"I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals . . ." Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to his favorite theme, obsession, as he traces the story of Timothy Treadwell, an amateur naturalist who spent 13 summers among wild brown bears at Katmai National Park in Alaska. Treadwell and his girlfriend were tragically killed by one of the bears during the fall of 2003. This is an extraordinary and haunting documentary full of astounding footage and some great introspective narration. Sample Dialogue: "And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior."
A surprisingly engrossing documentary about door-to-door Bible salesmen, Salesman was directed by the Maysles brothers, Albert and David. Join the "Badger," the "Rabbit," the "Gipper" and the "Bull" as they desperately try to pawn off a bunch of overpriced Bibles on the unsuspecting masses. Mostly, we follow the Badger, who is in a hell of a sales slump. Badger spends most of the movie acting like a whiny little bitch as he longs for the ever-elusive pension that will lead him to the good life (a condo on Miami Beach?). Full of dreary locales such as an endless succession of cheap motels and greasy diners, Salesman pierces the heart of the American Dream. Watching this entire thing eventually depressed the shit out of me and I kept thinking of a quote from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman: "To suffer fifty weeks a year for the sake of a two-week vacation." Other classic Maysles documentaries include Gimme Shelter (1970) and Grey Gardens (1976). Sample Dialogue: "If a guy's not a success, he's got nobody to blame but himself. What everybody's got to do is to quit making alibis and excuses and accept responsibility if a success or failure."
An Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature (but don't let that scare you away), Murderball follows the U.S. quad rugby team as they prepare for the 2004 Paralympic Games. Call it Murderball, Quad Rugby or Wheelchair Rugby, this is a brutal, full-contact and highly competitive sport where opponents are frequently knocked to the floor. And off the court, the Team USA rugby players shatter any and all stereotypes you may hold about the handicapped. Murderball simply kicks ass. Sample Dialogue: "We're not going for a hug. We're going for a fuckin' gold medal."
You See Me Laughin' explores the rundown juke joints of rural Mississippi as we get a rare opportunity to visit with the last of the true Delta bluesmen such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford, Cedell Davis, Johnny Farmer and Asie Payton. The flick also follows Fat Possum Records founder Matthew Johnson as he tries desperately to record these great blues artists, some of whom are living in the most desperate of circumstances, to say the least. You See Me Laughin' would make a great double feature with Robert Palmer's earlier blues documentary, Deep Blues . Sample Dialogue: "I could really stomp some ass back then, stomp it good. I was a-sure-enough-dangerous man." —T-Model Ford
Overnight traces the meteoric rise and fall of aspiring filmmaker Troy Duffy, a former bartender who turns out to be one of the most misguided and obnoxious human beings on the planet. After fucking up a movie deal and alienating just about all his friends and family, Duffy somehow managed to go on to direct a reasonably entertaining little cult flick called The Boondock Saints. The last shot of Duffy talking to himself as he wanders aimlessly outside a bar is truly disturbing. Sample Dialogue: "As for my film career? Get used to it, cause it ain't goin' anywhere. Period."
"I go for the lowest common denominator. Just get some stuff in front of the camera and get some action out of it. Get the most I can out of those figures before they wear out . . ." Documentary explores the fascinating life and work of underground clay animation artist, Bruce Bickford, who collaborated with the late, great Frank Zappa on a number of projects such as the 1979 movie, Baby Snakes. This ain't Gumby and Pokey, folks. Some of Bickford's clay animation works are truly disturbing! Monster Road also introduces us to Bickford's equally eccentric father, George, a retired aerospace engineer who is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. Sample Dialogue: "Isn't it remarkable? This little planet we're on . . . Is this the headquarters for something?"
"There's your dog; your dog's dead. But where's the thing that made it move? It had to be something, didn't it?" Practically any of Errol Morris' fascinating documentaries could occupy this slot such as Vernon, Florida, The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. and The Fog of War. Gates of Heaven, Morris' first feature documentary, centers around the pet cemetery business.
American Movie documents the life of Mark Borchardt, an obsessed filmmaker who lives about as far away from Hollywood as you could possibly get - Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Borchardt's main goal in life is to finish a full-length horror film titled Northwestern. It's obvious that this guy's entire film career is based on the opening scenes of Night of the Living Dead. Mark's determined to live out his version of the American dream. He's also a deadbeat dad with three kids out of wedlock. To fund his masterpiece, Mark runs up credit cards, borrows from friends and relatives, and works a series of menial jobs - from delivering newspapers to vacuuming a mausoleum. His creditors are after him and so is the IRS. He doesn't give a shit. So he drops Northwestern and focuses on a shorter film called Coven, "a psychological thriller portraying an alcoholic writer's descent into the demonic abyss of a self-support group." He figures if he can sell 3,000 "units" of the flick at $14.95 apiece he can raise enough money to finish his dream project. The final scene of American Movie is very revealing. It shows some of Mark's old silent black-and-white film clips from the early '80s - the same friends racing around madly, drinking beer and raising hell. Nothing has really changed . . . Sample Dialogue: "Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless! But that's what happens, man. '"
Les Blank's riveting documentary focuses on the utter chaos surrounding the filming of Werner Herzog's epic, Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of South America. Whether having to replace his entire cast, attempting to drag a 320-ton steamer over a small mountain or trying to deal with totally insane actor Klaus Kinski, Herzog reveals an unwavering obsession to finish his film. Sample Dialogue: "Without dreams we would be cows in a field and I don't want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project."
As Crumb opens, R. Crumb, complete with his trademark cheap suit, thick glasses and porkpie hat, sits cross-legged on the floor, listening pensively to a scratchy blues record from his extensive and rare 78-rpm album collection. We soon learn that "bizarre" and "dysfunctional" don't even come close to describing Crumb's family. A bleak childhood led Crumb and his two brothers to escape into a fantasy world of comic books. Crumb admits that he was attracted to Bug Bunny as a child and later became fixated on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. His first sexual memory is of hanging out in his mother's closet and humping a pair of her cowboy boots, while singing "Jesus loves me, yes I know . . ." Needless to say, he didn't get a single date during high school. It was during the late '60s that Crumb created his most popular work such as Keep on Truckin' (which caused him "nothing but headaches"), Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, which was made into a cartoon that "embarrassed me for the rest of my life," he reveals. He finally got revenge on Fritz in a later comic by having a female ostrich stab him in the head with an icepick. Crumb's LSD-inspired comics during the '60s truly captured the seamy side of America's subconscious. Sample Dialogue: "My father was a rigid, gung-ho type who had a hard-ass attitude to life . . . All three of his sons ended up to be wimpy, nerdy weirdos. He wanted at least one of us to end up as a Marine. He always wore a fixed smile, which I later learned was a sign of deep depression."
TOP 10 OFFBEAT DOCUMENTARIES, PART 2