Doc recommendations
October 21, 2007 11:01 PM   Subscribe

"Quiet" documentary recommendations.

I saw the clip linked in this thread and I really liked it. I've always enjoyed watching docs where there is little narration and you simply get to enjoy watching people on film in an everyday setting. I call them "quiet" documentaries. I don't like overly-narrated pieces, or docs where the documentarian feels s/he has to prattle on offering up all kinds of theories and opinions. I prefer a sense of observation.

Does anyone have any recommendations for documentaries where the narration and talking heads have to take a back seat? Super-duper-extra-bonus points for films that are available to the rental masses outside NYC/LA type metropolises and x2 that with a <3 if it can be viewed online.
posted by Salmonberry to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The Discovery Channel has a show called Sunrise Earth. No music, no narration, just an hour of real-time, beautiful footage of the sunrise.

The locations vary, some include people. The San Francisco one featured people performing Tai Chi. My wife and I think the show is spectacular and will often record it.

It also looks fantastic in HD.
posted by empyrean at 11:10 PM on October 21, 2007

Winged Migration
posted by PY at 11:34 PM on October 21, 2007

Manufactured Landscapes... although it does have a little narration in places.
posted by sharkfu at 1:05 AM on October 22, 2007

Perhaps Baraka or the Qatsi trilogy?
posted by book at 1:20 AM on October 22, 2007

Etre Et Avoir.
posted by oh pollo! at 1:40 AM on October 22, 2007

Etre et Avoir (To be and to have) about a small school in rural France. I've not seen to the end, but there was no narration, and very little conversation. Mostly it was kids learning.
posted by Helga-woo at 1:45 AM on October 22, 2007

posted by Helga-woo at 1:45 AM on October 22, 2007

My friend once made me watch Wszystko moze sie przytrafic [Anything Can Happen]. It sounds like exactly the kind of thing you're looking for. Here's a synopsis I totally didn't write:
Acclaimed Polish filmmaker Marcel Lozinski takes his six-year-old son, Tomek, to the park on a mild spring day, and together they make a film of rare insight and meditative contemplation. Little Tomek is fitted with a small, hidden microphone, and the camera follows from a distance as he rides around the park on his scooter, observing nature around him (to the suggestive sounds of waltz) and then stopping and talking with people, mostly senior citizens, whom he meets by chance. Tomek’s high spirits and natural child’s curiosity about the world around him sparks conversations with the older generation, who share their wisdom and reflections on life with the young boy, who in turn shares his innocent philosophizing. As in his other films, such as Oscar-nominated “89 mm from Europe” (1993) and “I Remember” (2001), Lozinski takes a poetic and essayistic look at his subject. The result here is a delightful journey of discovery that touches lightly, but with great depth, on what it means to be alive.
posted by loiseau at 2:07 AM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

I second Koyaanisqatsi.

Also, Into Great Silence is pretty much the epitome of what you're looking for.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 3:08 AM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Check out the films in the Work Series by filmmaker Daniel Kraus. So far there are only two, Sheriff and Musician. They are cinéma-vérité style and follow individuals everyday while they do their job. No narration and totally captivating.
posted by corpse at 4:19 AM on October 22, 2007

Here's the best quiet documentary you'll ever see:

Dutch Harbor

Generally about life in rural Alaska and it is very artistic, eerie, and beautiful.
posted by mateuslee at 4:56 AM on October 22, 2007

Definitely, definitely Grey Gardens. The filmmakers have practically no presence in the film, which is completely devoted to observing these two devastatingly odd women and their life together.

Though "quiet" might not be the word I'd use to describe it; the Beales like to sing, argue, and dance, in that order. Though the silence and isolation of their surroundings create an almost overwhelming privacy.
posted by hermitosis at 6:26 AM on October 22, 2007

Microcosmos is pretty great, so long as you can stand looking at extreme close-ups of bugs. I think there's only one or two sentences of narration. It should be fairly easy to find.
posted by picea at 7:36 AM on October 22, 2007

Much dialogue in this but no narration, and it will destroy your mind and heart:

High School by Frederick Wiseman.
posted by waxbanks at 7:47 AM on October 22, 2007

Gates of Heaven has no narration.

Rivers and Tides fits your bill, but I don't remember if it has any narration or not.

I haven't seen it, but Into Great Silence looks pretty cool.
posted by driveler at 8:04 AM on October 22, 2007

Tall: The American Skyscraper and Louis Sullivan has very minimal narration -- and it comes so late in the film you might not believe it's there at all.
posted by Work to Live at 8:24 AM on October 22, 2007

you would probably realy like the japanese movie afterlife.
posted by atom128 at 8:52 AM on October 22, 2007

The Saltmen of Tibet
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:39 AM on October 22, 2007

I don't remember if Microcosmos has much narration, but it was one of my favorite documentaries of all time - just a fascinating peek into a whole other realm of nature. It certainly doesn't feel like it's heavily narrated, but I still felt like I learned a lot, so... I'm not sure.

on preview, i looked it up and the amazon reviews a) confirm there's not much narration and b)make it sound pretty dumb. Just trust me, it's not dumb.
posted by mdn at 10:03 AM on October 22, 2007

I love Grey Gardens and Crumb.
posted by Shebear at 10:57 AM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the recommmendations! I have seen Microcosmos and Winged Migration already. It is docs with people in their lives I'm really interested in and this thread has some awesome suggestions. Also, I will be looking into "Sunrise Earth" for sure.
posted by Salmonberry at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2007

Chronos is silent, time-lapse footage.
posted by fidelity at 12:55 PM on October 22, 2007

You might like The Cruise, which features a Manhattan Gray-Line bus tour director. Lot's and lot's of talking by the documentary subject, but if i remember correctly relatively little in the way of voice-over narration.

It's the only other movie Bennett Miller has directed besides Capote.
posted by lorenzism at 12:23 AM on October 25, 2007

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