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Recently Watched Documentaries


LawrenceA
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Africa Speaks! (1930) - Exploitative and condescending ethnographic and nature documentary from director Walter **** (His name is Fut-ter, which I did not know was a censor-sensitive word. Had to look that one up.) and Mascot Pictures. Explorer Paul Hoefler travels into "darkest Africa" to film the Ubangi, Masai, Wassara, and Ifi (Pygmy) tribes, as well as documenting the many wild animals, such as giraffes, zebra, antelope, rhinoceros, locust swarms, and of course lions. Some scenes are (badly) re-enacted, and two lions are killed on screen. Some of the tribal footage may be of interest to anthropologists, but the mocking narration by Lowell Thomas doesn't imbue much of an academic aura. This was a hit, playing in exploitation theaters for years, and much of the footage was reused in later cheap jungle pictures.   5/10

 

Source: YouTube.

 

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With Byrd at the South Pole (1930) - Nature and exploration documentary from Paramount Pictures. The movie documents the 1928-1929 Antarctic journey of explorer Richard E. Byrd and his party of over 40 men as they first travel by ship to the edge of the frozen continent, and then move inland, where they dig out a base camp to last them several months. Byrd's ultimate goal is to fly a plane over the South Pole itself. 

 

The two cameramen, Joseph T. Rucker and Willard Van der Veer, capture as much of the action as possible, from the sled dogs bedding down through a blizzard, to the unique construction techniques used to build the base camp, to the actual aerial journey itself. Most of this is a silent film with intertitles. However, there is a long speech at the beginning of the film by Byrd, and the final 15 minutes, detailing the plane trip over the pole, are breathlessly narrated by Floyd Gibbons. The film also has a score and some sound effects. This movie holds a couple of Oscar distinctions: it won the 1930 Oscar for Best Cinematography, and as such, remains the only documentary to do so. It is also the first documentary to win any Oscar, as the Best Documentary category wouldn't be introduced until 1942.   7/10

 

Source: FilmStruck.

 

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Future ones that will be fun for you to tackle. No, you don't have to do all of them but go ahead with at least one of these culinary delights.

 

Baboona (Fox, 1935) featuring Martin and Osa Johnson flying over the Dark Continent. I absolutely looooove Baboona. Can watch over and over and never get bored.

 

Kon Tiki (Sol Lessor/RKO, 1950) features raft bro-bonding at its best. Also check out the 2011 dramatic follow-up film on the Thor Heyerdahl saga with its cgi enhanced shark scenes.

 

The Animal World (Warner Bros., 1955) is produced by the future master-of-disaster Irwin Allen, features Ray Harryhausen's dinos (a staple of many a View Master) and some of the lamest "comedy" ever displayed in a nature film. The subtitled Japanese beetle sequence and Papa Bear training junior in salmon fishing have to be seen and heard to be believed. Also Allen was so careful not to bring up that ugly word "evolution" to upset the Bible Belt. Gotta love the final shot of Mother Earth exploding thanks to the hydrogen bomb.

 

Seven Wonders Of The World (Cinerama, 1956) really is a masterpiece, despite the silly proud-to-be-in-America scenes towards the end with Lowell Thomas greeting the happy housewife and her too-many-to-handle Eisenhower Era brats at the picnic. The scenes of Egypt, an Indian mongoose vs. cobra scene (poor snake!) and Victoria Falls are among the highlights.

 

The Golden Age Of Comedy (Robert Youngson, 1957) is the fore-runner to That's Entertainment! series, but focusing on Mack Sennett and Hal Roach comedies of the roaring twenties. The follow-ups by Youngson are equally classic.

 

Mars And Beyond (Disney, 1957) with direction by Ward Kimball. My favorite Disney feature of all time with clever recreations of what life may be like on the Red Planet, but also a cameo by Donald Duck in a spoof on Martian comic stories.

