Look at me, the fancy pants who watches documentaries.

12 Apr

Posted by: Alex


I don’t have much patience for a lot of things: shopping; animal videos; other people’s travel photos (unless they are of a person drunk, doing dumb stuff. Otherwise, I don’t need to see 17 photos of that tree you thought was life changing); student loan customer service representatives; paying attention in meetings; descriptive words in fictional writing (“The wind is the smell of my great grandmother’s favorite perfume before the war and it feels as cold as a popsicle I ate after I almost got hit by a car when I was 8.” So…it’s windy). Just to name a few. Something that shocks and disappoints people about me (read: my husband) is that I have very little patience for movies. This was not always my lot in life. Once upon a time, I would watch any movie at any time. I once watched Sneakers two times in a row, just for fun. This situation would LITERALLY never happen today (actually maybe it would. Sneakers is such a good movie). Once I hit my late 20’s, something in me changed. My attention span became shorter and shorter and I started getting resentful of the hours spent watching a movie I didn’t like, which was 99% of them. On top of my anger, I actually stopped being able to pay attention. I would drift off and start thinking about what I need to do or what I want to eat for dinner (which, to be fair, I think about all day, anyway), and I would miss major plotlines. I often will get to the end of a movie and have no idea what the conflict was or the name of any character. I’m on season 3 of Parenthood and I still call Lauren Graham’s character “Lorelai Gilmore” because I don’t know her name. None of these are things I’m proud of, but it’s who I am and I accept it.

Maybe it’s the sociology major in me (insert your joke about my useless major here. I’ve heard em all, people), but one thing that never loses my attention are real people doing things in their real life. This is why documentaries are one of the few genres that I can watch and stay focused on. I realize that most people being followed around with a camera are creating some type of persona, so they are about as fake as a character in a movie. But I don’t care. Because there is always a glimmer of truth to what people say and do, or how they say it, or how they look when they say it, that I believe them. So until documentaries stop being made and reality television gets cancelled (please be never, please be never) there is at least one genre out there that doesn’t ever bore me. Here are three documentaries I watched recently, and I loved all of them:

1.) Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Marina Abramovic is the mother of performance art and she is absolutely fascinating in every way. She has done some crazy shit over the years. Some of it is incredibly provocative, like Rhythm 0, which she performed in 1974. In this work, she gave the audience 72 objects that could be used to inflict pain or pleasure, including honey, a whip, and a gun. Marina remained impassive the entire time, and people did really aggressive things like cut her, and put the gun to her head. After 6 hours, when she finally became active again and started walking towards them, the audience all ran away, not wanting confrontation. This is mind blowingly genius to me. It says so much about the human condition that people would choose to torture her because she won’t do anything about it, but they run away as soon as she interacts. Pussies.

On the other hand, some of what she has done is cray-cray, like when she and her partner got naked and slammed their bodies together over and over for a really long time. I know it had a point, but I mean, come on. That just seems painful.

This documentary follows Marina during her most recent performance, at the Museum of Modern Art, entitled The Artist is Present. The title tells the whole story, which is that for 3 months, Marina was present from open to close on the second floor of the MoMA, and she was literally present by spending every waking hour sitting silently in a chair, staring across at an audience member who could sit with her as long as he or she wanted. She put her head down to refresh herself between each person, so that she was “present” for each interaction. Performance art might not be your thing, so this might sound ridiculous, but it is absolutely incredible to watch. She somehow sees into the soul of every new person in front of her. I wouldn’t call myself a spiritual person, but there is something about her that moves me and her patience and her vulnerability is mind boggling. And I don’t know if you’ve done the math, but 3 months, all day every day, is a lot of hours to sit still. The documentary also focuses on her early work, and the heartbreaking love story with her long time partner, Ulay. When they were at the peak of their problems, they each walked from either end of the Great Wall of China and met in the middle, only to break up. I sobbed. Love is so dramatic!

I want you all to watch this and then I want you to tell me what you think. Well, first get HBO because that’s where you can watch it, and THEN tell me what you think. Please.

2.) Bill Cunningham New York

My husband and I are very fortunate that we are delivered the Sunday New York Times each and every week. It is UNfortunate that we have zero time to read it anymore, so I take out the crossword puzzle to work on before bed, and the rest basically goes into recycling. In 18 years, though, I am going to read every single page of that thing. Ima get smart.

