Dear Mr. Watterson 7/10 and Harmontown – 8.5/10.

Two documentaries that champion art over commercialism.

Calvin-and-Hobbes-hugging-calvin-and-hobbes-1395524-1024-768

Mr. Watterson is Bill Watterson the creator of much loved comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. As Watterson is legendarily reclusive there are no interviews with him and barely any archive footage so instead we have extensive interviews with fans, people in the comic industry and celebrity talking heads like Seth Green. It was nice for me to hear people speak with such passion and excitement about Calvin and Hobbes, as one of my happiest childhood memories involves me reading my C & H anthology surrounded by Pic ‘n’ Mix in the sunshine…

What I found most interesting about Dear Mr. Watterson was the revelation that Watterson has never allowed Calvin & Hobbes to be licenced thus preventing any C & H toys or cartoons or anything else. This moral stance has cost Watterson millions of dollars and has stopped his creation reaching the level of popularity achieved by Garfield or Snoopy.

This brings us neatly to Harmontown which follows Community creator Dan Harmon on his tour across America promoting his eponymous podcast.

Harmontown

Like Watterson, Harmon has been fired from numerous projects (including Community for one season before being re-hired) for his refusal to change who he is and also because of his constant quest for honesty and perfection in his writing.

Harmontown is a brutally honest portrayal of a man trying to overcome his problems with alcoholism and a difficult upbringing by connecting with his fans and trying to help others with similar problems. As well as extensive live footage of the tour and behind the scenes extras there is also illuminating interviews with celebrities who have worked with Harmon including Jack Black, Sarah Silverman, Ben Stiller and of course the cast of Community.

Community

The whole message of the show Community was there is a place for anti social loners amongst each other and Harmontown takes this notion to the next level with Harmon and his fellow podcaster Jeff Davis playing to packed out venues night after night of misfits, dungeons and dragons enthusiasts and people who have nowhere else to go.

I found Harmontown to be much more true, funny, and honest than any episode of Community and I have a new found respect for Dan Harmon and his work.

Both these documentaries are proof that there are still people out there producing art with meaning and both these films pour scorn on anybody who is too stuck up to accept that comic strips and comedy writing are just as much of an art form as anything else.

Cropsey 6/10 and Killer Legends 7.5/10

Director Joshua Zeman explores the dark side of the urban legends in a pair of chilling documentaries.

Cropsey

Cropsey is the sad and intriguing story of five missing children in the Staten Island area of New York City. The local folklore states that disused tunnels beneath an abandoned mental hospital housed a child murderer and various other unspeakable horrors. Upon examination Zeman and co director Barbara Brancaccio discover this is more than just a fable. Without wanting to spoil anything Cropsey is an interesting and dark film that also includes some truly disturbing footage of an expose on mental hospital Willowbrook from 1972.

Cropsey was Zeman’s first feature and he doesn’t seem to have enough material to cover the 84 minute running time so a lot of the footage is repeated. This story could have been covered in a 45 minute TV show rather than a feature film but it is still a decent watch.

Five years later Zeman returns with another spine chilling film Killer Legends. Taking apart four of the most well known urban myths (hook handed psychopath at Lovers Lane, poisoned Halloween candy, the babysitter receives a call from inside the house and the killer clown) and turning the ‘myths’ on their head to expose the terrible truth behind each of them.

pogo-the-clown

Zeman has clearly learnt a lot in the five years between films as Killer Legends is much better put together, much more interesting and is genuinely one of the most creepy documentaries I have ever seen.

Most people will be familiar with notorious serial killer John W. Gacy so that is the only segment that falls a bit flat but the rest of the film had me on the edge of my seat with it’s part crime part horror angle. Zeman and researcher Rachel Mills decide to put themselves in front of the camera which is something that has grated on me with people like Michael Moore and Nick Broomfield but Zeman and Mills let the stories tell themselves without trying to become the centre of attention.

For anyone interested in the dark and the macabre I would recommend both but if you are just looking for an interesting and well directed documentary Killer Legends will not disappoint.

Capturing the Friedmans – 8/10.

What happens when a seemingly normal New York family is ripped apart by accusations of child abuse? It is an interesting question and one that is examined here to jaw dropping effect.

friedman25n-5-web

Interviews with everyone involved on both sides of the argument (director Andrew Jarecki does well to maintain ambiguity but off camera he is convinced of the Friedmans innocence) and extensive home footage of the Friedman family falling apart give a unique insight into a criminal case that is far from cut and dry. After watching this documentary and reading a lot of other material surrounding the case I am still no closer to an opinion on whether the Friedmans are innocent or guilty and one of the best things about the film is you will go from being sure they are guilty to being sure they are innocent in the space of minutes.

One thing that is certain is that the cops made mistakes which is an affront to both the accuser and the accused and that the justice system (particularly in America) leads to guilty pleas’ for reduced sentences which is a deeply flawed system.

features

Obviously given the subject matter Capturing the Friedmans is not a pleasant watch but it is one of the more compelling and original documentary’s of recent times.

‘Joy Division’ – 8.5/10

‘Don’t turn away…’
Portrait of Joy Division

People often speculate about what a third Joy Division album would have sounded like or how a fourth Nirvana record would have turned out. In both cases people wring their hands about being robbed of what surely would have been an essential piece of work. To yearn for a lost masterpiece from either band though is to miss the point. Both Kurt Cobain and Joy Division singer Ian Curtis were tortured souls and both bands were doomed from the start. The fact that their lights shone so briefly is what makes their frustratingly small musical output so astonishing. No matter how successful both groups became (and arguably because of this) the alienation, loneliness and drug addiction(Cobain)/epilepsy(Curtis) would have got them in the end.

