Sunday, January 30, 2005

Keeping It Real: The Oscar-Nominated Documentaries

Snoop Dogg, as usual, says it best: "It was about being real but also being real. You know what I'm saying? You gotta keep it real, but you gotta be real at the same time. Only the real will understand what I'm talkin' 'bout."

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.

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1 Comments:

Blogger dan said...

do you know these people? i am watching the awards on TV
i have one question. i feel Zana was scandallous in that she appeared
at the awards ceremony looking like a hooker herselF! and the movie is
supposred to tell people the sadness and dangers of prostitiution via
the kids, and yet she appears with her own breatsts hanging out of her
dress like a hooker. it ruined the award for me. i feel she should
have dressed more conservatrively. you don't win friends that way.
what do you think?>


jeez, she could have dressed with a better PR message. as it looks
now, she is just a gold digger slut. that kind of outfit was
denigrating to the people she documented. what on earth was going on
in her head.

i want to email her and tell her face to face. do u know her email address?

dont get me wrong. i love what she and ross accomplished. i salute
the, and i know they are good people. but i am a PR nut from way back
and i feel she blew her chance for understand. how could she be so
DUMB? or insensitive.? there is a world beyond hollywood, watching.

sigh.

and this:

from an Indian national:

> First of all I have not seen this film BROITHELK KIDS so I would not comment about
> the film-making/art aspect of it.
>
> However, I read about the film and honestly find it pretty pathetic.
>
> Looks like the film-makers are trying to follow the well established
> path: Pick up one wretched corner of the developing world, picture the
> misery of the people and use them for personal gains and throw in
> couple of western (white) characters and show them as saviors of the
> poor 'third-world' souls.
>
> Its true that some Westerners actually do things to help these people
> but vast majority just love to talk about these issues in parties
> particularly the guilt-ridden, patronizing liberal ones. The
> film-makers goes at length to show the bureaucracy in Kolkata schools
> but don't bother to even mention literally hundreds of Indian social
> organizations that play important role in protecting the existing
> prostitutes and rehabilitating others. Kolkata in particular is very
> active in terms of welfare of prostitutes. Prostitutes in Kolkata are
> organized in union and they enjoy legal protection and the spread of
> AIDS is minimal due to active health-care programs. Of course, the
> film-makers won't show it because the people doing real work are not
> westerners, they are Indians. If someone is making a documentary film
> it should be factual not a fairy tale story of white angels saving
> poor and dark people.
>
> This is exactly the same reason Hotel Rwanda won't get the Oscar
> because the heroes of the film are black Africans not westerners.
>
> In any case, the film-makers have a right to make any film they want.
> As long as they don't exploit poor children of the 'third-world' for
> making money its okay. Local media in Kolkata says that the
> film-makers raised false hope among the children and they are worse
> off after taking part in the film. If the film-makers are so desperate
> to picture misery maybe they should take their camera to the
> inner-city slums of New York and picture the troubled and often
> criminalized kids of those neighborhoods. Lets see how much people
> enjoy that! If you really want to watch a good film about poor kids
> living in many slums in urban India, watch "Salaam Bombay" by Mira
> Nair. Its an excellent film but unlike this one does not portray slum
> kids as weak, poor and dependent on western generosity. It depicts the
> reality about how actually the slum kids fight for their survival and
> fight against incredible odds.

8:51 AM, March 01, 2005  

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