Thursday, December 5, 2013

Documentaries You Have to Go to Netflix to Find

Most of the time I get my documentary fix on youtube. But during the periods of my life when I've had access to Netflix, I've found some incredible documentaries that I couldn't always find elsewhere. If you've got a Netflix account, add a few of these titles. (Some may be available to stream, some you may need to get the DVD.)

The Meaning of Food
Chef Marcus Samuelsson discusses the cultural role food plays all over the world. From India to Samoa, there are rituals involving food and eating. Meals can be used to honor or insult each other, to other groups of people, or create a community. Lots of great interviews and insights.

The Wonder of It All
So so so so good. America's moon landing was a huge event in both science and politics, but this is a look at the more human experience of it. Astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, Edgar Mitchell, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt all share their experiences in interviews and archive footage. One of the things they said was that there was SO MUCH research to do that they hardly had time to take in the fact that they were ON THE MOON. Surprisingly moving documentary.

Herb and Dorothy
I liked this one so much that I bought it. It tells the story of a couple from New York...he was a postal clerk, she was a librarian. On their middle class income, they slowly built one of the largest and most important collections of modern art in America. They had 2 rules for their purchases: it had to be affordable, and it had to fit in their modest one-bedroom apartment. After decades of collecting, they owned thousands of works by minimalist, modern painters and sculptors, and their collection has since been donated to museums throughout the United States. Herb and Dorothy Vogel redefined what it means to be an art collector.

American Experience: Earth Days
Awesome look at the series of events that led to the first National Earth Day celebration, and the people who pioneered the "green movement." From Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring," to the first oil crises in the 60's and 70's, this is an awesome look at what led to the first Earth Day, and what still needs to be done to make our existence on this planet sustainable.

I call this documentary "designers porn," because it's full of great design and inspiring artists. An interesting look at the balance that must be found between aesthetics and functionality. Most people don't really think about how a thing is designed unless it has some major flaw--at least I don't. I look at objects differently now. Did you know the first "hand-friendly" potato peeler was created by someone putting a bicycle handle on a regular peeler? Cool, huh?

Another bit of "designers porn," this documentary focuses on typeface design. As I've been learning graphic design, I've fallen more and more in love with typeface design and font websites. This documentary is interesting because it talks about how typeface reflects the aesthetics of a time period.

Nature: Koko
The gorilla who speaks sign language and loves kittens! This documentary threw me for a loop when I first saw it...I was totally overwhelmed by the humanity of an animal and it confused my sense of order for a while. But I've since been introduced to a lot of insights that have helped me figure things out, and I still think this is a fantastic documentary.

So awesome. During the sixties, there was a huge movement to get out of the cities and into nature, and communal living was a big part of that. This documentary follows the people of one particular commune (that's still a commune today), the challenges and benefits of communal living, and how things changed over the years. Warning: Lots of nudity. None of it is explicitly sexual, but it's full frontal male and female nudity. 

Powerful, terrifying, heart-breaking, and IMPORTANT. This tells the story of Jim Jones and the "People's Temple," the cult that ended with cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in the jungles of Guyana. That horrific event had few survivors, but those that did manage to escape Jones' grasp give detailed interviews and share their experiences. A voice of warning and a tribute to tragedy.

Sound and Fury
Iconic documentary about the controversy of cochlear implants. There are lots of members of the deaf community who feel that cochlear implants destroy their community, while others (both within and without the deaf community) who see cochlear implants as a miracle you'd be crazy to pass up. It's a very personal story, focusing on one family and their decision about whether or not to give their young daughter an implant.

New York in the Fifties
New York was in the 1950s what Paris was in the 1920s...this center of art and poetry and literature and performance and ideas. From the beat poets to Andy Warhol, it all started in New York. The entire revolution of the 1960s and 70s truly started in New York in the 1950s.

Girl 27
A disturbing and important story of a girl who was raped at an MGM party in the 1930s and refused to stay silent about it. Sexual abuse was far more common in Hollywood, especially in the 1930s, than anyone wants to admit. The courage of "Girl 27" and her David-and-Goliath story is a powerful one. 

I went through this strange phase of about a week when I was really fascinated with Papua New Guinea...I still kind of am. But it's hard to find good documentaries about it because so few people have visited the isolated tribes that live there. I loved this documentary because it felt so genuine. (You know, parts where the camera crew is dodging arrows.) But it was also respectful. And I was made so aware of the incredible wealth I live in, even under the poverty line, compared to people who live hand to mouth. 

Art of the Steal
This documentary INFURIATED me. A man named Dr. Albert Barnes created an impressive collection of post-impressionist paintings (including dozens of Renoirs, Cezannes, Matisses, and Picassos) with the express purpose of making them available to the public and to art students as a free resource. He specified that the collection should always be used this way in his will, but when he died in 1951, all hell broke loose.  

Ever heard of the 1990 Boston art heist? Yeah, I hadn't either. But somehow, thieves broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and made off with 13 MASTERPIECES, including a Rembrandt and Vermeer's famous "The Concert." The Gardner will stated that nothing could be removed or changed about the gallery, so for years the frames simply remained empty. Are the paintings ever found? You'll have to watch to find out.

The Imposter
A totally alarming and completely fascinating true story. In 1994, 13-year-old Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his hometown in San Antonio, Texas. When "he" was found in Spain three years later, he had an accent and looked completely different. Frederic Bourdin, a 23-year-old Frenchman, managed to convince the family that he was their son. When he was finally found out,  he added even more mystery to the disappearance of Nicholas all those years before. 

It Might Get Loud
Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White all get together and talk about music and guitars and then play each other's songs? So awesome. I learned things about music and creativity from this documentary that I still reference to this day. 

Did you know there's an annual Miss Gay America competition? I have a special place in my heart for drag queens. Maybe I was one in another life or something, but this movie was a great celebration of drag shows and drag queens, but also a great look at what it's like to be gay in America today.

Miss Representation
A great documentary about the glaring absence of women in leadership positions and the boxes we constantly put women and girls in, whether it be regarding their appearance or their gender role or what it is they're "supposed" to do. Great interviews with everyone from Gloria Steinem to Katie Couric.

Small Town Gay Bar
You know, things are getting better for the LGBT community in a lot of ways. But we've still got a long ways to go. This documentary focuses on two or three gay bars located in the Deep South. It's not easy growing up gay in the heart of Bible Belt Mississippi, so gay bars provide a community and a haven for those who are otherwise stuck in the closet. 

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