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Chicks W/ Dix
Six Documentaries Worth Considering
I strongly like good documentaries and greatly detest bad ones. The following may have gone under your radar but come highly suggested and represent a varied assortment of subjects.
Shut Up & Sing – The Dixie Chicks had far more brains and “balls” than most of the so-called heartland in the run-up to the fabricated Iraqi invasion in 2002-’03. This video follows the Chicks descent in country music oblivion/ purgatory after lead singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed to be from the same state as President Bush from the stage of a London concert venue in the days prior to the start of the war. Country radio dropped the DCs from their playlists and concert promoters similarly shunned them in venues around the South and Midwest. (Toronto is notably shown as adding extra Dixie Chicks concert dates – another damn reason to love Canada. My hometown of Indianapolis is regrettably shown among the backboneless blacklisters.)
Shut Up & Sing admittedly plays as a bit of a self-serving vehicle for the Dixie Chicks at times, but it chronicles well Natalie Maines’ cathartic journey from her unintentionally inflammatory London comments to basically giving a middle finger to the entire country music establishment. Bandmates Emily Robinson and Martie Maguire also provide plenty of perspective on being in a band with Maines, her explosive comments, and the reaction they generated. A sweet personal bonus was the footage of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith playing on the “Taking the Long Way” album sessions. The recording of “Taking the Long Way,” many of whose songs are a reaction to the blacklisting and sundry threats the group received in retaliation to Maines’ comments, forms a backdrop for Shut Up & Sing.
Senna- Brazilian race driver Ayrton Senna remains a polarizing and somewhat enigmatic figure to the generation who witnessed him win three Formula 1 world driving titles before tragically dying in 1994 at age 34 during the San Marino Grand Prix. One need be neither a racing afficianado nor know anything about Senna to revel in this deeply layered, well-edited film. Senna reveals much about Brazil, both its wealth and squalor, as well as the egg-shell fragile egos of some of the world's richest and fastest men. As soon as the film ended, I queued it up again for an immediate replay. Highly recommended for anyone desiring a glimpse into Brazil, anyone who has never heard of Ayrton Senna, and for an enlightening look at the seamy underbelly of top-flight auto racing.
Catfish – Examines how the internet and social media allow and encourage individuals to portray themselves misleadingly. Twenty-four year-old New York City filmmaker Nev Schulman develops a romantic interest with a 19-year-old woman from Michigan named Megan. Only their relationship is largely carried out via Facebook and then moves into the realm of phone conversation and culminates finally in a face-to-face meeting several months later. Predictably (or we wouldn’t have a documentary film here, would we?) nothing turns out quite at face value. Beyond that, I’ll stay mum as I want you to watch it without knowing key ins and outs.
The film critic from the Denver Post: “At the end of this exquisitely poignant film, it’s clear we humans are going to need a refreshed emotional skill set if we’re to make sense of the real relationships we forge in our virtual worlds.” True enough, but every match.com date I ever experienced had already confirmed that sentiment in spades.
Questions for viewers, past and future, of Catfish to consider: I had this nagging feeling as I watched that this was all a tad too contrived and that we, the audience, were being put on. Was all of this simply staged? And if not, would Schulman’s reactions have been completely different if this wasn’t being filmed? In other words, who is more disingenuous here, Nev or his love interest on the other side of the computer screen?
Trudell – I had never heard John Trudell's name before watching this compelling documentary, but he’s been central to several historical events that I’d followed as a child, including the 1973 siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota between the Sioux and BIA agents as well as the occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969-1971. In ‘79, Trudell’s wife and three children were burnt to death in a suspected arson fire at the Duck Valley tribal reservation in Nevada. The fire remains suspicious and unsolved, and the FBI is often cited as a likely involved party.
Trudell is a morally and intellectually powerful thinker and speaker. His words and delivery are hypnotic and he comes across like a sage rapper-rocker-poet. Trudell possesses a pronounced Bob Dylan vibe and his message transcends Native American causes and applies impeccably to current economic and political reality. It’s easy to envision, for instance, OWS types applying John Trudell’s words and strategies to their own cause. Trudell is well-edited and is well worth a look.
Religulous – Bill Maher is a smarmy son-of-a-bitch and even if you fully agree with his assumptions re. religion, he is difficult to swallow in large doses. Having said that, Religulous is often funny and thought-provoking and is an atheist’s delight. If you’re agnostic, you’ll probably still like it a lot. If you’re a fundamentalist anything – Muslim, Chrsitian, Jew, or Hindu – you’ll probably hate it and be moved toward violence. (If you’re a Buddhist of any ilk, you’ll probably remain serene watching this.) The scene of Maher interviewing the vapid amusement park Jesus is worth the rental price alone.
Religulous is basically Maher’s piss in the face of organized religion and toward the notion of a supreme deity period. Unless you are completely mentally infantile [see above], it’s worth watching once. Among Maher’s points: if your religious assumptions can’t stand a little scrutiny, what’s their basis anyway?
Boy Interrupted – The shortest critique for this film might be, “Hard to watch but impossible to turn away from.” Evan Perry commits suicide at age 15 in this documentary chronicled by his film-making parents, Dana and Hart Perry. However, the biggest surprise for me was that he made it to 15. Evan seemed born to die, flirting with suicide by age five and absolutely intent upon it by age eight. (One of his myriad therapists called the 8-year-old Evan, “The scariest child I have ever met.”)
Evan suffered from manic depression and the fact that his parents filmed nearly everything he did from the womb on adds a definite level of intimacy to Boy Interrupted. Navigating the minefields of middle school and high school with Evan and his parents is harrowing and, of course, Evan ultimately chose not to navigate it. Boy Interrupted is compelling on a number of levels but admittedly, is the most emotionally numbing experience by far of the fare listed here. The hyper-kinetic background of New York City certainly adds to the film's effect. The fact that so much of Evan's life was filmed may ultimately serve psychiatry to learn from his case and to help other parents avoid the Perry's fate.
Saw only a portion of Leone Stars, about amputee soccer players who were maimed by the lengthy civil war in Sierra Leone. Looking forward to viewing it fully and seeing if it expands this list. Feel free to add your own documentary suggestions below or to comment on the suggestions listed above. Thanks for reading/ KM