Keeping It Real: The Oscar-Nominated Documentaries
That off-the-cuff philosphy, which oughta keep Žižek busy for awhile, comes off the commentary track for Tupac: Resurrection, one of the five movies nominated in the Best Documentary Feature category at the upcoming Academy Awards. Snoop here is letting us in on his idea of how Tupac's albums combined the gangsta-ism of some of his tracks (like "I Get Around," which keeps it real) with the social and political truth-telling of other tracks (like "Brenda's Got a Baby," which is real—see, I'm one of the realest, so I get this stuff). Still, Snoop could just as well be diagnosing the peculiar, aestheticized reality of all documentaries, which have to start with fact but structure, assemble, and polish it up like a story. This year's crop of nominees all do pretty well by the form, even if I wished any one of them had really blown my socks off. (By far the best documentary released in the 9/1/03-8/31/04 qualifying period was the mysteriously unnominated The Corporation, which is a straight-up masterpiece.)
Tupac: Resurrection—like last year's winner, The Fog of War—ultimately limits its reach and effectivity by limiting itself to a single voice, and yet the decision to frame the whole movie through Tupac's own interviews and other recorded remarks also makes the film a special glimpse into one complex performer's strong, articulate, but troublingly paradoxical persona. Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski's Born into Brothels offers a moving and detailed profile of eight children of prostitutes who live in Calcutta, India; though the movie is carelessly vague and unwittingly cruel in characterizing their beleaguered mothers, the children themselves are a fascinating study, especially as they learn to turn cameras on their own lives. Morgan Spurlock's breakout hit Super Size Me inflates its director in several senses: he sure can hog a spotlight, but the story he spins not just about the nefarious calorie-blobs being hawked at McDonalds but the sheer perversity of America's entire relationship to food is worth making a spectacle about. Then there's the Mongolian entry The Story of the Weeping Camel, which relies heavily on re-enactments and director-guided anecdotes to tell its admittedly winning story about a small family of herders who smartly conspire to save an adorable, all-white, newborn camel whose mother refuses to nurse or even acknowledge it.
The only nominee I haven't seen yet is Kirby Dick's Twist of Faith, about a man who was abused as a child by a Catholic priest but watches his life fall apart as he reveals this secret. Twist of Faith is bowing right now at the Sundance Film Festival, and based on how much I enjoyed two of Dick's other projects (Sick: The Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist and Derrida), I'm intrigued to see Twist. For now, though, in an above-average field where all four movies would be satisfying winners, I'd have to give the edge to Super Size Me, which does the best job of probing the multiple dimensions of its premise: the detours into seeming sidebars like the school-lunch programs and the anti-obesity campaigns by the former heir to Baskin Robbins ultimately enrich our grasp of the more central material, whereas the other three docs all look a little fuzzy around the edges. Still, they're all real, and they keep it real, you feel me? Check this s**t out, man.