 

History Of The Blue Movie (Alex de Renzy, 1970), although pretty hetero in its choice of material since it predates Boys In The Sand. My favorite scenes are in the fairly recent 16mm quickie involving the masseuse seduced by her client. Also curious use of Miles Davis' recently released B itches' Brew soundtrack over scenes in the mid-50s under-the-counter-at-your-local-camera-shop ditty The Nun's Story a.k.a. College Co-Ed. As for that 1921 film At The Beach set in Idlewild Beach where the men are idle and the women are wild... um, be careful of how you describe it here.

 

Mysterious Castles Of Clay (Joan & Alan Root, 1978)... drama and intrigue in a Kenya termite mound.

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Along the Coast (1958) A documentary short from Agnès Varda that looks at the French Riviera. Varda introduces the tourists, regular people, examining their beach habits and beach attire. The short functions as a fashion retrospective on swimsuits and hats.  Interspersed are scenes from the Cannes Film Festival, with celebrities such as Sophia Loren.  Varda closes with a look at the plant life that adds to the region’s beauty.  Filmed in vivid color, this documentary reminds us that, yes, the French Riviera is very beautiful. This was made in conjunction with the French Tourism Bureau. 

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Did anyone else catch Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache when TCM showed it recently? Number 1; It was a very detailed look at the life and career of the pioneering woman director who had been so far under the radar as to be almost entirely unknown. Number 2: It was in itself an exemplary documentary film, expertly spanning eras and locations using extremely clever visuals to do so. She worked in both the United States and France and in both creative and business aspects of what wasn't even an "industry" yet, basically in every aspect of filmmaking. Plus there was a generous selection of excerpts from her films, which have been gradually unearthed from vaults and collections around the world, with the expectation that more will be found. Eye-opening, entertaining and extremely informative. 

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Jimi Hendrix (1973) Fascinating rockumentary about arguably the greatest guitarist of all time.  The interviews of contemporaries like Peter Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger, reveal that, when Hendrix arrived in Swinging London, in 1966, he was viewed as somewhat of a sideshow, playing the guitar with his teeth, and behind his back. Townshend admits they were in awe, and perhaps threatened by him. As Hendrix’s brilliance spread, being in his company conferred credibility, attracting devotees and posers. I loved Little Richard reminisce about their early days playing together. The Jimi Hendrix that emerges is that of a decent human being thoroughly enjoying the fame, aware of, and in love with his talent. The concert clips and performances are awesome.  Hendrix died in 1970, we can only imagine what he would have accomplished as the music scene transitioned into disco, punk rock, synth pop, rap.

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2 hours ago, cinemaspeak59 said:

Jimi Hendrix (1973) Fascinating rockumentary about arguably the greatest guitarist of all time.  The interviews of contemporaries like Peter Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Mick Jagger, reveal that, when Hendrix arrived in Swinging London, in 1966, he was viewed as somewhat of a sideshow, playing the guitar with his teeth, and behind his back. Townshend admits they were in awe, and perhaps threatened by him. As Hendrix’s brilliance spread, being in his company conferred credibility, attracting devotees and posers. I loved Little Richard reminisce about their early days playing together. The Jimi Hendrix that emerges is that of a decent human being thoroughly enjoying the fame, aware of, and in love with his talent. The concert clips and performances are awesome.  Hendrix died in 1970, we can only imagine what he would have accomplished as the music scene transitioned into disco, punk rock, synth pop, rap.

"1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)" from Electric Ladyland (1968) always made me wonder what kind of future he envisioned for himself (and for us). Bowie had his guitar guys but I can see him doing something with Jimi at some point.

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Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talking About Him?)  (2010) 

I ran into this documentary about singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson on our library's streaming service, but it is also on YouTube.  While I was familiar with his music and his reputation, especially connected to John Lennon's lost weekend phase, I felt like I re-discovered him by watching this engrossing documentary.  I listened to his music for several days afterwards.   He had sad childhood that seemed to profoundly affect and curse the rest of his short life.  There is a lot of ground covered in the documentary, but I think it is well-balanced.  He won a Grammy for his performance of Everybody's Talking, he wrote songs for The Monkees and One which became a hit for Three Dog Night.   

