April 17, 2005 11:09 PM   Subscribe

First, help me ID this one from my friend's description: it's this one done by this old man up in the northwest somewhere. he built his own cabin and lived there for something like 50 years by himself--completely by himself. All the camera work is done soley by him. the man is amazing. he does everything on his own. it's the most relaxing thing i ever watched Next, recommend your favorite interesting and well-made documentaries. I'll start with Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth and the PBS Evolution series.
posted by foraneagle2 to Education (42 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I meant for the heading to be Documentaries. Sorry for the vague question.
posted by foraneagle2 at 11:19 PM on April 17, 2005

His name was Richard Proenneke, and the documentary is called Alone in the Wilderness based on the book of the same title.
posted by ..ooOOoo....ooOOoo.. at 11:33 PM on April 17, 2005

You can order copies of Proenneke's documentary here.
posted by j.edwards at 11:44 PM on April 17, 2005

Michael Wood's In The Footsteps of Alexander the Great.

The real story of Alexander. And Wood, a total history geek, is so into it that he is charming.
posted by sic at 12:20 AM on April 18, 2005

A few favorites off the top of my head:

The Times of Harvey Milk
One of the most moving films I've seen.

Keep the River on Your Right (sound, flash)
Pretty good at challenging views about purported universal human nature.

Incredible Suckers
Terrible title, but who doesn't love cephalopods?

How's Your News?

Way more respectful and fun than you'd think.
posted by painquale at 12:31 AM on April 18, 2005

Wow, awesome response so far. I value a good documentary highly so reading your responses is like music to my ears. A few more favorites: Hubble's View of The Universe; Koyaanisqatsi; IMAX: 1. The Blue Planet, 2. Fires of Kuwait. Keep them coming!
posted by foraneagle2 at 1:13 AM on April 18, 2005

Winged Migration
Not sure if it counts as a pure documentary (they used trained birds) but this film following migrating birds is still breathtaking to watch

Follows eight kids to the national spelling bee competition, hilarious, touching and suprisingly thrilling.

The Last Waltz
Martin Scorsese documents the supposed last perfomance of the great rock group The Band. Features a great concert with many guests intercut with interviews.

Dogtown and Z Boys
See this one before the horrible docudrama ruins it for good.
posted by cyphill at 2:11 AM on April 18, 2005

Lanzman's Shoah I don't know if it's been Englished.
posted by TimothyMason at 4:32 AM on April 18, 2005

One word: Scrabble.
Follow the paths of four competitive Scrabble players as they travel to the National Championships.

"Word Wars" (Netflix link).
posted by willmize at 4:47 AM on April 18, 2005

I think anything produced by Frederick Wiseman is amazing and brilliant. His first, Titticut Follies, is a classic. High School is a favorite too (and there are scenes from Wes Anderson's Rushmore that are an homage to Wiseman's work.)

I think the documentaries created by Witness are compelling. Particularly, Kosovo and Beyond and Postcard from Peje (which was produced by teenagers.)

American Movie was one of the funniest documentaries I've ever seen.

Second to None, the documentary on Second City was quite good. Especially since it shows the origins of Tina Fey, who I really admire. And I enjoyed watching a Second City show evolve...fascinating.
posted by jeanmari at 5:43 AM on April 18, 2005

You pretty much can't go wrong with David Attenborough, and I see you've already seen one of my favorites, Blue Planet. I was also particularly enhralled by The Private Life of Plants and Life in the Freezer (about the Antarctic).
posted by Who_Am_I at 5:47 AM on April 18, 2005

6 continents, 24 countries, 70mm film
posted by airguitar at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2005

Devil's Playground is amazing. It's about the Amish experience of rumspringa.
posted by Mrs. Green at 6:28 AM on April 18, 2005

Sorry, my link didn't work. Trying again.....
posted by Mrs. Green at 6:30 AM on April 18, 2005

My fave documentaries (seconded some above):