When we do find the minutes, I always go to the Style section and look at Bill Cunningham’s columns. I look at his “On the Street” photos of everyday New Yorkers and their fabulous fashions. And I look at all the pictures of the elite party-goers at their posh events. It didn’t dawn on me, until I saw a documentary about him, that in order for these pictures to get published each week, Bill Cunningham bikes around the city all day taking pictures (he is 84 and he bikes everywhere. The scariest part of the movie was watching him manage NYC traffic. I had to cover my eyes), and then bikes around the city from party to party all night. He then returns home to his extraordinarily modest apartment, filled with files upon files of his negatives and little else. He takes off his blue smock, eats a little sandwich he got from a hole-in-the-wall deli, and goes to bed. He wakes up the next morning, and does it again. This is followed by hours and hours of editing, the final publication, and a new week begins. And he’s been doing this for 30 odd years! It’s absolutely incredible.

This movie simply follows him around in his daily life and it’s impossible not to fall in love with him. He is so sweet and humble, yet he knows exactly what he wants and he won’t settle for less. They touch upon his personal life, only enough to give you the impression that he is gay and has had to keep that to himself due to his strict catholic upbringing. It’s pretty heartbreaking, but I do think he’s got some over the years, so don’t fret too much. He just feels that he has to get some in secret, when in truth, his coming out would be so embraced that all of New York would throw a huge parade for him. But, he’s 84 so I won’t hold my breathe for a big announcement.

Even if you’re not into fashion (which I’m not particularly into), you’ll find his life and career fascinating. I’m guessing.

3.) Woody Allen: A Documentary

This trailer for Woody Allen: A Documentary doesn’t really do it justice. It is interesting to hear what those who have worked with him and for him have to say about this quirky, weird little person, but watching Woody speak about himself is, by far, the most intriguing thing about this  movie. Although, had Mia Farrow been interviewed for this, that would have, by far, been the most intriguing thing about this movie. But, alas, no such luck. I’m pretty sure she would rather drive nails into her eyes than talk about Woody Allen. But as usual, I digress.

If I were a good Jewish person, I would know all of his movies backwards and forwards, but I do not. I appreciate his humor, and I’ve seen a handful of his films, but I’ve just never been overly interested in them, that is, until now. What I learned from this documentary is that Woody Allen is VERY funny. He is extremely soft spoken, shy, awkward, out there, married to his former step daughter, and unbelievably funny. What’s most appealing about his sense of humor, not only that it’s a little dark and morose, which I like, is that he’s not trying. Throughout his interviews he just drops these lines that come out of nowhere and they are hysterical. He says them in this meek little voice, wearing his tiny waisted pants and droopy fisherman’s hat, but they’re brilliant one liners. That is why Woody Allen is so successful and that is why I now want to go back and watch all of his movies. It sounds like an entire decade of them were crap, but I’ll still give them a shot.

Besides discussing his library of films, he does talk about his various relationships, including with Diane Keaton (very sweet), Mia Farrow (very odd), and Soon-Yi Previn (seems like it should be illegal, but isn’t). What surprised me the most is that I was expecting to be disgusted when he talked about his affair with Soon-Yi, but he somehow made it sound so innocent and un-noteworthy that I kind of started rooting for them. He made me root for a man who left naked pictures around of his young step daughter for his girlfriend of 10 years, or her mother, to find. That’s impressive! He seemed so genuinely shocked that anyone cared about him or his relationships. He has since lived a long and quiet married life with Soon-Yi, and they have two cute kids together. I realize I sound like I’m their publicist, but he impressed me, ok?!?!

An older documentary that I also highly recommend, if you’re on a kick. One of my faves: To Be and to Have

This is the one of the sweetest movies I’ve ever seen about an incredibly dedicated French school teacher. My description can’t really do it justice, so like all the others, just watch it. You won’t regret it. Or you will, and you’ll resent me for wasting two hours of your life. Welcome to my neurotic way of living.

2 Responses to “Look at me, the fancy pants who watches documentaries.”

  1. Em April 12, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Me too!! May I recommend a few others? Dear Zachary, The Art of the Steal, and The Imposter.

    • athed April 12, 2013 at 10:09 am #

      I was SO hoping that there would be recommendations of others! I will watch these! Thank you, Em!!

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