First off, thanks to my brother Eric for sending me this link to the AV Club about 25 great documentaries. The #1 is AMERICAN MOVIE, as it should be. I was telling Blake the other day that the Super Bowl they watch in the kitchen was in January 1997, the infamous "Touchdown, first play!" that Borchardt yells before he starts slamming iced-down PBR from the freezer. "Coupla pitchers over at Jim Mitchell's..." But damn, it's been over 10 years, and I think closer to 15 when Chris Smith started that, and the good thing about documentaries, just like films I suppose, is that they can be timeless, though in a different way with the live and verisimilitudinous aspect.
CRUMB is another great one, and there some others I've seen and some I want to see, that I've been wanting to see, like THE CRUISE, but have yet to do so. A lot of them caught my attention, though, and since there's been a recent drought on Netflix of stuff I actually want to see, I queued up a bunch, two of the first ones being I LIKE KILLING FLIES and STONE READER (which I just bought on Half.com brand new for $6.74 with shipping since I liked it so much).
I LIKE KILLING FLIES was weird, I do have to say. I thought it would be of course, but I had no idea about Shopsin's and the whole ordeal. It's a movie that creeps up on you. It's slow at first, then you start to get an idea of this crazy world the Shopsin folks live in. And how many fucking dishes can one man really cook? 100s of them on the menu, from Entrees to breakfast to sandwiches. Everything. There's tons of swearing, hilarity, and shitty camera work. It's a Red Envelope Entertainment DVD, via Netflix, or at least that's what they're peddling. I've seen others, but some don't work on my DVD player that's over 10 years old but still kicking. And it played, but it's full-screen, and I don't know what kind of camera the director used, but at first it was jarring, and it's always in motion, so that takes a bit of time to get used to. Kenny Shopsin, though, is indeed a hilarious and streetwise individual. Some reviews talked about how you realize after it's done how smart some of the shit he says really is, and I think that's true. He's got an honest view on life, talking about someone living "until 68," as if that's a great thing to make it that long now, and nonchalantly at that. Or at the end where he says it's better to raise your kids as average or "not terrific," I think he says, so they can feel great about their accomplishments. He puts it more straightforward and better than I can, but the shit makes a lot of sense. And the things on freedom, how if someone wants pancakes with candied fruit on top, it's their decision, and I imagine with so many people coming, there's no reason to feel guilty. I think the most inspiring thing he says, though, is that it's best to lose yourself in some tireless activity... fuck I can't remember how it goes. I need to buy it too though. But it relates to poetry and writing even though he doesn't mean it to. And there's a kind of tragedy in the end and a lot of weird and tender and hilarious things that ensue. A documentary that certainly needs to be checked out by all.
STONE READER was equally inspiring to me, about the director's quest to find Dow Mossman, a writer who write one book to a few glowing reviews, on a shitty press, and then both he and the book disappeared. I admire the director a lot because I like to think that I have that kind of passion too, along with some others I suppose. What I mean is Dow Mossman's about 15 years older than he is. These are both grown men. But he's so enamored with the book that he goes on this quest to find him. I still, and will always, get giddy around meeting my heroes. At the Festival of the Book where I met David Gordon Green, at one point I said, "Hold on, I have to go meet C.K. Williams and get my books signed." Two of my heroes in the same beautiful afternoon. I mean for me it doesn't get much better than that. And that's what the movie's about. I swear I rewound it at least 50 times to hear parts I missed because I was daydreaming and reminiscing about college and high school (which, yes, for me, wasn't that many years ago, but still) and was enthralled with all these writers and editors talking about books, their lives and experiences. Plus the music was nice: acoustic guitar with background ambiance, almost like George Winston meets a slower James Blackshaw. And the director likes postcard shots. Birds and sunsets. Hills and rolling skies. It was complimentary, though, instead of distracting. There's this part near the middle where he's talking over all these shots at a carnival with his son, and some of the shots are oddly beautiful, and though seemingly displaced, the incongruity of it all ends up working in some ineffable way, and you feel like you're watching something pure and full of joy. I love pictures of carnivals, the lights, the ferris wheels, the old school fonts on the carts of food, all the games with colored balloons. It's something nostalgic that's still humbling and colorful, and again with a kind of purity and humanity we're losing everyday in our lives.
I stole a scene for an old poem, kind of, from another one of my favorite movies, THE DREAM CATCHER, and fuck me I just realized the director has a new movie out, from 2007, though of course it'll never be released. But there's this carnival scene that's only about a minute long, but it's gorgeous, the music is beautiful, and it just clicks and is one of my favorite scenes from any movie.
But back to STONE READER. Just see it. Maybe it's for aspiring writers, I don't know. But it makes me want to go back to the classics. Back to the hunger I had when I was in my earlier 20s and late teens, when I was loving the stuff I had to read in high school and continued to try and read all these complicated books on my own, that mostly I probably didn't get.
Utterly inspiring. The ending's great, and yet again, there's another small fucking tragedy. I wonder if there are any great documentaries without any tragedy, how small or large. Maybe it's inherent and necessary, as if the material's not good enough if there's not some lasting piece of sadness, even though that may end up being uplifting somehow.
I may continue to post about those I keep seeing. There are a bunch more documentaries on the way. Maybe they won't be as great as these two, but we'll see.