Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Reel Life

March 13, 2013

Doug and I watched Freakonomics tonight--a movie I have been interested in since I read the book a few years ago.  Fascinating stuff.  I will say, however, that if you've read the book, you could probably go ahead and pass on the movie, since it's not so much beautifully or artfully telling a story as it is stringing together vignettes and anecdotes that question societal assumptions.  These vignettes, which use statistics and social constructs to illuminate flaws in cause/effect thinking in our world, are engagingly presented in the book--enough so that the visual representation in the film doesn't particularly further illuminate the ideas presented there.  (That being said, if you haven't read the book, and don't intend to do so, by all means, watch the movie.  It's really interesting to think about 'truth' is spun, either purposefully or inadvertently.)

Watching the movie, however, did get me thinking about some of the other documentaries that I've watched over the years that I've really enjoyed.  I went through a period of time when I sought out all kinds of documentaries.  I'm sure during that time there were many I don't remember right now off the top of my head, so my list here is not by any means comprehensive.  I'm sure I'll leave some fantastic ones off the list that I've seen, and of course there are several more that are on my To-Watch list that I simply haven't found the time for yet--but I will.

Murderball--a moving and riveting look at a man whose tragic car accident leaves him a paraplegic.  Sound weepy and sad?  Not in the least.  Zupan, the central figure, is an imposing and charismatic man who is part of a highly competitive wheelchair rugby team.

2.  Spellbound--Many of my friends hear that my husband and I watch the Scripps Spelling Bee each year, glued to the three days of coverage, and they attribute the draw to the fact that I'm an English teacher.  Who else could possibly be interested in a spelling bee, after all?  I defy you to watch the documentary Spellbound, which follows contestants and their families during one season of the Scripps Bee, and not tune in the following year.  The kids, quirky and funny and unique, have wonderful personalities that really have you rooting for the finalists at the end.

3.  The Seven Up Series--a social documentary that follows fourteen children of varying classes and backgrounds and then revisits them each seven years in a new installment of the documentary series.  We see these children grow through elementary, secondary, college, career and family.  The series explores the way in which social class and family background determine one's path in life.  The latest installment, which I have not yet watched, is 56 Up.  Thus far, only one of the subjects has dropped out of the project.

4.  March of the Penguins--I don't care too much for birds, and cold weather--especially arctic weather--is even more unappealing.  Despite this, March of the Penguins was a wonderful film to share with my daughter.  We see the lives of these penguins, who are social, communal creatures in a way that makes us feel connected to them and empathetic to their difficult existence.

5.  Super Size Me--Morgan Spurlock takes on thirty days of a McDonald's exclusive diet to illustrate the negative health effects on the body.  His physician keeps close tabs on him throughout, because the assumption is that this kind of a diet is bound to be potentially dangerous.  And it is.  Suffice it to say that after watching the movie, my husband quit McDonald's cold turkey, and hasn't been back in the several years since.

6.  Sicko--Love him or hate him, Michael Moore has a way of bringing attention to his subject matter.  In this one, he takes on the way we mete out health care in the United States, in contrast to the cost and access available in other countries.  Illuminating.

7.  Bowling for Columbine--Another Michael Moore film that takes on our relationship with guns and assumptions about the culture of violence in the United States.

8.  Searching for Sugarman--an Oscar winner this year about the search for a musician presumed dead, according to the mythology surrounding him.  Although he languished in relative obscurity here in the United States, his music became the anthem of a generation a world away.

9.  The That's Entertainment Series--There are three of these, and truth be told, the best one is the first, while the two follow-up installments appear to merely try to carry on the feel-good atmosphere of the first.  That's Entertainment is a love song to MGM studios to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and it brings together clips from the heyday of the MGM big production numbers and Hollywood sweetheart stars from the early years.  As a movie lover, it was a must-see for me.

10.  That's Dancing--The 80's saw a companion to That's Entertainment that focused on dancing in the movies from the early days to contemporary films. From Astaire to Michael Jackson, fancy footwork abounds.

11.  King of Kong--It's Spellbound for the arcade video game world.  You can't look away. 

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