For me, the big screen works as a supreme medium for losing oneself for two hours on some journey, fantasy or experience. Documentary usually involves learning about a subject, and for this the TV will often suffice. There are two notable exceptions that spring to mind:
- Nature, architecture or others where cinematography is prominent, e.g. Microcosmos and Winged Migration (aka Travelling Birds)
- Documentaries that are emotionally engaging (as it is said, the truth is often stranger than fiction) , e.g. Capturing the Friedmans.
Many cinema commentators have noted a renaissance in the documentary genre in recent years, particularly since the success of Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine. I've been ruminating about the reasons for that.
It is my perception that
Perhaps it’s a case of emulating
This is a distinct departure from the more traditional model of focusing on being authoritative, balanced, impartial, incisive, analytical, revealing and explorative. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (to be released next week) is this type of documentary. Errol Morris’ excellent Fog of War also fits into this category and is the best documentary that I can recall.
A distinct difference between the two
Perhaps success went to
Another form of populist documentary that is appearing increasingly is the ‘competition’ style, like Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom and the just released Wordplay. Each of these films follows an almost identical formula: follow some key players that are going to compete in a competition. Interview some talking heads – sprinkle in some celebrities if possible. And culminate in the drama of the actual competition.
The popularity of this genre may be attributed to the reasons discussed above, i.e. the vacuum of adult cinema. I think the popularity of reality television may also be a factor. The formulae of each are very similar, though the ‘competition’ documentary is closer to actual reality than its television cousin. While each of the ‘competition’ documentaries may be interesting on their own, the repetitiveness of the formula becomes tiresome, unoriginal and uninspirational – much like the
If quality documentaries interest you, next week’s release of Metal may be a good opportunity to get your annual dose. I highly recommend it.