From Nanook of the North through to the 4 chapters surrounding the West Memphis Three, documentaries have long enthralled their often ignorant audiences with true-life portraits of extraordinary (and sometimes ordinary) events in time. Here at Jordan & Eddie we’ve decided to give some credit to this oft overlooked feature genre, and name 5 titles each that deserve to be seen.
My five choices encompass dissections of popular-culture and storytelling; in film, gaming and comics. I believe it is important for the full appreciation of art (or in some cases trash) to delve a little deeper into what motivates the creators and the hard-core fans, and gain a different perspective from which to form a critique.
Here are five documentaries that you owe it to yourself to see:
5. Not Quite Hollywood (2008)
There are few cinema fans as passionate as Quentin Tarantino, and here, along with other interesting contributors including James Wan, Leigh Whannell and Dennis Hopper, he raves and rants in the manner he is known about the glorious hey-day of Australian exploitation. Featuring clips and insight into an abundance of raunchy, incomprehensibly violent and shoddy films such as Alvin Purple (’73), the recently remade Patrick (’78), The Man from Hong Kong (’75) and Turkey Shoot (’82), Not Quite Hollywood is a documentary that makes me proud be an Aussie, and simply demands to be discovered and enjoyed.
Related Movie: Those that haven’t seen Mad Max (1979) or its 2 sequels should soon see that fixed.
4. Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse (1991)
Previously hard to find, but as of last year packaged together beautifully with both versions of the film in the collectors edition blu-ray Hearts of Darkness demands to be seen by all who question the vision and involvement of renowned directors on their major works. From monsoons, to Marlon Brando attending the set overweight, Martin Sheen having a heart attack and the helicopters and other equipment commandeered by locals, Apocalypse now showed that not only is war hell, sometimes making movies about them can be too.
Related Movie: Apocalypse Now…
3. The King of Kong (2007)
Pure joy in a documentary; more exciting than a dozen blockbusters and more suspenseful than a handful of thrillers. The King of Kong is absolutely addictive viewing and a pleasurable experience you do not want to miss.
Related Movie: Mallrats; kevin Smith’s oft maligned but adolesantly enjoyable second feature.
2. Crumb (1994)
Crumb is a fascinating, insightful, living, breathing insight into the life of one of America’s most influential and unflappable artists, praised by the late Roger Ebert as one of his ‘Great Movies’ and revered as one of the finest documentaries ever made. High praise indeed, though duly warranted. From his early cartoons mocking old high-school nemesis’ through to Fritz the Cat and other well-known comic characters, the life and mind of Robert Crumb are deceptively intricate treasure-troves worth mining, and this 2 hours we get to spend in his intimate company is a truly one of a kind experience.
Related Movie: The HBO production American Splendour, in which Paul Giamatti exquisitely plays lower-class cult writer Harvey Pekar and Crumb himself his portrayed by a spot-on James Urbaniak. Seriously, this movie is damn near perfection.
1. The American Nightmare (2000)
A dissection of the inspiration behind the severe cinema movement starting with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in ’68 and continuing through to Halloween in ’78, Adam Simon’s outstanding film essay The American Nightmare is essential viewing for those with even a passing interest in the horror genre, and through its sheer intellect, insight and earnestness remains my favourite documentary. Featuring incredible input from directors George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), John Carpenter (Halloween), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left) and David Cronenberg (Shivers), as well as Tom Savini and various film experts, this exploration of our fears and anxieties will cultivate your love for nightmare movies and its principle can best be summed up in the words of Craven himself:
“I think there is something about the “American Dream”, the sort of Disneyesque dream if you will of the beautifully trimmed front lawn, the white picket fence, mom and dad and their happy children, god fearing and doing good whenever they can; that sort of expectation, and the flipside of it, the kind of anger and the sense of outrage that comes from discovering that that’s not the truth of the matter, I think that gives American horror films in some ways kind of an additional rage…”
If you’ve never seen the titles featured, particularly The Last House on the Left and Shivers, go in with an open mind and be prepared to come out with an altered opinion and newfound passion.
Related Movie: Wes Craven’s exceptionally nasty video nasty Last House on the Left.