2009 - An early 1990’s a PBS documentary made Jesco White famous for “mountain dancing.” This doc goes farther and profiles the rest of his self-proclaimed “outlaw” family. The Whites are low income in one of the poorest states in America, so the film is very much about one family’s way of getting by in a cycle of depression, violence, incarceration and drug abuse. Their defiance is equally hilarious and heartbreaking.
Watch it now on Netflix.
American Juggalo, Sean Dunne, 2011, 23 mins. Juggalos, often-mocked hardcore fans of the Insane Clown Posse meet every August at The Gathering of the Juggalos in Illinois. They refer to fellow Juggalos as family; one says The Gathering is his “one week out of the year to be home.”
This sounds just like the language used to describe Burning Man. Fundamentally Juggalos and Burners are quite similar. Each group has found a place to be accepted as themeslves, take drugs and drop out of their regular lives for a few days. It’s anthropology. Humans like to be part of a group.
If you watch Rich Van Every’s Burning Man - Dripping in Gold 2011, 4 mins, which has no interviews but still does a great job of showing what the community is like, you’ll see the differences too. There is a clear class difference between the groups. Burning Man is very much about art, The Gathering is not. And if we trust the shorts, Burning Man draws many more girls who look like models.
2007 - You see but rarely notice extras. This cute (shall we say feel-good?) little film profiles several extras with illustrative clips from the films in which they’ve appeared. Watch after a long day at work and be happy you’re not an extra, errr.. “background actor.”
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop opens today. You should see it, since it’s equally as funny as Bridesmaids or The Hangover. Isn’t it a bummer that documentaries aren’t ever funny, unless they follow comedians? Tell Herzog to throw a drunken wedding party into his next doc, will you?
Imagine that the Hangover were non-fiction. It would be an anthropological study of American men in their 30s and typical social groupings; a horrifying tale of drug abuse and organized crime; an account of working single mothers and love. Ugg.
There are funny moments in documentaries, indeed. But non-fiction tends to subjugate comedy to SAY SOMETHING IMPORTANT, about like, how Nike is an asshole, or that nuclear weapons are a big problem these days (no really!), or that Klaus Kinski was a nutcase.
The seminal work on why documentaries can’t be funny should be Winnebago Man, a good but not funny film about a hilarious video. Yes yes of course, it has funny moments. But I also learned that humor at the expense of another comes at an emotional cost to which the viewer is blind. Leave it to a documentary to deconstruct something funny and calculate the cost of its humor. Sigh.
Luckily for you and me, there’s a loophole for comedian documentaries. We get to laugh at them. We’re supposed to. The comedians like it! They get paid for it and everything! So go see the Conan film, laugh your knickers off, and don’t think too hard.
2008 - This cat from Maryland spends EIGHT years on one drawing of Marilyn Monroe. Eight! Once complete, he sets out to show the piece to artist David Hockney, who, the artist believes, will recognize his genius and make him famous. The film is about art, obsession and determination, with wonderfully stranger than fiction characters.
2010, 14mins - Rocky Salemmo is a Cohen-brothersian hyperactive bowler hustler from Staten Island. Life lessons from this short: feign drunkeness to win, stay away from booze, drugs, and “bowling alley tramp whores.”
By Sean Dunne.
Say you’re a single / bored / lonely Japanese lady. You hire a “host boy” for an evening. He serves as your sexless prostitute while you hang out in his club. He sells to you only his time and dazzling conversational skills. What a great plan, everything is working great!
Riiiiight. The host boys are wonderful characters, but the lady-patrons steal the show. Midway through, and surprisingly, the film changes gears from foreign little Japanese oddity to a very very interesting social commentary. This one is a gem.
Watch it now on Netflix Streaming.
2010, 6.5 minutes - The story of how the Salton Sea (a lake!) wound up and disappeared from the California desert. A resort town sprung up next to the lake, but now that the sea is gone the town is beautifully disintegraing into the earth. Straight-up lovely.
2011, 5:30 mins: A kid in Copenhagen drops crazy skateboard-esque tricks on a little scooter. A little boy asks, “how do you do it?” And the scooter kid responds, “I practice.” Life lessons all up in this joint!
2011, 6 minutes - Street Artist Ben Eine draws letters on buildings. Because: “at the moment you walk down every fucking High Street and there’s two Pret’s, a Starbucks and a Gap and it’s fucking boring. Who the fuck wants that?”
His work is all over San Franciscoo (map), BTW.