Here is part two of an ongoing series about documentary films. This one is about the artist, whether it be a writer, filmmaker, cartoonist, painter, inventor, or a combination of all five. Next time: music.
F for Fake
Orson Welles’ final film is a documentary like no other. He begins with the story of Elmyr de Hory, an art forger. Elmyr lives in Ibiza and perfectly re-creates classic art masterpieces. When many people think they own the same painting- chances are one, or both, are Elmer’s work. This leads to a critical look at the idea of “experts” and the difference between “truth” and “facts,” and how they can be distorted and manipulated to create new realities- usually to the benefit of the “expert.” He goes on to discuss forgery and the nature of art. He discusses Clifford Irving’s fake Howard Hughes biography. Welles is one of the original pranksters; his War of the Worlds radio show was the first major media trick. He creates another mind-bending experience with this film- worth seeing just for the absolutely stunningly beautiful Oja Kodar. This was Robert Anton Wilson’s favorite movie, he writes about it extensively in his Cosmic Trigger book series. Those are life-altering works, check them out.
The White Diamond
A Werner Herzog film from 2004. Astonishingly beautiful, insightful and wacky at the same time. I don’t know how Herzog does it. His camera just pays attention to the right things and then lingers for the appropriate amount of time. The story is focuses on aeronautical engineer and inventor Graham Dorrington and his massive helium balloon he built to sail over the forests of Guyana. The guy is nutty. He is extremely animated and enthusiastic, to say the least. We follow him to Kaietur Falls and throughout various forest canopies in Guyana. In the jungle Herzog comes across a man chilling out watching the balloon sail. As the camera approaches he starts talking and what he says is so hip and fascinating a lot of the film focuses on him from there on in. It is mesmerizing. If you have even the slightest interest in the world around you, I highly recommend this. It doesn't really matter what it is about- this is Herzog at his best. Check out any of his other 40 or so documentaries. My other favorites are Bells of the Deep, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and Fata Morgana.
Speed Levitch is a mad genius, a modern beat poet with extraordinary knowledge and humor. This man has read every book I’ve ever talked to him about. Ideas are flowing from this guy like water. Until last year he was couch surfing for 12 years strait- and proud of it. He has slept on my couch many times and we would often spend all night discussing life and hatching plans. He is also a master tour guide of New York and more recently San Francisco. This film centers on a New York tour. Its more than a tour, it’s a life philosophy— Cruising. Watch it. Read his book Speed On New York On Speed. He’s been working on a new one too- a book of one-liners. He told me this film did more bad than good for him. It kind of pigeon-holed him as the director portrayed him in the movie- when he’s really got so much more going on. There is another film Richard Linklater did of him touring Ground Zero after 9/11. Its called Live From Shiva’s Dance Floor. His idea was to put grass with live bison grazing where the buildings were. "The idea is that the central monument should not be an inanimate piece of stone but it should be something that's alive, that has a heartbeat and that propagates." He also does the Shakespeare Delivery troop, a home delivery Shakespeare theater group. Check out his band Sexual Vietnam if you ever get the chance. But start with The Cruise.
This is a very in depth character study of cartoonist Robert Crumb. He is not the most likable guy and his family is really messed up. But director Terry Zwigoff goes deep into the mans psyche and creative process. Even if you don’t like Crumb or cartoons this is a fascinating look into the life of an artist. I haven’t seen this since it came out in 94 but I remember really being moved by it. Check it out.
Burden of Dreams
This is Les Blanks documentary about Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski making Fitzcarraldo together in the Amazon jungle. Required viewing. Fitzcarraldo is most famous because they pulled a boat over a mountain. No stupid CGI shit here. This is the real thing. Obsessed artists on a serious journey. We see Herzog get super philosophical about the jungle. We see Kinski get super emotional when the boat starts moving over the mountain. We see the natives stare in confusion. Just incredible, historical stuff. Make sure and check out Herzogs film about Kinski that uses some of the same footage- My Best Fiend. And of course the masterpiece itself, Fitzcarraldo.
Born Into This
The last time I remember tears falling from my eyes was in a theater during the end of this movie. The poetry was so beautiful, especially the way it was presented in that context, I actually wept at its power. They were the words of Charles Bukowski, one of the great poets. I don’t know where to start if you’re not familiar with his life and work. Read his novels Post Office or Women. Check out any one of his poetry books- The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over The Hills is an early favorite of mine. Or check out this movie, the filmmakers did and excellent job. It is pretty much the definitive documentary on his life. There is tons of rare footage of readings, interviews,and drunken behavior. Did you know Buddhist monks performed his funeral rites? I just learnt that. I asked fellow fan Tim Hicks for a quote about him, he sums everything up eloquently… "Bukowski is the quintessential spokesman for the underdog. If you thought that you had it bad, try reading Ham on Rye or Factotum. Better yet, don't try. He is a master of prose and a totally original poet, who listens to nobody and follows no trend. He truly didn't give a fuck what people thought, he couldn't, it would hurt too much."