Joy Division is an exhaustive bbc4 documentary taking in the bands humble beginnings as Warsaw after forming at the infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Free Trade Hall to Curtis’ death on the eve of an America tour.

While it is really interesting to see interviews with Tony Wilson (RIP) and to see and hear archive footage from producer Martin Hannett and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton, it is the interviews with the band themselves as well as the live footage from the shows that leave a lasting impression.

068.tif

Hooky, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris make for insightful and funny interviewees and while the story of Joy Division and Curtis is a dark one, the three former band mates inject a lot of warmth and poignancy in to what is a brilliant documentary.

Totally essential for any Joy Division/New Order fan, Joy Division would also make a great introduction for anyone interesting in discovering Joy Division for the first time.

Joy Division is unflashy yet full of bravado, visceral yet funny. I get the feeling that Curtis would have approved…

The Imposter – 8/10.

Compelling documentary with several WTF moments…

The Imposter 2.jpg

This fascinating documentary tells the story of Frédéric Bourdin, a French man who pretended to be an American boy who went missing when he was 13.

The re-enactments are a bit crime watch and unnecessary at times but the story itself is frankly astonishing. The Imposter is also a triumph in film making as the story is revealed slowly and in layers to jaw dropping effect. I can guarantee you wont be able to watch this without researching the film afterwards which is surely the highest compliment you can pay a documentary?

Capitalism A Love Story – 7/10

Michael Moore lays bare the truth about economic crisis in America.
team-america-20041014040125738-000
Capitalism: A Love Story is probably Moore’s best made and most restrained documentary yet. The problem is whilst some of the shock tactics employed in previous works, especially Bowling for Columbine, left a bad taste in the mouth, they did make for entertaining cinema. At over two hours long Capitalism… is pretty slow going in places. The other problem is that because of the explosion of conspiracy theories/truth movements on the internet people already know a lot of what is shown in this movie.
Whilst Fahrenheit 9/11 was genuinely shocking at the time, nothing about this documentary really shocked me. If you are new to the subject of capitalism/the banking crisis etc however and you are looking for a good starting point, look no further.

Glastonbury – 4/10.

Distinctly average documentary reinforces all negative stereotypes about Glastonbury…
Image
Renowned music documentary maker Julien Temple (Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle) brings us this floating turd about the legendary music festival.
What a missed opportunity Glastonbury is. Anyone who thinks that Glastonbury festival is populated by hippy cunts and 40 year old Levellers fans will feel totally vindicated at watching this documentary. We get extensive and mostly pretty boring interviews with festival organizer Michael Eavis but no interviews with any of the artists who have played there.
Some decent performances from Faithless, David Bowie, and Pulp but other bands are massively overlooked (Radiohead get about the same amount of screen time as Stereo fucking MC’s). There is no real narrative to this sprawling, messy 138 minute documentary, it doesn’t tell the story of Glastonbury as such, it is mostly raw footage of drunken tossers trying to be funny for the camera. Not worth anyone’s time, download a band you likes set from Glasto and watch that instead.

Dig! – 9/10.

As close as you can get to a real life Spinal Tap and probably the best music documentary ever made.

dig03

Dig! follows the hugely contrasting fortunes of The Brian Jonestown Massacre and the Dandy Warhols from unsigned newcomers to major label smashes and back again.
The Dandy’s and Jonestown start off as friends and peers but things turn sour as the genius of Anton Newcombe is lost in the midst of his erratic behavior. Anton and the other members of BJM have every right to feel aggrieved with the final cut as extensive footage of in band fighting and drug addled interviews takes up much more screen time then the countless successful gigs the band must have played over the seven years in which Dig! was filmed. This does make for a more entertaining film however and while editing can change perspective the camera itself doesn’t lie.

The-Dandy-warhols-the-dandy-warhols-26804410-482-321

Dig! is quite unique in as much as the actual music takes a backseat as Matt Hollywood, Joel Gion and Anton from the Brian Jonestown Massacre have so much charisma and tension between them that you almost forget the whole point is for them to play music together.
It is not all sensationalism though, Dig! shows what life is like for a band on the road and also talks to various music industry types who give a great insight into what goes on behind the scenes. Dig! is arguably a more important and impressive work than anything either band has produced musically.
You don’t have to be a fan of alternative music to (bohemian) like this excellent piece of work.
.

Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy – 10/10

An exhaustive look at the Nightmare on Elm Street series featuring interviews with the actors, production team and studio big wigs.

a-nightmare-on-elm-street

Clocking in at four hours, Never Sleep Again features a comprehensive break down of each entry in the franchise from the seminal original, right through to Freddy vs Jason. If you are a big fan of the series, this is essential viewing, as it contains fascinating and passionate insights from everyone involved in the films.

Never Sleep Again is like two documentary’s for the price of one in many ways, as running parallel to the story of the Nightmare films is the tale of New Line Cinema – The film studio that went from a tiny production company to the behemoth behind the release of the Lord of the Rings films.

This documentary is one of those films that will only appeal to big fans but if you grew up watching Nightmare on Elm Street then you will find yourself captivated. I absolutely loved it.