watched Fire in Paradise, the short documentary on Netflix about the fire that took out the town of Paradise CA last year and, wow.  I had read about the fire, of course, but it was happening at the same time as a big fire in Malibu, and since I’m in Los Angeles, when it came to visual coverage, I was paying more attention to the local one.

Even just reading, the numbers were staggering – over 150,000 acres burned, over 12,000 structures (nearly 10,000 of them homes) destroyed, $16.5 billion in damage, 85 people (and who knows how many animals) killed, and nearly 90% of the population still displaced - but it’s hard to comprehend that level of devastation, California’s deadliest and most destructive fire. 

To watch people recount that day is on another level.  Especially those whose hope for survival was lying on a newly-poured concrete parking lot because the fire had surrounded them and cut off their exit routes. 

And there's a haunting clip from someone's personal video camera/phone, where he comes down to his friend's house, that he'd tried to reach to help him and his mother out, but couldn't get to them and they didn't make it - they died right there in their car.  The shot of the burnt-out car with skeletons inside as he apologizes to his buddy is shocking, and then you think about how many such images he could capture, given how fast it swept through and how few exit routes there were for an entire population trying to evacuate at once.

It’s frightening to contemplate what has become the new normal here in CA with respect to fires, and that climate change means it’s only going to get worse, and the film does conclude with that point, but it’s really just about a handful of people telling their stories, helping to convey the scope of what went on in that town and how utterly wrecked everyone and everything still is a year later.

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I had several cousins living in Paradise at the time of the fire.  They lost virtually everything.  They got their insurance money and have moved to other places.

Paradise High School's football team is undefeated this season and is moving on to the playoffs.  They were on the verge of the playoffs last year, but they had to end the season because the kids' families had all scattered immediately after the fire.

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I also finally got around to watching LA 92, one of the handful of documentaries released around the 25th anniversary of the L.A. Riots.  It's effective to bookend it with news coverage of the 1965 Watts Riots, showing how little - in the media as well as the criminal justice system - changed in the intervening years.  It's compiled completely of historical footage, with no talking heads or narration, and the filmmakers do a decent job of selecting footage that captures the complicated mix of emotions and experiences underlying the actions shown in that footage.

I like the immersive experience.  I've lived in Los Angeles all my life, so I was here then, but I was only about 20 years old; this really takes me back, but I also inevitably have a deeper understanding of events now, so it's also a new experience.  Without fresh commentary, viewers must see the connections to present-day conditions on their own, but I don't think that's necessarily a flaw; the film does what it set out to do. 

I wish I'd watched all those documentaries together at the time; did anyone do that?  I think it would be good to watch LA 92 as a refresher course,  supplement that by viewing The Lost Tapes: LA Riots, which is a similar format and includes archival footage from lesser-known sources, and then move on to John Singleton's L.A. Burning: The Riots 25 Years Later, a detailed chronicle that explicitly connects past to present and really digs into the validity of rioting as a resistance strategy.  I also want to watch Burn Motherfucker Burn, which I've read also explicitly illustrates unchanged and worsened conditions today.

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Next up in my "good gods, work your way through the backlog of documentaries on your Netflix list" binge was Survivors Guide to Prison.  It's an interesting trajectory, starting out as indeed a (simplistic) guide - what to do if you're stopped, arrested, interrogated, incarcerated, put into solitary, released, etc. - weaving in statistics on why anyone watching might need such information (over 13 million people are arrested in America each year, you're more likely to go to prison in this country than anywhere else in the world, we have more jails and prisons here than we do colleges and universities, etc.) and gradually expanding to a (again, simplistic) larger argument as to why our entire prison industrial complex needs to be completely dismantled and replaced; a for-profit system will never have as a goal anything other making money, and you do that by keeping the cells full and the services (healthcare, education, vocational training, rehabilitation, etc.) sparse.

There's not anything new in it - at least for those paying attention - and it's really broad in scope, so no one aspect gets examined in any depth.  But even those who care and pay attention via the news but don't explore the subject any further can lose track of some of the myriad injustices that are an inherent, deliberate part of the criminal justice system, so it's valuable to have this overview from a variety of people who've experienced or studied that system.  And it covers some topics less common in mainstream coverage, like forced inmate labor, the massive problems with the fact the overwhelming majority of criminal cases resolve via plea bargain, not a trial, and the types of programs shown to dramatically reduce the recidivism rate.

But while it's shallow in the literal sense, it's not facile or glib.  It's a primer, maybe geared towards those for whom much of what was explored in Ava DuVernay's stellar 13th was news.  Actually, it's probably most geared towards those with short attention spans, who'll never sit down to watch or read anything more in-depth on the subject; at least via this, they'll be exposed to the salient information.  It has celebrities, it's fast-paced (almost off-puttingly frenetic to someone like me), it's slickly produced ... on paper, it quite honestly sounds bad, but I think it works for a broad audience without at all being something made for a dumb audience.

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I just got back from seeing a documentary on Galaxy Quest.  It was done by the people who also do Honest Trailers, and there was an Honest Trailer, too.  I loved both.  Of course, I also love Galaxy Quest.  And I totally teared up when they talked about Alan Rickman.  I learned a lot about the struggle to make that movie the fabulous film that it is.

Well worth the time.

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Trying to catch up with some docs to make up my ten or so best of the year list - so enjoyed Linda Ronstadt - The Sound Of My Voice which you can stream from CNN, and today I watched For Sama, which I think will make it to the final Oscar ballot.  I'm still mulling it over, I'm so stricken by the shear determination of people that lived and loved Aleppo and hung on for as long as they did.  Words are just escaping me right now to describe it all.

Tonight or tomorrow I have the David Crosby documentary here to watch, and Apollo 11 is up next on my NF queue.
  

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