What are some non-fiction movies and books about people driven by an obsession?
October 26, 2011 3:12 PM   Subscribe

What are some non-fiction movies and books about people driven by an obsession?

I just read the Steve Jobs bio and what struck me was how much he accomplished by his obsession with his work. Two weeks ago, I watched the documentary Bill Cunningham New York and was struck in a similar fashion.

I'm looking for similar stories about people driven by their obsessions who contribute to the world.
posted by hazyspring to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Anvil: The Story of Anvil. Please -- I beg of you! -- do not let the subject matter keep you from seeing this movie. Yes, I know it's about heavy metal rockers from Canada, but seriously it's genius and it's totally about obsession. Here's a review.

American Movie.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:17 PM on October 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

FAST, CHEAP AND OUT OF CONTROL. One of my favorites.
KING OF KONG and OVERNIGHT are more about obsession than contributions... (unless you really liked BOONDOCK SAINTS.)
posted by Gucky at 3:23 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by 2bucksplus at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Cove
posted by mannequito at 3:25 PM on October 26, 2011

The Orchid Thief
posted by argonauta at 3:27 PM on October 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

... and the film adaptation of The Orchid Thief, Adaptation.
posted by k8lin at 3:57 PM on October 26, 2011

Burden of Dreams, which is about the making of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:58 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't got round to seeing 'King of King - A Fistful of Quarters' yet, but it sounds about right for your needs.
posted by biffa at 4:04 PM on October 26, 2011

A Civil Action
posted by emhutchinson at 4:05 PM on October 26, 2011

Temple Grandin's work is interesting in this vein, as well. She's an expert in animal behavior who designs more humane animal environments. She's also autistic. Her own books are great. I haven't seen her biopic, but I heard it was alright.

Herzog's documentary Encounters at the End of the World depicts Antarctic researchers as being crazy, awesome people who are both crazy and awesome.

Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 is a book by a political junkie who burrows deep into the foul world of politics. The tone is obsessive, and the content is massively educational.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston is a documentary about a mentally ill musician who basically needs to create in order to survive.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2011

For historical contributions of huge importance, Longitude and The Forgotten Founding Father might suit.
posted by nicktf at 4:15 PM on October 26, 2011

Man on Wire, perhaps?
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:49 PM on October 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Burden of Dreams and would add Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now.
posted by perhapses at 5:05 PM on October 26, 2011

The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession is pretty great, too.
posted by argonauta at 5:30 PM on October 26, 2011

In The Realms Of The Unreal is about outsider artist Henry Darger, who over his lifetime created a universe consisting of a 15,000+ page novel and a profuse number of illustrations called The Story Of The Vivian Girls. Been a fan of his for a while.
posted by theartandsound at 7:43 PM on October 26, 2011

Dr. Bronner's Magic Soapbox, about Dr. Bronner of soap fame.

Genghis Blues (conveniently available online in full). In 1984, blues musician Paul Pena (writer of "Jet Airliner") heard an example of Tuvan throatsinging on Radio Moscow. Seven years later, he found a record of Tuvan throatsinging and proceeded to listen to it on repeat until he had taught himself three throatsinging techniques. He also taught himself Tuvan, with a couple of added degrees of difficulty:
There were no Tuvan to English translation dictionaries, so Pena used two dictionaries: a Tuvan to Russian and Russian to English. He used a device called an Optacon to scan the pages and convert the printed words into tactile sensations he could read with his finger.
posted by Lexica at 9:07 PM on October 26, 2011

Oops, hit post too soon. Meant to mention that then he went to a throatsinging concert in San Francisco and met Kongar-ol Ondar and impressed him and the other Tuvan singers so much that they invited him back to Tuva to compete in a throatsinging contest. Which he won.

And there's Richard Feynman, for icing on the cake.

posted by Lexica at 9:18 PM on October 26, 2011

The White Diamond (Herzog again)

If you have room for more self-destructive obsessions (but still with the belief that they will contribute to the world) there's Grizzly Man (yet another Herzog film!) or The Radioactive Boy Scout.
posted by RobotHero at 10:12 PM on October 26, 2011

Zodiac, David Fincher.
posted by lewedswiver at 11:01 PM on October 26, 2011

The Cuckoo's Egg

An astronomer-turned-sysadmin discovers a 75-cent accounting error in his systems and pursues it relentlessly until he's busted an East German spy ring.
posted by Sauce Trough at 1:05 AM on October 27, 2011

A coworker just lent me "Soaring with Fidel" by David Gessner. The book details Gessner's osprey-tracking odyssey from Cape Cod to Cape May to Cuba. I'm halfway through already - very enjoyable, probably so for non-birders as well.
posted by Currer Belfry at 5:42 AM on October 27, 2011

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

Computers and soap may be important to some, but World Health? Shit, yeah! I just wish I had read it sooner.
posted by qsysopr at 12:10 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

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