Thursday, September 18, 2014

Up Close and Personal

The death of Joan Rivers recently made me think about how although I have never been a huge fan of her stand-up comedy, I came to see her in a whole different way after seeing the documentary about her, called "A Piece of Work."  There's something about seeing someone up close and personal, in the context of the pieces of his/her life, with a sense of her whole life story, that I find fascinating.  This movie made me appreciate what a hard working, ground-breaking performer she's been for all of her adult life.  Here's the official trailer for the movie.

And that made me think of some other biographical documentaries that I really enjoyed.  For much of my life, I've tended to watch fictional movies.  But over the last few years, I've been watching a lot of documentaries.  It's like reality tv, I guess. But better -- and perhaps far more real.  Anyway, here are a few other biographical documentaries I've really liked.  Are there ones you've loved?  Do share them with me in a comment!

Speaking of fabulously successful yet insecure performers, this documentary about Elaine Stritch -- "Shoot Me" -- is gripping and funny and poignant.  She's another performer I liked well enough, but came to see differently after seeing this film.  How frightened she was of aging and losing her memory, and how much she needed the adoration of fans. It was amazing to see how she'd be sore and sad in her dressing room, then the minute she hit the stage, she'd be erect and charming and with charisma just shining from her. The trailer's here.

Have you seen "20 Feet from Stardom"?  It won the Oscar for the best documentary film this past year.  It follows several long-time but not very well known (to the general public, anyway) back-up singers who've sung behind the big names in pop and rock music.  It's intriguing to meet these women whose voices we hear all of the time, on our CDs and on the radio, and to hear their stories as they talk about how it is that they are not at the front of the stage.  I loved this look at a side of the music industry I'd never really thought about. Here's the official trailer.

I can't remember how it was that I heard about the movie "Bill Cunningham New York" or why I watched it, but I really enjoyed this movie. Bill Cunningham is a fashion photographer for the New York Times who rides around NYC on his bicycle photographing what real people are wearing for his dedicate page "On the Street."  His view of fashion as something that is relevant for real people, as armor for coping with life, is thought-provoking. But it's his odd, quiet private life juxtaposed with the hugeness of his role in NY's fashion world that made this film so fascinating for me.  He's a guy you'd not look twice at if you passed him on the street -- and a look inside his life is truly entertaining and intriguing.  The trailer is here.  

Exit Through the Gift Shop is another film that has gotten a lot of press and acclaim over the last few years, and if you've not seen it it's really worth watching.  It looks at NY graffiti artist Banksy (well, doesn't "look at" him as his identity is not publicly known) -- how his graffiti has affected, changed, and mocked the art world.  It raises a lot of questions -- what is art, anyway?  who can say what is art and what isn't? -- and is thought provoking as well as wildly entertaining.  Trailer here.

I have so many more on my Netflix queue so I'll keep you posted if I watch any great ones. 


  1. Thanks for those recommendations, they all look very enjoyable. Where can I find them???
    Linda Evans

  2. No Netflix here but I'm going to request them from the library... Bill Cunningham will be the first!

    Thanks Diane!

  3. Linda, all of these movies are available from Netflix. If you aren't a Netflix member, they are also available from Amazon's Instant Video, where you pay to stream one viewing (like pay per view) with each movie costing between $2 and $6 to view. (You can use that even if you're not an Amazon Prime member -- I think if you have prime, some of those movies might be free.) I'm sure they are on other streaming sites like Hulu. Also, check your local public library catalog -- a lot of them have documentaries among their DVD collections.

  4. I found 3 of these at my library! Thanks for posting--I'm going to start with Banksy.

  5. I loved the Joan Rivers, Bill Cunningham and Banksy docs. All really inspiring in their own ways. (I didn't think 20 feet was as good. But that may be because I was resenting its oscar win when Tim's Vermeer didn't even get nominated.) have you seen the short doc The Lady in Number 6? It won the oscar last year and is really wonderful.

  6. Oh! I should have included Tim's Vermeer on this list -- I LOVED it. I think it didn't even occur to me because I saw it in a theater and not via Netflix. I will look for Lady in #6! Thanks for the recommendation, Deborah!