Hows Your News?
Vernon, Florida
Louie Blouie
Anything by David Attenborough
Thin Blue Line
Let's Get Lost (on Chet Baker)
Flyerman (self link)
Ken Burns' Baseball
Ken Burns' Civil War
Ken Burns' The Shakers
Fog of War
Blood of the Beasts (available on the Criterion dvd Eyes Without a Face)
The Kid Stays in the Picture
Riding Giants
Don't Look Back (dylan)
Paradise Lost
Alein Wornous: The Selling of a Serial Killer
Idi Amin, Dada
Born into Brothels
War Game (not really a docu, I guess, but close enough)
Lives and Times of Harvey Milk
Anything by Fred Wiseman (though good luck finding them)
Capturing the Friedmans
Time Indefinite
The Corporation
Triumph of the Will
Olympiad (riefenstahl)
The Cruise
Hands on a Hard Body
Cane Toads
Touching the Void (psuedo doc)
The Gleaners and I
Straight, No Chaser
Bus 174
Style Wars
Broken Noses
Dogtown and Z-Boys
Grey Gardens
Paradise Lost II
Brother's Keeper
Murder on a Sunday Afternoon
Ken Burns' Huey Long
posted by dobbs at 6:56 AM on April 18, 2005

Oops, should preview better. Should be Life and Times of Harvey Milk and Aileen Wornous....
posted by dobbs at 6:58 AM on April 18, 2005

Seconding Crumb, The Fog Of War, Dogtown & Z boys, & The Devil’s Playground. And I'll add:

Vernon, Florida
A look at the characters living in small-town Florida

Gray Gardens
Creepy faded Mrs. Haversham-style society women related to Jackie Bouvier trapped in a decrepit old house...

Gimme Shelter
What really did happen at that Stones show in Altamount?

'Reservoir Dogs' meets 'Glengarry Glen Ross'

Sherman’s March
One man's search for Southern Love

Gates of Heaven
The best movie about a Pet cemetery you'll ever see.

Fast, Cheap & Out Of Control
Obsessions and bizarre Jobs

Jandek on Corwood
A fascinating look at the outsider musician

So Wrong They’re Right
8-Tracks!!! This is a fun, fun movie.

The Devil At Your Heels
Why not jump over The St. Lawrence River in a rocket car?

Lost In La Mancha
Terry Gilliam at work. A look at every possible thing that could go wrong while making a movie.

Project Grizzly
Building Grizzly bear armor is a testament to human ambition.

Beautiful exploration of this subculture, hosted by Denise Crosby.

On Preview I see dobbs got to some of these before I did....
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:19 AM on April 18, 2005

Excellent list so far. I wish I could see my video collection right now. But off the top of my head while at work... the Inside the Animal Mind series on PBS (particularly "Do Animals Have Emotions?"), Hearts and Minds (blows Michael Moore out of the water, not that he's all that great anyway), Animals Are Beautiful People (a hilarious and educational look at animals from the director of The Gods Must Be Crazy), and Lalee's Kin (And you thought slavery was over??? A gut-wrenching look at poverty in America. We often don't realize that within our own country there exists a poverty so extreme that children must bathe in buckets and can't go to school because they don't even have pencils to write with.)
posted by crapulent at 7:46 AM on April 18, 2005

Orson Welles' F for Fake: a lovely little meditation on art, forgery, hoaxes, and truth.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:15 AM on April 18, 2005

Errol Morris's The Thin Blue Line is coming out on DVD later this year.
posted by SPrintF at 8:32 AM on April 18, 2005

Rivers_and_Tides is an amazing documentary about the artist/sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, who uses materials from nature, usually in the natural environment, to make pieces that last from to days. available, with some photos, through or lots of other places. Fascinating!.

