Tuesday, May 27, 2008


To read my blogs, you may think I'm some kind of documentary connoisseur or something, but I'm really not. I mean, I didn't even see "An Inconvenient Truth." However, I have seen three documentaries lately that I think are really exceptional. All three of these have really stayed with me, and even (in the case of Dr. Bronner) months later, I am still thinking about it. The first was "Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox" which I wanted to see because I was familiar with Dr. Bronner's soap, (available at any health food store) and it's most significant characteristic: the nearly incomprehensible rant that is printed on each label. Or really, it's more like a series of rants on each label. It's all about themes like Dr. Bronner's idea of an ALL-ONE religion, and other sort of hippie, out-there stuff, which is a delight to read while you're in the shower. The film focused on the man, his family, his long history in soap-making, and his idea to use his labels to communicate his important message to all mankind. But ultimately, the film is REALLY about the classic question about where the line is between genius and madness.

The next documentary I can't stop thinking about was "Young @ Heart" about a group of elderly people who are in a chorus which tours internationally. What is notable is that they sing rock-and-roll songs, usually with more energy and gusto than people half their age. What set this film apart, for me, is the way the songs they perform become profound statements on their own experiences of aging. The way aging is viewed in this film isn't sad at all, but just a path that we all must take someday, and one that has certain shared ups and downs. I loved this one scene where the director had handed out CDs for the members to listen to when they practiced at home. The seniors weren't sure how to use the CD -- which side was up? Would it play? Get scratched? This guy Lenny was my favorite. He sang "Purple Haze" but consistently forgot the words! Haze? It's the haze of old-age dementia. The saddest moment, though, was when Bill, all hooked up to his oxygen and everything, had to sing "Fix You" by Coldplay by himself, even though it was supposed to be a duet. His friend died before he could sing. I should note that some of the people in this film have downright amazing voices, and Bill is one of those. His bass notes resonate like a much-younger Broadway performer. And those with less talent make up for it in pure exuberance!

The documentary "The King of Kong" was truly the funniest. For something that is unscripted, the amount of laugh-out-loud (yet unintentional) humor was just great. The success of this film lies in its characters, and the way the story was edited and presented. I was on the edge of my seat! I laughed, I cried (honestly!). The plot starts off like this: nice guy named Steve Wiebe from Redmond, WA is a bit of a loser and upon losing his job at Boeing (even though his life-script said he was supposed to have been a lifer) he brings a Donkey Kong game into his garage and sets out to break the high-score record. The record was set in, like, 1982 by a total jackass named Billy Mitchell who looks a lot like Paul Mitchell (hair guy), only his hair is even more helmet-y and his face even more horsey, buck-teeth and everything. This guy thinks he's hot-sh*t, with a trophy wife and everything. The story centers around Steve Wiebe's quest to break Billy Mitchell's record, which he does, and he tapes it as proof. The "governing body" of these types of records, to whom Steve submits his tape, called Twin Galaxies, is a whole other hilariously inept cast of characters. Twin Galaxies is, unbelievably, in cahoots with none other than Billy Mitchell. I won't give away the ending, but lets just say it's a nail-biter, a heartwarming story of good vs. evil. Steve is a classic good guy, and Billy a wonderful villain -- oh, the humanity! I can't recommend this enough.

All three of these films prove that documentary films can deliver a wonderful experience of story, character and suspense, every bit as much as a fiction movie can. I am not sure that I knew that before. My experience of these films has made me want to see more documentaries. Recommendations accepted...