Dry doc’d

If I sit with you for any amount of time these days, we’ll soon determine whether you’re a documentary person or not. I certainly hold no great prejudice if you prefer to spend your time indulging in other guilty pleasures. As a recovering Angry Birds addict (and, man, was that a tough monkey to shake), I cast no stones. Waste your life as you see fit, because I certainly do.

For me, if I have time to kill, my two greatest guiltless pleasures are long form magazine pieces and documentaries. The subject doesn’t matter as long as the work is done well. I have two people I count on for recommendations (I won’t out them here, because the line at their doors would be too long and they are busy men) and they have kept me well-supplied.

If you’re a frequent reader here, you might have recognizes an uncharacteristic lack of movement around the pages of Rapid Eye Reality. This is due to a lot of things that may or may not be explained some day, but also in part to the fact that I’ve been working to put a lot more in my head than I let out. Fast moving streams carry too many stones, and I’ve been feeling a little less than stoney recently.

As it happens, my wife is a sucker for a good doc, too. Since Netflix streaming found its way into our home, our evenings are more often than not spent watching some documentary or other. Last year, I watched more than 40 docs during my off hours (you can find the list in this post. In January, despite having traveled for a couple of weeks, I managed to sneak in nine documentaries. Here they are in the order I watched them.

  • Blood into Wine (Leader singer of Tool opens his own winery. Grade: C+)
  • I Am Still Here (Self-indulgent Joaquin Phoenix homage to Andy Kaufman that never mentions Andy Kaufman. Grade: B-)
  • Restrepo (NatGeo crew embedded with Afghanistan soliders. Grade: A)
  • Casino Jack and the United States of Money (Two-hour indictment of Washington lobbyists and Congress vis a vis Jack Abramoff. Grade: B+)
  • The Parking Lot Movie (The philosophy of misanthropy and the human condition through the eyes of parking lot attendants. Grade: A-)
  • A Man Named Pearl (Black man moves into white SC neighborhood to fears he won’t take care of his yard, learns topiary and becomes a town’s savior. Grade B+)
  • Spirit of the Marathon (Training for the Chicago marathon through the eyes of several different runners. Grade B+)
  • The Art of the Steal (How the Philadelphia establishment “stole” billions of dollars in modern art. Grade: B+)
  • The Wild and Wonderful Whites (Unflinching, occasionally hilarious, mostly uncomfortable look inside a famously drug-addled West Virginia family: Grade A-)
  • I would gladly spend the 15-18 hours I spent watching those again rather than be forced to sit through “The Town” for two hours.

    So, while I’m not writing as much here as I normally do, I’m not dead (yet). If you need me, look for the warm, red glow of the Netflix home screen. I’ll be somewhere nearby.

    Brad Willis

    Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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    13 Responses

    1. Tom says:

      If you get a chance, and haven’t already, check out ‘Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage’. It’s quite good. I may be a bit biased, as I am a huge fan of the band, but it’s still a great story.

    2. Jen says:

      Thanks for posting your doc grades, I’ll put some on my Netflix list. One I think you might like is Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer. Just a tip.

    3. pokerpeaker says:

      Ah so you watched Spirit of the Marathon eh? Loved it and I watch plenty of docs just like you. How can you not be inspired to run at least a half (and really, the full) afterward? I watched the trailer (it’s long) several times a week before my first marathon last year.

    4. change100 says:

      Now that you’ve seen I’m Still Here, you must see Exit Through the Gift Shop. Even if you’ve already seen it, watch it again with that perspective.

    5. otis says:

      Change–have seen both with the same eye. Remind me to babble about it in Brazil.

    6. Astin says:

      A few recs, if I may be so bold:

      Waking Sleeping Beauty is worth a view. An inside look at Disney’s turnaround from The Great Mouse Detective into The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, etc.. Politics, drama, economics of the Mouse House.

      Also, one I saw a few years back that you might have caught – We Feed The World. Another look at the disparity in food distribution between wealthy and poor nations.

      You saw Dear Zachary I see, so no need to recommend that one.

      David Wants to Fly – A follower of Transcendental Meditation digs deeper and starts questioning this seemingly benign organization.

      Zombie Girl – 12-year old girl makes a zombie movie in all seriousness.

      Have you seen Prom Night in Mississippi? Nothing quite like Morgan Freeman battling racism at a high school with a segregated prom.

      The World According to Ion B – A homeless collage artist in Bucharest is discovered in his 60’s after surviving Ceausescu’s regime.

      A Film Unfinished – Haven’t seen it myself, but have heard great things about it. How the Nazis fabricated a “documentary” propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto.

      The next two were generally enjoyable, but a bit slow and not at the top of my list:

      A Good Man – To subsidize their sheep farm, a farmer and his quadriplegic wife open a brothel.

      The Tiger Next Door – A former meth-addict biker in Indiana raises tigers in his backyard.

    7. Astin says:

      Oh, and the Hot Docs Documentary Film Festival happens in Toronto every year – end of April/beginning of May. Just sayin’.

    8. Pauly says:

      “Inside Job” is a must see.

    9. Pauly says:

      To clarify… “Inside Job” is about the financial implosion and currently in select theatres and should not be mistaken for a 9/11 documentary with a similar title.

      Before some of your readers jump on the Banksy “Exit Through the Gift Shop” bandwagon, I suggest that they first see “The Mona Lisa Curse”… it’s narrated by legendary art critic Robert Hughes and puts the last 50 years of the contemporary art world in perspective. If if you’ve already seen Exit/Banksy, then you should still check out Mona Lisa Curse.

      Other suggestions:

      – “Collapse” (about peak oil)
      – “Athene’s Theory of Everything” (about quantum mechanics and neuroscience)
      – “The American Dream” (about how the real money system works — watch it here: http://bit.ly/g4Nkvc )
      – “Quants: The Alchemists of Wall Street” (number crunchers)
      – “Dope Sick Love” (East Village junkies)
      – “Scratch” (about hip-hop DJs)

      And I’d also recommend random “30 for 30” sports docs on ESPN… “Once Brothers” was amazing.

    10. otis says:

      Thanks for the recommendations, folks. A few in there I haven’t heard of yet.

    11. G-Rob says:

      Really, you’re not feeling well-stoned?

      Give me a call!

    12. Wolynski says:

      I would recommend the Yes Men documentaries. “The Yes Men Fix The World” is beyond funny. And “Herb And Dorothy” about two unlikely art collectors.

    13. Ten Mile says:

      The new site Foodily features millions of recipes from hundreds of sites and users can plan and share eating events on Facebook. Created by former Yahooer Andrea Cutright, think of it as a full-service social network for foodies.

      From the recent Bob Rankin News Letter.