Category Archives: Documentary

A DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE

I last watched this back in 2012, but decided to watch it again as it is a very good documentary about movie-making.

It starts off in the late sixties when films were made big and starred The Kirkster amongst others, then moves onto the seventies when new directors started experimenting and made films that were about real people and real life. By the end of the seventies they were making films like Star Wars and Jaws, pure escapism and more uplifting. It was quite a decade really.

There are interviews with people like Francis Ford Coppola, Bruce Dern, Julie Christie, Roger Corman, Sydney Pollack, Peter Bogdanovich, and Dennis Hopper.

I have seen many of the films mentioned, but there are just as many that I have not seen, so I am going to seek some of them out.

A very good watch if you like a bit of film history.

Date watched: February 8th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 11

George Harrison: Living in the Material World

This is a 208 minute documentary about George and his life before, during, and after The Beatles.

And despite the long running time it is interesting all the way through (although I did watch this in three sessions). There is plenty of archival footage, a lot of which I have never seen before, interviews with several people including Paul, Ringo (very funny at times), Eric Clapton, his wife Olivia, Ravi Shankar, Phil Spector (before he went to prison), Jane Birkin, Patty Boyd, Eric Idle, Tom Petty, and plenty more.

A lot of the film looked at his spiritual beliefs and how it made it’s way into his music. There were various interviews with him and he seemed like a very decent chap, very down to earth, and bit of a rebel in some ways. Just the like the other Beatles he got a bit annoyed with the others towards the end and was just as tired as being a Beatle as the others, although it seems later in life he missed his fab four days.

Nothing was mentioned about his plagiarism problem with “My Sweet Lord” even though they did spend some time on the song. It seems he genuinely did not intentionally copy the original song “He’s So Fine” by The Chiffons, at least not consciously, but the similarities are obvious.

So this is a very worthwhile watch for Gerorge fans, and Beatles fans.

Date watched: January 29th and 30th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 8

The Man Who Would Be Polka King

The title of this film got me hooked, especially the “polka” part because I like a little polka every so often.

This is the true story of Jan Lewan, a Polish immigrant who wanted to make it big in America, so he decided he was going to be the Kurt Cobain of polka (without the drugs and attitude).

The story though turns bad as he basically starts a ponzi scheme to fund his polka world domination plans. It is actually another very depressing story of a musician who goes off the rails a bit, but at least he doesn’t die (although he almost did in jail).

It is hard to feel sorry for him even though he seemed to be a happy and genuine guy who just wanted to realise his dreams, but he just went in too deep. It is also hard to feel sorry for some of the people, mostly retired persons, who invested a lot of their money into something that was obviously a bit dodgy right from the start. It was pure greed. When asked in interviews by the director about what happened in prison to him (he was shivved and barely survived), they just got plain nasty and wished openly that he had died.

The whole thing was shot in a kind of 1980’s style video-taped look which suited the story, and at only 69 minutes it is an easy watch. There is a comedy film based on this story on Netflix starring Jack Black, so with the background story fresh in my mind I will watch it next.

Jan is now out of prison and is back into his polka, I would say very much on the straight and narrow this time.

Date watched: January 26th
Score: 8/10
Film count 2018: 6

Cobain: Montage of Heck

I had been wanting to see this for a while, but was not able to find it on DVD or elsewhere, so when I found it on Netflix in the “just added” category I immediately watched it (just after finishing Death Race 2000).

It is a well made documentary of Kurt’s life from birth to his death in 1994 (only a few weeks before Ayrton Senna’s death…bad year). There is a lot of archival footage which mostly came directly from his family, along with audio recorded by Kurt before his Nirvana days. There are also interviews with his mother, father, sister, ex-girlfriend, Krist Novoselic, and Courtney Love of course (this documentary was her idea). Dave Grohl was interviewed for the documentary, but for various reasons he was left out.

Kurt was obviously talented early on, but also quite troubled due to his personality and family troubles. Things only got worse when Nirvana got big, and he met Courtney.

There were many shots of pages from his diaries and notebook scribbles (done through some nifty animations) that showed just how disturbed he was, it was hard to read at times.

