Friday Recommends, movies

Friday Recommends: Documentaries

Being obsessed as we are with lists, we present to you the Vore’s Top Five Documentaries Of All Time (excluding one we’ve already recommended).

Honorable mentions go to The Cruise (a tour of New York with Tim “Speed” Levitch of Waking Life and Scotland, PA fame), Bonhoeffer, Hoop Dreams, Hands on a Hard Body (an endurance competition to win a new truck), Devil’s Playground (about the Amish practice of Rumspringa), Touching the Void and Jonestown. While we thoroughly enjoy all of these films, Kobe Bryant would note that any honorable mention in a High Fidelity Top Five format is really just, at best, a fifth-place loser.

5. Spellbound.  Eight teenagers embark on a journey to win the 1999 National Spelling Bee, which has now become so famous that ESPN and ABC broadcast the final rounds live. Several teens are normal, most are complete nutters, but there’s something authentically American about their stories  converging in this extremely tense, extremely nerdy competition. Erin’s love for the National Spelling Bee stems from a childhood afternoon spent with Katie Stratman watching Rebecca A. Sealfon win the 1997 competition with E-U-O-N-Y-M.  Those were the days. 

4. Jesus Camp. As disturbing as this film is, it makes for a great conversation starter. Devout Christian youngsters are shipped off to a camp called Kids on Fire (which has since been discontinued indefinitely after negative reactions to the film). Ted Haggard makes a creepy, pre-fall appearance as a swaggering megachurch pastor who apparently derives pleasure from bullying 12-year-olds. There are a few lighter moments too: two kids evangelize to strangers in a park, who tell them they have, in fact, already been saved. “Really?” the kids respond, deflated. “Okay. Have a nice day.” As they cross the street, one whispers to the other, “I think they were Muslims.”

3. Grizzly Man.  A 2005 documentary by Werner Herzog about Timothy Treadwell and his ill-fated trek into the Alaskan wilderness to live among grizzly bears. Is Treadwell some kind of animal mystic or just crazy? Herzog leaves the question open before gently revealing his hand late in the film. The most touching but horrifying part of the documentary occurs when Herzog meets Treadwell’s ex-girlfriend. She presents Herzog with the audio captured from Treadwell’s final moments, and the viewer is left in silence while watching Herzog listen, literally, to death. 

2. Trekkies. While we are not Trekkies ourselves, we are Trekkies documentary Trekkies. Where to start? Dentists in Federation garb. An alternate juror in the Whitewater trial who wore a Starfleet uniform (replete with badge and phaser) before being dismissed. And in the film’s most inspired sequence, two men shout bullets of saliva at one another trying to learn how to speak Klingon. (Aspiring Klingon enthusiasts greet one another with nuqneH, literally: “What do you want?” We are not sure what Klingon is for, “We want you to stop spitting on us.”)

1. The Eyes of Tammy Fae. Ben couldn’t believe he’d ever be convinced to watch this documentary, much less sympathize with Tammy Fae Bakker Messner. Once you steel yourself for the cosmetic onslaught, you still have RuPaul as narrator and sock puppets introducing each chapter of the film. Whatever it takes, get past all this, because no matter what you think you know about Tammy Fae, you’ll be surprised to find a human being beneath all the make-up. The film starts with her teen marriage to Jim Bakker and traces the rise of their marriage and founding of the PTL network. When money troubles and Tammy Fae’s addicition to pills led to the downfall of both their ministry and marriage, Tammy Fae starts a new life with a devoted second husband (incarcerated for bankruptcy fraud), preaching an inclusive, humane Christianity. We like our documentaries to enlighten and surprise us, and this one did both.

You tell us: Which ones did we miss?


3 thoughts on “Friday Recommends: Documentaries

  1. I love the recommendations. I’ve seen spellbound and LOVE IT!!! And I’ve seen grizzly man. It is a weird combination of hilarious, serious, and very intriguing. I had to believe that in some parts that the guy making the movie was making a mockery of the “Grizzly Man”, or maybe he just a mockery waiting to happen…hmmmm. I’m excited to watch the others.

  2. What about God Grew Tired of Us? Maybe not the most well done documentary ever, but certainly a compelling story with surprising moments of humor in the midst of overwhelming sadness. I’d give it at least on honorable mention.

  3. I have to recommend the documentary “Following Sean.” The filmmaker lived in San Francisco in the late 1960s and met this young boy named Sean who lived upstairs with his hippie parents (and all sorts of characters they allowed in their apartment). The filmmaker goes back 30yrs later to find Sean and see what life is like. It is quite compelling. In fact, I have watched it more than once in the past 6 months.

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