Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen
My mother used to watch “60 Minutes” on TV for strictly medicinal purposes. Mike Wallace and them’ns would always have at least one piece of inflammatory journalism that would get her blood boiling, a process that she swore cleaned our her innards.
And while that program continues to stir the murky pot of righteous indignation we all feel at one time or another, a new breed of documentary movies has taken over the spotlight and gets most of the publicity. Why, just using available DVDs, you could put together a veritable Righteous Indignation Film Festival, and drive yourself into a first-rate frenzy about the misdeeds of big business, the government, Hitler, OPEC, fast food, or almost any other evil subject under the sun.
Here are my suggestions for some of the classics, both modern and ancient, that would help turn your neighborhood bible study group into a mob of enraged torch-carrying villagers, out to tar and feather the cigar-chomping capitalists (and other meanies) who steal money from Dad’s wallet and siphon milk from Junior’s sippy cup.
All movies were documentaries, at first. Folks were content to watch these amazing flickering images of their peers just walking around the streets, or of choo-choo trains chugging by. Then along came “The Great Train Robbery,” and fiction (which is always preferable to reality) took over. Documentaries sat in the back of the bus for a couple of decades until 1922 when Robert J. Flaherty’s great “Nanook of the North” appeared, and it dawned on us that film could actually comment on the tenuous planet upon which we live. Since then, there have been some real barnburners in the genre, reaching a peak during World War II when A-list directors like John Ford and Frank Capra turned out propaganda-laced “documentaries” designed to fan our patriotic zeal. And once we’d sampled the sweet taste of virtuous, fist-shaking ire, there was no turning back.
Fast forward to now, the Age of Michael Moore. Called a scumsucking, muckraking yellow dog by some and a hero of the masses by others, the chubby, jovial filmmaker is today’s preeminent button-pusher and a Must for your fire-fanning film fest. Beginning in 1989 with “Roger and Me” (wherein he took General Motors to task), the mischievous Mr. Moore has subsequently primarily prickled privileged people, big business, right-wing politicians and turned a horrified eye on school shootings and gun control (“Bowling for Columbine” 2002), America’s health insurance (in the forthcoming “Sicko”), and hopped aboard – nay, taken the reins of – the Bush-bashing bandwagon with 2004’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.”
The obvious choice for a good ol’ rabble rousing documentary is, of course, Al Gore’s double Academy Award winning “An Inconvenient Truth.” It’s a brilliant, scary film that might change history (if Al decides to run), and is much adored by all us tree-hugging, antiwar, pro-choice nutcases.
One documentary that DID change history – at least for one man – is “The Thin Blue Line” by Errol Morris, circa 1988. The film exposed a corrupt Dallas justice system and led to freedom for a man wrongly convicted of murder.
If you’re going to include 2004’s “Super Size Me” in your R.I.F.F., make sure you schedule it for viewing AFTER you’ve downed a few Big Macs with fries, ‘cause you won’t be visiting Ronald McD anytime soon. It’s light-hearted (for awhile), then gets harrowing.
Want to get really, really pissed off? Don’t miss “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” made in 2005 by veteran documentarian Alex Gibney. It’s a devastating (and easy to understand, thank God) explanation of just what all that “Enron” stuff was all about.
Gibney was also a consulting producer on “Who Killed the Electric Car?” – which will begin airing tomorrow on the cable/satellite Starz channel. I’ve been waiting patiently for a year to see this doozie, which hints at a juicy conspiracy to keep environmentally preferable and electrically-run vehicles from being mass produced.
A definite possibility for viewing by you and your rabid friends. Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, Rory Kennedy, directed “The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib,” which was released earlier this year. It’s a brilliant examination of the abuses that took place in 2003 at the notorious Iraqi prison. A shocker, for sure.
All of the above are pretty well-known documentaries, so let me add an obscure entry that’ll raise the hair on the back of your head for sure. “Harvest of Despair: The Unknown Holocaust” documents Stalin’s campaign to starve dissidents in the Ukraine back in the early 1930s. More than 7 million people died in this nearly-forgotten holocaust.
So how’s that for a film-festival format? After a gander at a few of these babies, you’ll be angry enough to eat nails, sell your stocks and bonds, and overthrow the government. (Or at least quietly whisper that you think the president is a doody-head.)
But fear not. As my mommy always said, a little righteous indignation, now and then, is good for what ails ya.
Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:
Awwwww, the new “Nancy Drew” is playing, starring Julia Roberts’ niece! She’s a smooth, sleuthy cutie – but the hearts of us geezers, I’m afraid, will always belong to Bonita Granville, the Original Nancy Drew in a series of Hollywood films in the late 1930s. How charming she was! How naive! How un-Brittany Spearsish! Oh, Lord, where are the good old days? (Exits, blubbering.)
Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.