Buzz Osboune, a close friend of Kurt’s, and the founding member of The Melvins criticised this film, saying it was “90% bullshit”. However, Krist came out saying Buzz talks like that sometimes, so who knows what to believe. There were some animated scenes depicting what Kurt had wrote about in his diary that did seem just a bit too far fetched, and from what I have read about Kurt it seems to be nothing more than his dark humour.

As the film nears the end it gets quite depressing, especially in the home videos taken by Courtney showing an obviously drugged-up Kurt. The scene where they give baby Frances Bean her first haircut is a downer.

So it is a fascinating, sometimes hard to believe, and ultimately sad look at the life of Kurt Cobain. After you finish watching this, put In Utero on the turntable to cheer yourself up.

Date watched: January 25th
Score: 8.5/10
Film count 2018: 5

Williams

This is a documentary about Sir Frank Williams and his racing team.

Actually, it is split into three main themes. The first tells the story of Frank and his rise to fame as one of the greatest privateer teams ever in Formula 1. A lot of the story is also devoted to his wife, Ginny, without whom the team probably would not have survived. Then there was the tale of Sir Frank’s car crash which left him a quadriplegic, and his recovery which Ginny had a lot to do with.

While there was plenty of Formula 1 history there were a few blanks including nothing more than a few seconds of Ayrton Senna’s death, and very little about the team’s successes apart from the early eighties. But, the rest of the story was well told and focussed mainly on Sir Frank, Ginny, and their daughter Claire who is now running the team.

Ginny died from cancer in 2013 so there is only archival footage of her. There is some footage though of her talking to a writer friend which reveals a lot about Sir Frank himself. What is clear about him is that he cares for very little except motor racing.

So this is an excellent watch for Formula 1 fans, and the human side to the story may appeal to those who are not. Either way it is a well made and told story, and an excellent start to another year of film watching.

Date watched: January 6th
Score: 9/10
Film count 2018: 1

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest

This is a documentary about one of my all-time fave hip-hop acts, A Tribe Called Quest.

It is basically a history of the band, but towards the end looks at the falling out between Q-Tip and Phife Dawg, then looks at Phife’s diabetes problem.

There are plenty of interviews with the band members as well as other acts such as De La Soul, Beastie Boys, and a Jungle Brothers member. There is also a lot of archival footage, as well as footage from Rock the Bells concerts which they headlined. Hip-hop gigs don’t seem to be all that good to me, it just doesn’t seem to work as well live, but maybe you have to be there.

Phife Dawg’s story is a bit sad. He was addicted to sugar which lead to a kidney transplant with his wife donating one kidney, but it did not take well and he had to have another transplant in 2012, and he died last year due to complications with diabetes.

The film had some great graphics, especially in the opening sequence (same as in the poster below).

This is more for A Tribe Called Quest fans than anyone else, but it is well made and somewhat interesting.

Date watched: December 28th
Score: 7.5/10
Film count 2017: 145

Reincarnated

This is a documentary, produced in part by Snoopadelic films, about Snoop Dogg’s visit to Jamaica to become a rastaman… supposedly.

Snoop claims a few times that he felt he was a born rasta, so he needed to go to Jamaica, cut a reggae record, meet Bunny Wailer, convert to rastafari, and of course smoke plenty of weed. He did all this, although he just didn’t seem all that sincere about converting to rastafari, or was at least too stoned to take anything seriously. As it turns out Bunny Wailer was not too pleased after the film was released.

From Wikipedia: Bunny Wailer made a statement where he indicted Snoop of “outright fraudulent use” of the Rastafari faith.

I thought the portrayal of rastafari faith in the film seemed a bit too stereotypical, they basically seem to like saying “Jah Rastafari!” a lot, then smoke plenty of ganja.

There was a bit of Snoop Dogg history interspersed throughout the film, including his days as a drug dealer, as well as his short time as an actual pimp. He seems like a very mellow fella now, but that will mostly be down to the many blunts he consumes. His daughter sang one of the songs on the album he recorded in the film.

Not essential watching.

Date watched: December 3rd
Score: 5/10
Film count 2017: 140

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