Deep dive character studies (preferably documentaries)
March 26, 2020 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm looking for folks' suggestions for media that would count as a deep dive character study of someone interesting, preferably mostly about one person, preferably a documentary style thing, preferably not a celebrity although I'm open to those if they are good. Examples of what I've loved within.

Character study media I have loved:

S-Town (podcast, maybe my most favorite example of this kind of genre, absolutely revelatory)

Tiger King (new show on Netflix, love it)

American Movie (doc about an amateur filmmaker trying to make a horror movie)

Evil Genius (doc about a woman who likely facilitated a very weird crime)

Wild Wild Country (looks at the woman who led a cult)

The Queen of Versailles (doc about an extremely wealthy woman and her family's lifestyle)

One that I loved that wasn't just about one person but had a similar feeling:

Casting Jonbenet (about people in the town she was from auditioning to be in a film about her)

Thank you so much, be well!
posted by fairlynearlyready to Media & Arts (31 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The Imposter is riveting - a documentary about a 20 something French con man with dark hair and eyes- who somehow managed to make an entire Texan family accept him as their missing blond blue eyed thirteen year old for months.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 6:50 PM on March 26, 2020 [3 favorites]

I Am Not Your Negro
The Imposter
posted by Ideefixe at 6:54 PM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

+1 Bill Cunningham New York
Herb & Dorothy
posted by migurski at 7:03 PM on March 26, 2020

Catwalk on Neflix (about cat show competitors in Canada) was delightful.
Buck (about Buck Brannigan, the real life horse whisperer)
Touching the Void (about a mountain climbing accident, absolutely riveting)
Murderball (about wheelchair rugby for quadriplegics, a group of people but also riveting)
posted by TwoStride at 7:16 PM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

The movie A Man Named Pearl sounds like it might fit what you're looking for. I recommend not watching the trailer first. It's not exactly spoilery, but the experience is better if you go in without it, IMO.
posted by Lexica at 7:24 PM on March 26, 2020

Man on Wire
posted by acidnova at 7:33 PM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's never been a better time to dig into Robert Caro's Pulitzer-winning multi-volume epic biography of Lyndon Johnson. Even if you're not into history or politics, you will find yourself riveted. Riveted.
posted by panama joe at 7:49 PM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

Werner Herzog's My Best Fiend your genre. Just pull up your socks first.
posted by praemunire at 7:55 PM on March 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

You might want to check out the works of Errol Morris -

...and I also remember some interesting profiles on the This American Life Showtime show.
posted by Hand me my cowbell at 8:37 PM on March 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Off the top of my head, the movie "My Architect", and a few nice long books: David McCulloch's "Truman", "The Chief : the life of William Randolph Hearst", and "Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr."

I never finished "Team of Rivals", which is about Lincoln and his cabinet, but not its fault - the first 2/3rds were fascinating. There's lots of detail in there about the background and character of each of his cabinet members. It was like four biographies in one.
posted by mmc at 8:52 PM on March 26, 2020

Art and Craft
posted by polecat at 9:01 PM on March 26, 2020

Great question!
Seconding Crumb
Mommy Dead and Dearest
There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane
posted by nantucket at 9:05 PM on March 26, 2020

On the sociology-adjacent audio-books side: They're both more one-person-per-chapter rather than one person per work, but the audiobooks for Matthew Desmond's Evicted and Tressie McMillan Cottom's Lower Ed are very good. While I haven't listened the audio books, they do exist, and the paper book versions of James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and John Szwed's Alan Lomax books were very worthwhile.

When it comes to radio: they're only an hour long, but Joe Frank's "El Cholo (In The Beginning)" and "Jerry's World" are both excellent. In the hour long first person interview format, everything by Studs Turkel is great.

(I agree with you about S-Town)
posted by eotvos at 9:15 PM on March 26, 2020

Vernon, Florida by Errol Morris
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:44 PM on March 26, 2020

Oh here's a good one for you: "Jacob", a documentary about Jacob Appel, a unique, brilliant, truly one-of-a-kind guy; doctor, lawyer, college professor, playwright, novelist, certified NYC guide and more.
posted by lois1950 at 11:41 PM on March 26, 2020

Truman Capote's In Cold Blood isn't exactly a match but I think you might enjoy it (if enjoy is the word).
posted by Hadrian at 12:41 AM on March 27, 2020

Came here to recommend Mein Lieber Fiend, praemunire beat me to it. It is, indeed, your genre.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:43 AM on March 27, 2020

Inside the mind of Aaron Hernandez (Netflix)

Minding The Gap (Hulu) - Oscar nominee
posted by christiehawk at 12:46 AM on March 27, 2020

Free Solo is at least as much about Alex Honnold's character as it is about the climbing
Joan Didion - The Center will not Hold
+1 for Crumb
posted by crocomancer at 1:57 AM on March 27, 2020

Seconding = Bill Cunningham and My Architect

Also Grey Gardens

The 7-Up series does an amazing job of this, but it'll take about 15 hours long to take in them all.
posted by Mchelly at 6:05 AM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Marwencol— the documentary, NOT the Steve Carrell disaster.
posted by newmoistness at 7:37 AM on March 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Grizzly Man (2005). Warner Herzog. IMDB link.

Am actually not familiar enough with the media that you cited as examples to know if the dive is deep enough in Grizzly Man. But, it's well made, and focuses on the title character.

I don't have a recommendation for a Winston Churchill biopic, but lord is he a character worth diving into.
posted by wires at 8:31 AM on March 27, 2020

It is not new, but if you haven’t seen Grey Gardens, you really must.
posted by less of course at 8:31 AM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

HBO's recent McMillions docu-mini-series is about a fast-food contest scam but also about the somewhat mysterious figure at the heart of it, with lots of secondary characters you wish you could get to know better.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 9:32 AM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

The documentary about the founder of Bikram yoga seems like it would be up your alley. I believe it is on Netflix.
posted by hepta at 10:00 AM on March 27, 2020

Beware of Mr. Baker, about Cream drummer Ginger Baker.
posted by hoist with his own pet aardvark at 11:53 AM on March 27, 2020

The Cruise (portrait of a Manhattan tour bus guide)
posted by E3 at 5:43 PM on March 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Sea Gypsies is about a small group of people but it's amazing.
posted by fshgrl at 8:46 PM on March 27, 2020

Chicken People is a deep dive into the lives and livelihoods of competitive poultry enthusiasts. Really affectionate and surprisingly poignant. With chickens.
posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 5:29 PM on March 29, 2020

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