By Brian Saur, co-host of Pure Cinema Podcast
On a recent episode of my show Pure Cinema, we covered the topic of documentaries. As per our usual format, we each picked five films from the genre, and you can enjoy listening to us talk about those here:
It's such an incredibly robust topic, though, it could not possibly be remotely contained in even one epic episode of our podcast. That said, I've put together a list of five documentaries that I highly recommend you check out:
This was one of the early documentaries I saw (along with THE THIN BLUE LINE and ROGER AND ME) that really stoked my excitement for the form and made me want to seek out more of these films in general. Director Terry Zwigoff's portrait of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb is as interesting and odd as the man himself.
Most known for having originated both "Keep On Truckin" and Fritz the Cat in comic form, CRUMB is a fascinating and idiosyncratic individual who enjoys things like old jazz 78s and piggyback rides. The film really gives a look inside the life of Crumb and talks to his brothers as well as his critics to give a proper sense of where he came from and how his work was received. I think I am just drawn to documentaries about people and why they do what they do and this movie gives a proper window from which to view an artist and his achievements.
It is also only the second film from Terry Zwigoff, who became one of my favorite directors between CRUMB and his follow up narrative debut GHOST WORLD in 2001. I'd also recommend Zwigoff's first film LOUIE BLUIE from 1985 about an obscure musician/visual artists named Howard Armstrong.
This movie gives the unofficial and rather outlandish history of Australian exploitation cinema (often known as "Ozploitation") of the 1970s and '80s. From showing the crazy stunts and stuntmen of that period and the incredible and daring risks they took in films like the original MAD MAX and others as well as the sexploitation cinema that seemingly kickstarted the industry down under.
This engrossing look back includes interviews with the likes of Quentin Tarantino, John Waters, Stacy Keach, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Wan, George Miller, and a host of Australian filmmakers and actors.
Another documentary about a person – in this case, a 15-year-old kid named Billy who lives in a small rural town in Maine. Billy is clearly on the spectrum, highly intelligent and socially awkward, and struggles through his day-to-day in school and at home as we look on. Billy has a lot to say on a variety of different topics from his family and friends to greater, more existential issues.
Eventually, he finds a girl that he likes, who works at a small local restaurant, and it is utterly compelling and charming to watch them interact and deal with their feelings for each other. Few films have captured such innocence and triumph in such a simple, observational way.
This is one of the greatest documentaries on filmmaking, and is one that will surely increase your appreciation for the craft of cinematography (and likely inspire you to want to watch a bunch of the films that are featured as examples here). Includes interviews with some of the best cinematographers of all time such as Conrad Hall, Nestor Almendros, Vilmos Zsigmond, Sven Nykvist, Vittorio Storaro, Gordon Willis, Michael Ballhaus, Haskell Wexler, Michael Chapman and many more!
Come for the utterly stunning and gorgeous clips from many amazing films. Stay for the insights on an underappreciated art form.
A wonderful companion piece film to the Peter Biskind's 1998 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls – this documentary looks at the 1970s as a golden era and turning point for American cinema. Seeing '70s filmmaking giants like Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin, and others tell the stories of those crazy times along with actors from the period such as Clint Eastwood, Bruce Dern, Ellen Burstyn, Julie Christie, Roy Scheider, Sissy Spacek, Jon Voight, and others is absolutely enthralling.
I could listen to these folks talk for hours. And this is yet another movie that will make you want to watch other movies (which is something I always love from a documentary)!
Brian Saur is a podcaster and blogger from Los Angeles that specializes in cult and classic films. He is co-host of the Pure Cinema Podcast and also produces and hosts another show called Just the Discs, which focuses on Blu-rays. He has run the Rupert Pupkin Speaks website since its inception in 2009 and continues to highlight obscure cinematic gems there on a regular basis. Follow him on Twitter (@bobfreelander, @justthediscspod, @purecinemapod), Facebook, or Instagram for more film recommendations.