Crumb… Yeah, I’m Out Of Clever Titles

“I’m drawing some portraits of girls I had crushes on in high school.”  He then proceeds to name them and describe what made them stand out and what everyone said of them.  “I never had any contact with any of these girls except I played footsie with this one.  Where are they now? 30 years ago.  30 years ago, they’re all middle aged house wives now. Who woulda thought?”

Weird.

Robert Crumb is odd.  I don’t care. I don’t feel bad.  Crumb is odd to say the least… which almost guarantees the movie to at least be interesting.  I hate saying that, but the strange subjects told in the simple manner are often very captivating, and Terry Zwigoff’s movie is no exception.

I said it before, Crumb is odd, and while it is the truth, it should be expected considering where he came from. The movie doesn’t present us with a “look at this weirdo” but instead we get a somewhat damaged man/family doing whatever he can to make it.  Some of it is little things like in an interview it was said “He was unhappy in high school.”  Generic statement.  Generic… but relatable.  And what if there is more to just being able to relate that being unhappy in high school?  That is where his brothers come in.

I don’t want to say the movie is a tragedy but it is tragic.  I applaud Crumb for letting Zwigoff tell this story, because put yourself in that situation: would you want to be so exposed?

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Mockumentaries

Why is This Is Spinal Tap so damn funny?

Obviously the writing is brilliant and the delivered by the actors perfect, but it looks like a documentary about any band.  We buy into it, subconsciously acknowledging that we agree this is what a band documentary would/should/can look like.  The core audience for the movie however is not people who hunt down documentaries, it’s for people who like comedy.  A broader audience.  Yet it makes sense to everyone.

I find it fascinating.  We discuss a lot what makes a documentary and what disqualifies a movie as one, and we have to: It’s a documentary film class, and not without the discussions that make you want to bash your head in because everything you thought you knew is wrong.  But the core audience probably doesn’t do that.  It would be absurd to say documentarians and documentary fans don’t watch Spinal Tap or other mockumentaries but the broad audience accepts it as if it knows what to look for in a documentary.

It would appear that we noble documentary students can interact with the commoners of the outside world if brought together under the right circumstances… Hmm…

Let There Be Light & No Academy Awards

I’ve been watching a lot of Paul Thomas Anderson lately.

There Will Be Blood. Punch-Drunk Love.  I had never seen any of his films.  And then there’s The Master which came out of John Huston’s Let There Be Light.

What an experience.

Watch this movie again.  The ending is what makes it for me.  The interviews and hypnotizing portions are absolutely amazing of course, but when it ends, I wasn’t sure if I should be depressed or feel some bit of hope, much like with PTA films.  They drive away from the hospital, everyone waving at them… Everyone still there.

There’s a shit ton of people still there!  Of course the military didn’t want this thing released, what would people think?!  I didn’t feel beaten over the head with some sort of “War is Hell” message of anything.  I felt like I was watching these men try to gain back something they had lost.  War was the cause of it, yes, but it was so moving.  And then it’s over and there is nothing to do but think of all those rooms still filled with men trying to reclaim something they have lost.

PTA films deal with loneliness.  John Huston narratives usually deal with isolation as well.  The connection is only natural, and quite engaging from masterful filmmakers of different eras.

Capturing the Friedmans On Film

That was intense.

There have been intense viewings this semester, but this one takes it for subject matter.  It really pulls you in and then messes with you because it has forced you to become so involved.  From the opening of the movie with the home video footage you can’t help but be intrigued.  Then shit comes up…  It’s rough.

The problem: everyone has something different to say and I couldn’t find myself convinced of what I think really did or didn’t happen. It was almost like a tease of what it could possibly be like to play detective.  We watched The Thin Blue Line earlier this semester, which was one of my favorites, but while it didn’t seem to intentionally take sides, it left the viewer somewhat convinced of what did happened.  This movie does a great job and bringing the audience in and presenting a lot of different sides and stories, but in the end, we are left inconclusive.

Which works.

The case is fairly inconclusive itself and it is only fitting that the end of the film be as well.  It should make you think. You should be thinking, dammit! What happened? Who is telling the truth?  Who is full of shit, if not everyone?   Why should we leave the screening convinced of what happened.  Morris didn’t convince me, I convinced myself from the evidence presented to me, so I was involved in his movie.  This one didn’t confirm anything, and I was still just as involved in the movie.  I can’t say what happened. Still can’t.  But I was included and the experience gave me things to think about long after it was over.

What more could you ask for in a film?  Who wants to leave a theater opening day of a movie and say “That was fun” and move on, never to ponder it ever again.  Waste of 8 bucks.

