Semi-Recent Docs That’ll Rock your Socks

July 13, 2009

So the top search engine term people use to find my blog?  You guessed it: “Tracy Chapman.”  Far and away.  You’d think tagging “Fergie” in every single post would account for at least 1/10 of my hits but that poor excuse for a feminine role model is out, Tracy’s apparently in, and I couldn’t be more confused.

In the past month or so I’ve been watching some great documentaries, many of which have been released in the past 5-10 years and are therefore still pretty relevant.  I’ve decided to share a handful of my more impressionable discoveries:

Lake of Fire (2006)

Director: Tony Kaye

An evenly weighed black and white documentary on the highly provocative topic of abortion in the US.  Director Tony Kaye (American History X) is phenomenal at complicating the issue rather than simplifying it – a skill the masters of pathos Michael Moore and Bill Maher would benefit in imitating.  The film also provides some disturbing imagery and uncomfortably personal accounts of patients undergoing the procedure.  It is refreshingly informative and rivetting without ever really feeling manipulative.

The Business of Being Born (2007)

Director: Abby Epstein

Here in America, anything outside of a hospital birth is not only rare, it is often unthinkable.  This film explores the alternative most women don’t seem to consider – childbirth through a midwife.  It delves into the often questionable historical practices of hospital births, including the use of untested drugs resulting in infant deformities and the favoring of doctor over the maternal patient.

C-sections, for example, are often unnecessary, but quick and convenient, and the standard position in which a mother lays in front of the doctor delivering the baby actually inhibits her ability to birth comfortably.  At home births tend to mean more bodily control on the mother’s part.  Contrast the documentary’s footage of a series of home births with the terrifying Hollywood standard of screaming women in labor experiencing the worst pain of their lives and you’ve got two completely different worlds.  I can’t recommend this one enough.

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Director: Ari Folman

Waltz with Bashir?  But that’s just a cartoon!  Cartoons aren’t real!

First off – shut up.  This from what I can tell, is a first of its kind.  It takes real interviews with former soldiers of the Lebanese war in the 1980’s and re-enacts their stories with animation.  The style?  Something vaguely reminiscent of rotoscoping that is actually a mix of Adobe Flash and classic (hand drawn) animation.  The visuals are lovely, but above all, the stories are confounding.  Great commentary here about the nature of memory and the bizarre concept of young, unprepared human beings trying aimlessly to engage in war.  There are many reasons I can justifiably call this one of the best movies of the past decade.

So throw away your scratched and unloved Cars DVD and see something that will stimulate rather than numb your brain.

Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman Tracy Chapman



June 13, 2009

Pitchfork’s semi-recent 5-10-15-20 feature is proving to strike a chord in the blogosphere.  The idea is simple:  recount the music you loved in five-year intervals of your life.  Its an excellent way to reflect, and get a better idea of the evolution of our personal tastes.  I think this is a great exercise for any music lover, and for this reason, I’ve decided to take a stab.

Age 5…

Land Before Time OST, James Horner

I just remember watching this movie, and being totally devastated by the sounds I was hearing.  When Littlefoot’s mother succumbs to death, and the Tree Star becomes his only artifact of her life, the strings and choir swell up and that’s the cue to let the tears start flowing.  I see the movie now and it still brings me back to that place.  Since then I’ve developed an intense love for Don Bluth’s films and James Horner remains one of my favorite film composers.

Age 10…

Tracy Chapman “Fast Car”

I had heard this song for the first time on the radio from the back seat of my mum’s car, and even then, I wondered what it was doing there.  It seemed so out of place alongside everything else.  So much more honest and sad.  I went years without knowing who it was, and when I finally find out, it was one of those rare exciting moments when you’re able to return to a very open and basic state.  I had uncovered a lost treasure.

Age 15…

Daniel Johnston’s Hi How Are You

Sample: “I Am A Baby (In My Universe)” mp3

When I was about 14 or 15 years old, I began my search for music that explored unfamiliar places, and I found a lot of stuff that would prove hugely influential later in my life.  Chief among the golden records I discovered were Nirvana’s Bleach and Incesticide, Pixies’ Doolittle, and Meat Puppets’ II.  But the one I remember most vividly, that had literally opened up an entirely new world for me is Danny J’s Hi How Are You.  Nothing, even still, has sounded so isolated, so lonely and delicate and absolutely true.  It wasn’t until then that I realized how deep into the soul a simple recording could plunge.

Age 20…

Beach Boy’s  Smile Sessions

Sample: “Heroes and Villains Suite” mp3

The Smile sessions are the holy grail of bootlegs.  In Wilson, we get a uniquely “American” story of a man who worked his way to the top, and inevitably endured a crushing defeat when his masterpiece was challenged by a world unkind to brilliance.  Pet Sounds had affected me in profound ways, but when I heard the rough sketches of Wilson’s rightful magnum opus, Smile,  it completely altered the way I viewed pop music.  Here was a man that, according to pop legend, undertook the greatest challenge of all – to top the Beatles.  Had Smile been finished in ’67, I have no doubt it would have changed the course of music history.  As it stands, it is, and will forever be, the great unfinished album of all time.

Here are a few other musical reflections I found.  Great stuff.

mog (really dig this one)

Premium Proletariat Expression

life is a playlist.