My apologies, one of these times i'll figure out how to do links.
posted by judybxxx at 8:49 AM on April 18, 2005

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time.
posted by gwint at 8:51 AM on April 18, 2005

Whoa, judybxxx, jinx!
posted by gwint at 8:52 AM on April 18, 2005

Seconding many of the above, with high props to Baraka, The Cruise, Devil's Playground, Spellbound, Style Wars, Rivers and Tides, and works by Errol Morris and Fred Wiseman, here are some others I highly recommend:

The Beatles Anthology
Extensive biography of the Fab Four

Control Room
War as propoganda, with special focus on Al-Jazeera

The Endurance
Reenactment of Shackleford & crew's harrowing 1914 antarctic expedition

Hoop Dreams
Two inner-city boys chase basketball superstardom

War Photographer
Tragedy, conflict, and survival

The Weather Underground
Radical politics and activism in 1960s America

When We Were Kings
Fascinating storytelling about one of Muhammed Ali's greatest moments, even if you don't care a whit for boxing

I personally believe that a "documentary" is ultimately a subjective work told from a particular point-of-view, which demands critical viewing from its audience. In my opinion this requirement emerges as soon as a director selects subjects, camera lenses, lines of narration, or makes the very first edit. Having said that, I feel compelled to also mention the following genre-busters:

Touching the Void
A remarkable alpine experience, retold through dramatization

Roger & Me
Michael Moore's first film, arguably his most personal
posted by skyboy at 10:04 AM on April 18, 2005

Careful, dobbs: the movie's title isn't The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, it's just The Times of Harvey Milk. The filmmakers purposefully gave the film this title because they wanted the movie to be primarily about the culture that swelled around Harvey Milk, not Milk himself.

Lots of good suggestions in this thread. No one's listed Go Tigers yet, which isn't one of my absolute favorites, but which I liked more than some of the movies listed so far.
posted by painquale at 11:14 AM on April 18, 2005

I am so glad you asked this question. I am always looking for new/old documentaries. I will be feeding off this list for a very long time. Thanks!

In addition, Fishing with John isn't exactly a documentary, but it is very amusing and makes me bitterly wish that this short-lived television series had lasted. It also proves my suspicions about how creepy Dennis Hopper must be.
posted by crapulent at 12:37 PM on April 18, 2005

Great, great, great thread. I'm makin' a list, checkin' it twice.

My additions:

Second vote for Touching the Void. Reconstructed scenes or not, you won't find a more intense film experience anywhere.

The Story of the Weeping Camel
Gorgeously shot in Mongolia. Tells tale of newborn camel and its reluctant mom and the Mongolian shepherds who struggle to reconcile them with more tenderness and real emotion than a dozen Hollywood romantic comedies.

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
Intimate portrait of one band's creative process and of the mindless corporate callousness of the music business. Worth seeing even if you're not (yet) a Wilco fan.

Meeting People Is Easy
Beautifully shot, impressionistic take on a band's mainstream explosion and its extreme discomfort with said explosion. Great companion piece to the Wilco doc, and similarly offers plenty to chew on even for those who are not (yet) Radiohead fans.

Career retrospective of ultimate indie punks Fugazi and the cult following they've nurtured. Shot over 11 years. Way intimate, very powerful. If you can watch the full two hours of this and not become a Fugazi fan, I feel sorry for you.

Diane Keaton (yes, that Diane Keaton) interviews an eclectic cross-section of New Yorkers about the nature of the afterlife. By turns hilarious and tragic, ultimately strangely powerful. A forgotten gem, well worth hunting for.

The Atomic Cafe
Fun, irreverent look at '50s/'60s nuke propaganda. Kind of like watching a long-form Troy McClure retrospective.

The films of Canadian documentarian Ron Mann

His film Grass does for anti-drug hysteria what Atomic Cafe did for nukes. Looking at his bio, I realize I haven't seen near enough of his other stuff.
posted by gompa at 12:38 PM on April 18, 2005

Streetwise, about runaways and homeless kids in Seattle in the 1980s. I thought the photographer Mary Ellen Mark had some connection but IMDB doesn't make it obvious, if so.

Sick, about a guy with cystic fibrosis who liked to do stuff like--well, never mind, see for yourself.