Making-Of Documentaries

I grew up watching documentaries of a much smaller sort than we have been watching in class.  Most of these were behind the scenes of how a movie was made or how an album was recorded or how a band came to rise and possibly fall.  To this day, these are some of my favorites and I never thought about why.  But I think I know now:

There is no agenda.

Sure, there should be a purpose.  But these documentaries are of a different sort.  They are (usually) not meant to be persuasive.  They are observant.  They are FAIR.  They literally are documents in the creation of something larger.  When I listen to Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford talk about creating Raiders of the Lost Ark and all that went into it, I simply feel like I am learning and being included in something more.  The movie has impacted so many people, and looking in I can see what it took for everyone to come together and make the impact.

One of the best music based documentaries in my eyes is Metallica: Some Kind of Monster.  I never wanted this movie to end, and it all happened by accident.  The film crew was only supposed to film a promo for the band’s next album for a couple months.  They spent the better part of 3 years watching this band unravel to it’s core, build itself back up by remaking themselves as people and record an album.  Nothing is left out.  The documentarians put in material from the “good days” and “bad days” and you are witness to whatever happens to happen.

When the agenda is just to observe and be inclusive, I feel less inclined to fight the movie for what I should feel.  They give me a simple experience that I desire from all films, and the simplicity implicitly leads to so much more.

Michael Moore vs. Obama’s America

I dislike political documentaries.

Here’s the thing: It is very hard to make a statement in politics that can account for both sides.  In a political film, the agenda is usually persuasion, and the subtlety is what varies.  Maybe you haven’t noticed, but Moore is not subtle.  As a class, we like to tear into him a little bit, and we’re not the only ones.

I don’t feel bad.  He does it to himself.  Not because I don’t agree with with him, which I don’t, but because he doesn’t practice what he preaches. He is a manipulative filmmaker (more than necessary) and younger audiences often go to his movies because they are so accessible.

Fahrenheit 9/11 came at a time when America was worried and confused.  The people who were going to be voting for the first time would see this above any political documentary.   The scene where Moore is asking the people in power to sign their children up for war is one of the most absurd things I’ve ever seen.  He wouldn’t do that, and it is absurd for him to demand it.

However.

It is difficult to be frustrated with young viewers turing to this crap when Obama’s America, a film made almost in response, is so damn dull.  Moore is an ass in my eyes, but hey, he’s somewhat entertaining.  Granted, I do think that the film did poorly because people are a little more sensitive about criticizing Obama than Bush, but the movie sucks, no matter what side you support.  Unfortunately, it brings up a lot of interesting points or things to think about that people are going to brush aside because these people don’t know how to make an engaging film.  It asks more questions than Moore does that are relevant but who cares?

Political documentaries are as frustrating as can be in my most humble of opinions.  It has been said that cinema is political by nature, but spotting movies with an agenda takes me out of it.  I want to be taken in and experience something.  For this reason, I’ll stick with different subject matter.

Still… What Makes Documentary?

This should apply to all documentaries, but will probably only apply to the good ones.

It is almost pointless to try and say what qualifies a film as a documentary or not because there are so many arguments and factors.  In the first chapter of Sander’s book, a good point is made: What makes An Inconvenient Truth more a documentary than United 93? Now, I have never felt the latter a documentary in away way, and I’m sure there are not many who do.  But the point remains, this shit comes up and if someone is very good at B.S. and a convincing speaker, they may very well argue anything could or couldn’t be a documentary.

Something I am starting to notice in the documentaries I like the best (Thin Blue Line, Page One) is the role of the director.  The director is the creative force in control; God, if you will.  As a class, we pick on Michael Moore a lot because frankly, he is unethical and his movies are very entertaining, but pieces of shit as documents.  But instead of thinking about how much I don’t like what he does, I starting thinking about what others do well and why it’s different and then it hit me:

The director needs to step away.

This will not apply in all cases.  In film (or art, in general) NOTHING applies in all cases, but in most of these documentaries I hold in the highest regard, the director is not present.  He is the chief observer and the relayer of information.  But the quality of the film is better when it is presented in the view of the subjects. Always.  Interference is a huge issue in documentary, because it doesn’t always imply Flaherty asking a dude to eat a record, it could be unintentional manipulation of editing or questioning.  Moore is the epitome of interference and manipulation, and while Morris recreates scenes from footage that does not exist, he leaves the story and the character to the actual characters/subjects interviewed.

Documentary and film in general will always be up for debate, but I’m noticing more and more this claim seems to ring true.  Even essay films with directors narrating and dictating the story require them to draw from what they have observed, not what they have contrived.

Hopefully.