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Docs on DVD More Compelling Than Ever

13 Apr, 2005 By: Jessica Wolf

I don't know if I'm getting older or they're just getting better, but I'm finding that among favorite movies lately are more and more documentaries.

Maybe it's a combination of the two.

After all, I've also become addicted to NPR, and not just during “Sounds Eclectic” programs. Thank heaven for Kurt Indvik and the fact that he also loves the intellectually stimulating — albeit inherently geeky — “Says You” weekly game-show type program. Makes me feel like I'm not the only nerd around here.

I've noticed I not only enjoy watching documentaries much more than I used to, but that I've been very influenced by them lately. I think it started a couple of years ago when I watched Startup.com and was enthralled. I remember thinking: “Wow, they set out to tell one story, but wound up with an even better one.”

I find myself often recalling bits and pieces of recent documentaries when I watch the news, read a book, see a TV commercial — moments of anything from Fahrenheit 9/11 to The Corporation to What the Bleep Do We Know!?

That last one is a doozy. I defy anyone to watch that movie and not think about something. Even if it's just this thought: “I have no idea what I just witnessed.”

The bits that my psyche has collected and cached from What the Bleep are varied and pop up alarmingly often, though I'm not talking to my bathwater or referring to myself as a god or anything. It's funny, too, because of all the documentaries I've watched on DVD lately, that was probably the one I actually enjoyed the least, but not because it wasn't good — it was very good. It just wasn't always enjoyable. The themes are difficult at times and too farfetched for me at others. Still, I appreciate the fact that it makes me think. I get a kick out of the idea that I will forever carry around bits of it in my brain — that it makes me want to read books about metaphysics and peptides.

I enjoy the provocation of thought, even if the piece as a whole didn't quite speak to me.

Mark Achbar, director of The Corporation, had that idea in mind when he put together the DVD for his amazing film. He built in opportunities for viewers to access ideas and people from the documentary in a non-linear fashion through tons of extended interview footage on the disc. He's basically saying: “Here, take what you want or need most. The rest will always be around.”

I love to re-watch moments or interviews from “fun” documentaries like A Decade Under the Influence, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls or The Kid Stays in the Picture. It even works as background noise when you're cooking or cleaning. Well, of course, The Best of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog DVD serves that purpose, too. But that's another thing about the documentaries of today. I find today's documentaries infinitely more entertaining than previous ones.

Documentary filmmakers set out to tell a story, just like feature filmmakers. They set out to entertain, and overall I think they are doing it — sometimes even surpassing feature films, like I've said before about my current favorite, the music doc Dig!, which was not only fun, but inspired a surprising amount of CD purchases among myself and friends I turned on to the film. It also contains one of my favorite movie quotes ever — one that sticks in my head every time I think or talk about the record industry, or if I drive anywhere near the Capitol Records building in Los Angeles. It's a quip from the film's subject, Anton Newcombe: “I don't need some square in a round building to tell me what good music is.”

I'm glad for this shift in my entertainment mentality. I'm glad for the ideas and subject matter and people and music it's made me aware of. And I'm eager for more.

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