He followed his successful Nilsson Schmilsson with an album of standards much to the frustration of his producer Richard Perry.  He never gave concerts but agreed to do a BBC special without an audience.   While he and Lennon famously caroused, he was also close with Ringo who was best man at his last wedding.   After Lennon's death, Nilsson became a gun control advocate.   One of his last recordings was a rendition of How About You? for The Fisher King.  He died at 52 leaving his third wife with five kids.  It's a gut punch of a documentary but thoroughly absorbing.

Has anyone else seen it?

 

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16 minutes ago, Peebs said:

Has anyone else seen it?

 

Yes and I can't recommend it highly enough. His story is memorable and moving. Lots of interesting footage too. You see a young Peter Frampton recording with him. Robin Williams recalling one of the wild lost weekends that Harry seemed to specialize in taking his friends along on. The infamous Smothers Brothers set that Harry egged John Lennon into ruining. 

Edit: I should clarify, you don't see the Smother Brothers act, but it is discussed in detail with Tommy and Dick recalling it all. 

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On 5/15/2022 at 4:59 PM, LuckyDan said:

Yes and I can't recommend it highly enough. His story is memorable and moving. Lots of interesting footage too. You see a young Peter Frampton recording with him. Robin Williams recalling one of the wild lost weekends that Harry seemed to specialize in taking his friends along on. The infamous Smothers Brothers set that Harry egged John Lennon into ruining. 

Yes, I really enjoyed it, too. There is so much packed into this documentary and lots of stories about his own sort of Lost Weekend period.  My posting was much longer but I found myself just adding more stories, I had to edit it.  Boy, that one about heckling the Smothers Brothers was not pretty.  Lennon and Nilsson seemed to bring out the worst in each other. 

I don't know if you are familiar with the show Russian Doll.  The main character keeps dying and repeating the same day.  Each time she comes back we hear Gotta Get Up.  Clever use of the song.  I imagine many people who watch the show were not familiar with Nilsson.

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Just now, Peebs said:

Yes, I really enjoyed it, too. There is so much packed into this documentary and lots of stories about his own sort of Lost Weekend period.  My posting was much longer but I found myself just adding more stories.  Boy, that one about heckling the Smothers Brothers was not pretty.  Lennon and Nilsson seemed to bring out the worst in each other. 

I don't know if you are familiar with the show Russian Doll.  The main character keeps dying and repeating the same day.  Each time she comes back we hear Gotta Get Up.  Clever use of the song.  I imagine many people who watch the show were not familiar with Nilsson.

I don't know Russian Doll, and I thought I knew a lot about Nilsson, but I found I knew only the very superficial things. I had no idea how prolific he really was. How highly regarded he was.  How beloved, really. Ringo did not take part in the documentary because he said discussing Harry was just too painful for him.

This documentary serves him well, without making too much of his flaws. 

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2 hours ago, LuckyDan said:

I don't know Russian Doll, and I thought I knew a lot about Nilsson, but I found I knew only the very superficial things. I had no idea how prolific he really was. How highly regarded he was.  How beloved, really. Ringo did not take part in the documentary because he said discussing Harry was just too painful for him.

This documentary serves him well, without making too much of his flaws. 

I can't endorse Russian Doll, it takes some Groundhogs Day adds a little Doctor Who.  It's not terrible but it should have been a one season show.  

I hadn't realized that Nilsson wrote One.  I was only familiar with Three Dog Night's hit version.  Aimee Mann sings a quieter rendition of it for the movie Magnolia.  I realize now that her version is much closer to Nilsson's. 

Yes, it's quite an interesting group of people they interviewed for the doc.  It's a shame that Ringo didn't participate.  Some are now gone including Robin Williams.  Sadly Harry's oldest son, Zac, died last year.

