Saturday, October 30, 2004

Recent Rentals: Documentaries

I love a good documentary, and many of my recent rentals have been within this genre. Here is what I watched:

SICK: THE LIFE & DEATH OF BOB FLANAGAN, SUPERMASOCHIST (1997): This doc follows the late performance artist Bob Flanagan through the last year of his life. Flanagan, who was in his forties when the film was made, had the distinction of being one of the oldest survivors of cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that normally fells those afflicted in their youth. Experiencing a life of pain and sickness out of his control, Flanagan believed that by inflicting pain upon himself, he was regaining a small bit of control over his body. The film is a poignant, yet celebratory look at a person who defied the odds and turned his life into art. I highly recommend this film, but be warned: it is not for the squeamish. The film is very graphic it its depiction of Flanagan’s masochism. I physically gagged at one point.

HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY (2002): This is another artist doc, this time focusing on Ray Johnson, a somewhat obscure yet highly influential artist at the forefront of mid-century modern American art. Iconoclast Johnson, whose peers included James Rosenquist, John Cage and Andy Warhol, worked with collage and pioneered the concept of “mail art”. Johnson lived and breathed art, and even his final act—his suicide—was as carefully constructed as one of his collages. The DVD also contains a full “gallery” of the artist’s work. I knew very little about Johnson, so this was welcome viewing. A very interesting film.

VAUDEVILLE (1997): This doc from the PBS “American Masters” series explores the history of American vaudeville. The film is fairly straight-forward, with interviews and rare film clips that trace the popular entertainment’s roots up to its ultimate demise with the rise of the film medium. The fun part for me was seeing interviews with some of the few remaining vaudevillians, including June Havoc (whose life as “Baby/Dainty June” was a central element in the musical GYSPSY) and Rose Marie, who most know as “Sally” from the DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, but was also a big child star on the vaudeville circuit. Who knew?

SUPER SIZE ME (2004): This highly popular doc follows filmmaker Morgan Spurlock as he eats only McDonald’s fast food for a month and charts the damage done to his body. It is a disturbing, yet funny, indictment of the fast food industry on Americans’ health. The DVD has a couple of great extras; one being an interview with Eric Schlosser (author of FAST FOOD NATION) which explores the effects of the fast food industry on the global society, filling in some areas that fell outside the main focus of the documentary. And after watching “The Smoking Fry”, you will never want to eat another fast-food French fry ever again!

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