Baraka (1992) Written by Constantine Nicholas and Genevieve Nicholas Directed by Ron Fricke
When Seth told me that his brother had selected a movie to be reviewed, I wasn’t surprised. The shocker came that he had chosen me to do it, and as the title was given, for a brief moment, I thought my brother-in-law was forcing me to watch a movie about Barack Obama because he wanted to test me.
Luckily, I was wrong, but still, a little perplexed as Seth further explained it to me. I am not a cinephile. I’m just a woman who likes what she likes.
The One and Only Dick Gregory (2021, written & directed by Andre Gaines)
Before watching this documentary, I can’t say with confidence that I knew who Dick Gregory was. I’d certainly heard the name, but beyond that, details were sparse. But, if you were like me, then Gregory was a stand-up comedian born in St. Louis. He came up in the 1960s alongside the new wave of Black American comedians like Nipsey Russell & *gag* Bill Cosby. Gregory’s breakout performance came at the Playboy Club in Chicago as a stand-in for their regular comedian. This led to gigs on popular television programs and a general acceptance by the mainstream media industry.
The Donut King (2020) Written by Carol Martori Directed by Alice Gu
When my patron Matt first picked The Donut King, I wasn’t sure what angle to take for the review. This was before I watched the film, but it became evident to me how to talk about the documentary during my viewing. The film centers around the “too good to be true” promise of “the American Dream” and the impact chasing this unattainable myth has, particularly on immigrants & refugees, desperate to make something of their lives and raise up their families. The cost of the pursuit is poison in the veins, a direct product of the ravenous inhumane Capitalism American specializes in fomenting.
Hemingway (2021) Directed by Ken Burns & Lynne Novick
In college, I was assigned some Hemingway to read for the first time. If I remember correctly, the first piece I read was “Soldier’s Home” and then “Hills Like White Elephants.” It was explained to me by an English professor that one divided among academics & students was Hemingway vs. Faulkner. I always felt a greater affinity to Hemingway. I can’t say I read much beyond his short stories or knew much about him as a person. There was a consistent viewpoint that he was a misogynist, but I found his stories haunting & heart-aching. Two decades later, I watched this documentary and learned how complex he truly was.
I became a huge Adam Curtis fan a couple of years back when I watched his documentary Hypernormalisation. He can articulate the sentiments I feel about humanity’s current state, this looming sense of dread about a very uncertain future. Even better, he can go back in history and outline how we came to be in this state. Hypernormalisation outlined how so much of the world has come to accept capitalism’s sustained misery and just stop believing there can be anything else. I Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, subtitled An Emotional History of the Modern World, expands on that documentary’s ideas. We follow individuals from around the world as their stories reflect more significant movements happening in society.
Scandalous: The Untold Story of The National Enquirer (2019) Directed by Mark Landsman
While this documentary is clearly inspired by The National Enquirer’s connections to Donald Trump, that only comes into play in the third act. Most of the film is about telling the chronological story of the tabloid’s rise to prominence and the moment in American culture that sparked its rocket-like trajectory. At the center of the paper’s inception was Generoso Pope, Jr. His father was a New York powerbroker who used his papers to influence politics in the state. His son took over upon his father’s death but went in wildly different directions. He bought The Enquirer and turned it into a reasonably salacious rag that featured gory pictures of the aftermath of car accidents and murders. It was a lot like some of the chan boards are on the internet now, a place for people to get sick thrills.
Class Action Park (2020) Directed by Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III
In 1978, businessman Eugene Mulvihill opened Action Park in Vernon Township, New Jersey. The park became famous throughout the 1980s and 90s for having some of the most dangerous and ill-conceived rides in the country. For example, there was a waterslide with a vertical 360-degree loop that resulted in people getting stuck or breaking bones. There was the Alpine Slide, a downhill sled ride without rails on a smooth concrete trench that caused numerous injuries and a couple of deaths. The documentary uses tons of file footage of the park, from marketing materials to guests’ personal home movies.
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story (2020) Written by Ron Cicero Directed by Ron Cicero & Kimo Easterwood
I was ten years old when Ren & Stimpy debuted, but I was never anything close to a fan. This was simply because I lived in a rural area that didn’t even have cable lines running to the houses on my street. We were a single income household with four kids, so my parents didn’t really see a value in paying for satellite service either. So for me, this whole phenomenon passed me buy despite my being the right age to become enamored with the series.
In 1991 an ambitious project began in the wilderness of Arizona. This was Biosphere 2, a three-acre structure built to be an artificial, enclosed ecological system. Seven biomes were represented inside the Biosphere: a rainforest, saltwater habitat with a coral reef, mangrove wetlands, a savannah, a fog desert, and two spaces reserved for human habitation and scientific work. Eight people from various scientific backgrounds were locked inside Biosphere 2 to create a self-sustaining system, the likes of which could be replicated to enable human colonies on other planets that didn’t have the elements needed to sustain life. Over two years, this crew went through a series of challenges, both with the elements and interpersonally. By the end, there were many questions as to the scientific validity of the whole endeavor.
Here’s something I never knew, Paducah is like the quilt capital of America. The short doc Quilt Fever feels like the seed of a feature-length documentary following women who have taken the annual pilgrimage to the quilt show in said town. We get just the smallest hint of these women’s backgrounds but never the depth I would have liked. This is also a case of a documentary built in post-production. Merrion went out and shot as much footage and interviews as she could and assembled a narrative in editing. This is a very conventional doc, nothing is challenging about the structure. It’s all about the subjects being interviewed and their own natural sweetness and charm.