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I definitely plan to watch this, so thanks all for these posts. I was always puzzled by how the same sensitive, creative mind behind The Point and Aerial Ballet (and, later, Nilsson Schmilsson) could have veered off course so drastically into senseless chaos in his private life, though my only real source of info was occasional Rolling Stone reporting, much of it because of the John Lennon connection. A lot of it will probably be new to me so I'm really looking forward to watching this.

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5 minutes ago, DougieB said:

I definitely plan to watch this, so thanks all for these posts. I was always puzzled by how the same sensitive, creative mind behind The Point and Aerial Pandemonium Ballet (and, later, Nilsson Schmilsson) could have veered off course so drastically into senseless chaos in his private life, though my only real source of info was occasional Rolling Stone reporting, much of it because of the John Lennon connection. A lot of it will probably be new to me so I'm really looking forward to watching this.

It's on Tubi, Vudu Fandango, and the Roku Channel, all free. 

If you don't know the song, "You're Breaking My Heart," I wish I could see your face when they play that one. (DO NOT GOOGLE it before-hand.)

Enjoy!

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2 hours ago, DougieB said:

I definitely plan to watch this, so thanks all for these posts. I was always puzzled by how the same sensitive, creative mind behind The Point and Aerial Pandemonium Ballet (and, later, Nilsson Schmilsson) could have veered off course so drastically into senseless chaos in his private life, though my only real source of info was occasional Rolling Stone reporting, much of it because of the John Lennon connection. A lot of it will probably be new to me so I'm really looking forward to watching this.

I hope you'll let us know what you think of the documentary (and the song "You're Breaking My Heart") once you've seen it.  

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On 5/19/2022 at 8:48 PM, Peebs said:

I hope you'll let us know what you think of the documentary (and the song "You're Breaking My Heart") once you've seen it.  

You guys are so right...great documentary. The most amazing thing I didn't know was what a fantastically stable family life he had at the end in spite of all the damage he's done to his health, his voice and his reputation. In spite of a lot of past behavior which could only be considered shameful, he had the support of people who loved him, and not just his family. It made me happy. I also realized I've been pronouncing his name wrong, as did all my friends. When people in the doc started saying "Neelsson" I began to wonder, but then when Harry himself said it in his gun control promo I had to chuckle at my enduring ignorance. (I'd always said Nil as in "ill".)

"You're Breaking My Heart" I'd actually heard before. It certainly wasn't the common parlance of the day on record, though I can think of other examples, but it's hard to say it isn't relatable. It was right around the time John and Yoko were so enamored of Arthur Janov's The Primal Scream (1970) which advocated getting it all out emotionally, so I wonder if some of that rubbed off on Harry. It certainly must have influenced Pussycats. (John's song "Mother" was probably the penultimate example. Yoko screamed all the time anyway, so no big diff.) (Not to diminish Yoko, by the way. I had all her albums and musicians who worked with her had nothing but high praise.)

I'm glad Fred Neil got credit for "Everybody's Talking" because I'd known that first on his 1967 album, which I'd bought on the strength of the song "Dolphins". When I first heard Harry's version I was actually taken aback because it had none of the disengaged moodiness of Fred's version, but I ended up liking it for what it was, a more optimistic reimagining.

I was glad to see the movie so full of songwriters who were Harry's contemporaries, especially Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and Jimmy Webb. They were not only in a position to fully appreciate him as an artist, they all had enlightening stories to tell about Harry. So I'm adding a resounding third to Lucky Dan's second of your recommendation

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2 hours ago, DougieB said:

I was glad to see the movie so full of songwriters who were Harry's contemporaries, especially Randy Newman, Van Dyke Parks and Jimmy Webb. They were not only in a position to fully appreciate him as an artist, they all had enlightening stories to tell about Harry. So I'm adding a resounding third to Lucky Dan's second of your recommendation

Thanks for posting your review, I enjoyed reading your take on the movie.   I'm still listening to a lot of Nilsson songs especially in the car while schlepping the kids around.  

Yes, it's quite an impressive group of people who had stories not only about Harry's wilder side but more poignantly had respect and admiration for his talent.  

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