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“Documentary 101” is a first-of-its-kind anthology, covering the entire spectrum of non-fiction film with entries on over three hundred titles from the years 1895 to 2012. There are 101 full-length reviews of documentaries chosen for their aesthetic prominence and/or historical significance, followed by briefer entries on related titles. There are 325 total reviews and an informational appendix in its 418 pages.
Below are five more snippets from the book, accompanied by film stills only seen here. Click on images for a larger view.
Lieutenant George Coker, was a POW for seven years who returns home with a worldview that remains as black-and-white as one of those old Westerns. No one nowadays would begrudge Coker his status as a homecoming hero in his hometown of Linden, New Jersey. He takes the stage in front of a group of local housewives, literally extolling the virtues of motherhood and apple pie, calling the enemies “gooks” and telling a cafeteria full of schoolchildren that the people of Vietnam are “backward and primitive.” The film seems to imply that Coker is the perfect surrogate for a shortsighted national policy, someone who bought into the system early on and can be relied on to help carry out any military agenda no matter how shaky its justification.
(“Hearts and Minds” 1974)
Jackie, Lynn, and Sue are former East End school chums who for several episodes were interviewed together and even sitting in the same order. In earlier times, director Michael Apted used subtle tactics to get them to react to what is perceived to be their station in life. But they are now hip to the director they have known for so long, pointing out that the rich kids in the Up group must have found it hard living up to the greater expectations. Besides, they only think about class “every seven years, when you come around.”
(Pictured with Apted during the filming of “28 UP”, these three subjects are part of a group profiled every seven years since they were seven. “56 Up” was released in 2013.)
The miners only receive medical benefits after they have been diagnosed with black-lung disease and they are generally treated as little more than another piece of equipment, easily replaced when broken. When the thirteen-month strike begins, you may already find yourself convinced that things haven’t changed much since the early mining days when picketers were openly attacked by police or troops. Director Barbara Kopple is right in the eye of the hurricane during the increasingly hostile confrontations at the gate and she’s not seen as a neutral presence when the company strongmen up the ante with impulsive violence.
(“Harlan County USA” 1976)
In one of the film’s more notorious scenes, President Bush is shown sitting at his Florida-classroom photo op, staring vacantly into space for seven full minutes after being informed the U.S. has just suffered the worst terrorist attack in history. Since Michael Moore can’t resist showing this sequence in nearly real time, he fills up the surreal normality of the moment with his own guess at the president’s train of thought as he continued to sit through the reading of “My Pet Goat.”
(“Fahrenheit 9/11” 2004)
Stalwart indie documentarian Les Blank was invited to Peru by his friend Werner Herzog to record the production of the German director’s wildy ambitious film “Fitzcaraldo.” This tumultuous project inspired Blank’s most sweeping work. It’s an exceptional insider’s look at the cinematic process at it’s most chaotic. The films center on directors whose grandiose vision of a masterpiece gets knocked off course by formidable obstacles of a political, financial, meteorological, and psychological nature, all in a far-off tropical location.
(“Burden of Dreams” 1982)