Geraldo Rivera's expose of conditions at Willowbrook State School for the retarded is actually pretty good. Don't know if it's rentable but it occasionally crops up on TV. I don't think it has a title, as it was done as part of a TV series. (I think. Sorry for lack of detail.)

And no one has mentioned Metallica: Some Kind of Monster?
posted by scratch at 12:42 PM on April 18, 2005

Oops--just found Rivera doc: Unforgotten.

And how could I forget Heavy Metal Parking Lot?
posted by scratch at 12:45 PM on April 18, 2005

Heavy Metal Parking Lot!!!! A true classic.

As others have noted, this is a great thread. Cheers to my fellow documentary buffs!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 1:08 PM on April 18, 2005

The Up Series: a group of British seven year olds from various class backgrounds were interviewed in 1964. Then, in 1970 at the age of 14, they were interviewed again to see how they had changed in the intervening years. And again in 78, 85, 91 and 98. The director claims he'll keep doing them until too many of the subjects drop out to make a full film; indeed 49 Up is supposed to air this year.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:16 PM on April 18, 2005

I enjoyed Ghengis Blues quite a bit.
A blind musician who's recently lost his wife turns to a short-wave radio for company. One day while turning the dial between stations he happens upon a strange sound and is enthralled... Asking around he discovers it's Tuvan throat singing. Soon he is in Tuva, a place wondered about by Richard Feynman because of their peculiar triangular postage stamps.
posted by blueberry at 1:42 PM on April 18, 2005

Dark Days
About homeless people who live underground in NYC. It's amazing.

I loved this movie. My friends hated it. YMMV.

The Lifestyle: Swinging in America
The first time I saw this, I thought it was fabulous, but it was a little bit boring on second viewing. Many people dislike it, but I still find it interesting. Aside from an opening shot with a bunch of people in an orgy (the girl in the theatre behind me shouted "Jesus Christ!"), the movie is mostly a bunch of interviews of people justifying their swingin' lifestyles. By the time the movie got to the protracted senior citizen orgy scene at the end, "the lifestyle" had been so normalized for me that I was just nodding my head at their ugly, ugly acts of coitus, without noticing how odd it was to be watching that scene in a movie theatre filled with strangers. A friend of mine took a girl to see this on a first date without knowing what it was about. Also, he accidentally ate some pot cookies beforehand. It was apparently a rough night.

American Pimp
I had no idea what pimping was really like before I saw this movie.
posted by painquale at 2:55 PM on April 18, 2005

British writer and presenter Alain De Botton makes entertaining and accessible television documentaries regarding the overlap of philosophy with everyday life.
posted by elphTeq at 3:53 PM on April 18, 2005

Yank Tanks. Shows how Cubans have managed to keep '50s era cars going. unbelievable ingenuity, like relining brake shoes with asbestos, making body parts from scratch, adapting parts from newer (60s and 70s) russian cars. Great people, great cars, great Cuban music.
posted by 445supermag at 4:29 PM on April 18, 2005

A friend wanted me to recommend Not For Ourselves Alone--the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony story.
posted by painquale at 9:09 PM on April 18, 2005

Topping off... A few more that are not quite five-star films for me, but fairly close behind:

In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01
First-person 9/11 accounts, with focus on NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani & staff

Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision
Biography of the Vietnam War Memorial architect

Sound and Fury
New assistive technology causes sharp controversy among the deaf community
posted by skyboy at 11:24 PM on April 18, 2005

Some more yet unmentioned:
PBS Frontline - The Persuaders
PBS DNA series
PBS - The Nature of Sex series
Waco: The Rules of Engagement

Thanks for the great thread everyone. This will be a long time reference for me.
posted by foraneagle2 at 4:11 PM on April 19, 2005

Heh..this was the 19th most popular bookmarked link at in the last 48 hrs.
posted by peacay at 7:14 AM on April 20, 2005

Since the thread is still open, I'll mention several good documentaries I saw at a film festival this weekend:

The Innocent
Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea
The Writer of O
Reel Paradise
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:40 PM on April 24, 2005

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