deep docs
February 7, 2012 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend a documentary that goes deep into the detail of some item. For example clocks, trains , corn, skyscrapers, etc. Not about people, culture, places, history, etc.. (unless it's tied in with the item in question)
posted by parallax7d to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
In a strange kind of way Teshigahara's documentary about the architecture of Antonio Gaudi meets your qualifications... it is very much about the /detail/ of those buildings, about the spaces within them, and ignores almost everything else you might want to ask about why the buildings were built, or for whom. It's purely the buildings themselves that Teshigahara is interested in. There's virtually no narration ... just music and sinuous camera movement through astonishing spaces. It's available from Criterion.
posted by orthicon halo at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

First one that springs to mind. At least, I think this is the show I remember seeing an episode of that detailed the manufacture of the humble cocktail stick. I loved how it went from end to end through the manufacturing process and talked about all the tricks that were used to automate the process.

Can't help you with one-off documentaries though.
posted by fearnothing at 3:06 PM on February 7, 2012

Depending on what you mean by "item"- Helvetica.
posted by Erasmouse at 3:08 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]

This one doesn't detail any one particular item, but explores the connections between items and how they represent the progression of ideas and concepts.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 3:12 PM on February 7, 2012

Your mention of corn reminded me of King Corn, which I saw a few years back and really enjoyed.
posted by jabes at 3:12 PM on February 7, 2012

posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:13 PM on February 7, 2012

What about nature documentaries? Not people, culture, history, etc. but maybe more animate than you're looking for.
posted by RobotHero at 3:28 PM on February 7, 2012

Note By Note: The Making of Steinway L1037
posted by jadegenie at 3:30 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Secret Life of the Motorway
posted by run"monty at 3:35 PM on February 7, 2012

The Private Life of Plants
posted by leigh1 at 3:43 PM on February 7, 2012

The Secret Life of Machines
posted by euphorb at 4:07 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is a documentary called "Skyscraper" which was aired as a series on PBS covering the entire process from design through construction of a single skyscraper: One Worldwide Plaza in NYC.

It is somewhat unknown and old, but it is hands-down the best documentary on architecture I have ever seen, and it is told through a single building. However, the documentary crew somehow were able to get footage at EVERY possible point in the process from the architects working on the designs, to the general contractors, to the skywalkers, to the drivers delivering goods, to the old lady living across the street from the construction pit....even so far as (and this just blew my mind) the woman who was the cook on the boat delivering steel beams up the the rivers from down south. That is thorough--like OCD thorough. It is a fascinating look at architecture, politics, economics, and NYC.

This originally aired decades ago, but I caught it for the first time on PBS just a few months ago and was glued to the television.

[Also, if these sorts of docs looking at history through a single item appeal to you (they do for me as well), then you might also like the books written by Mark Kurlansky. My favorite is "The Big Oyster", which is an amazing look at NYC history told strictly through the Oyster!]
posted by This_Will_Be_Good at 4:09 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]

modern marvels series seems just what you are looking for.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2012

Brooklyn Bridge by Ken Burns (before he hit it big)
posted by TedW at 4:56 PM on February 7, 2012

The Box that Changed Britain, about the shipping container system.
posted by Jabberwocky at 5:03 PM on February 7, 2012

Not sure whether "some item" needs to be man-made (corn might suggest otherwise) but Cane Toads: The Conquest covers the introduction & spread of a species. It's also a sequel to Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, which was a bit of a cult classic.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:06 PM on February 7, 2012

The Nova series Secrets of Lost Empires might fit what you're looking for.

Mr. Lexica suggests Japanese Sword — Soul of the Samurai.

Are you open to dramatizations as well as straight documentaries? If so, Longitude (as shown on BBC Channel 4/A&E) is quite compelling. I also came across clips from a movie about the Enigma machine, which looks interesting. The Pentagon Wars goes into great detail about the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (and is bitterly funny in a Kafkaesque kind of way).
posted by Lexica at 7:08 PM on February 7, 2012

You might be interested in the BBC podcast, A History of the World in 100 Objects. Each one is devoted to one thing and it's implications/history.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:16 PM on February 7, 2012

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control? About topiary, lions, robots, naked mole rats, and the people who love them.
posted by bendy at 11:03 PM on February 7, 2012

If you're willing to expand to books, there are dozens of these kinds that it became a cliche in the industry. The Pencil, Salt, Cod, then The Toothpick, The Banana, Tomatoland, etc etc.
posted by jng at 11:56 PM on February 7, 2012

ooh, I didn't know Skyscraper was made into a TV show, the book was great! A book by the same author, that was also made into a TV show, was Twenty First Century Jet, about the Boeing 777.
posted by massysett at 6:58 AM on February 8, 2012

Grain Elevator
posted by Rash at 8:41 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

On a long overseas flight I once watched (but did not pay for the earphones to listen to) a documentary about making gold leaf. It looked fascinating. No idea how to find it.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:30 AM on February 8, 2012

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