Senna

Ayrton Senna was a Brazilian Formula 1 driver, who became infamous during the 80s and early 90s as being one of the greatest in the world, and for a much-publicised on-and-off-track feud he had with his McLaren team-mate, Alain Prost. During the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, Senna’s legacy became set in stone when he crashed and died during a race in Italy, provoking racing regulations to be reconsidered and ensuring he would be the last person to die during a race.
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The Thin Blue Line

On Thanksgiving weekend, 1976, policeman Robert W Wood pulled over a car for driving at night with no headlights on in Dallas, Texas. The car was stolen, which Wood had no knowledge of, and sadly he was shot and killed, with the car peeling away as Wood’s partner, one of the first female officers in Dallas, fired shots after it. The police investigation led to 16-year-old David Ray Harris, who had reportedly stolen the car from his neighbour and later bragged to his friends about committing the crime, but he pointed the finger at 28-year-old Randall Adams, a man new in town planning to start a new job, whom Harris had given a ride to and spent the day with.
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The Sorrow and the Pity

The Sorrow and the Pity is a documentary, initially released in 1969, which focusses on the relationship between France and Germany during the Second World War, specifically the Nazi occupation of the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. However, that’s not what this review is very much about.
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Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie

I think it’s time to come clean: I’m not a documentary guy. I’ve seen very few, and liked even less. To date, the only documentary I’ve watched that I have any inclination to see again is King of Kong, because fuck Billy Mitchell. I’ve seen Hoop Dreams – it’s OK, but I forgot a lot of it within a week, hence why I never got around to reviewing it for the 1001 Movies list, and thus why I’ll therefore have to watch it again eventually. Night and Fog and Land Without Bread both left me severely depressed, and were both reviewed during a period of my blogging life where I hadn’t quite worked out what I was doing yet, which should go some way to explain the 1/10 scores I gave them (although I kind of stand by that for Land Without Bread, because Luis Bunuel is an utter dick for what he did in order to make that film). Shoah moved me, but the 9 hour running time was almost unbearable. And so it is that on my list of Least Anticipated Movies on the 1001 List I have not one but two long-ass documentaries, with Hotel Terminus being neatly packaged with the similarly 4 1/2 hours long The Sorrow and The Pity, which I look forward to watching later this year. I don’t really know why I’m not a huge fan of documentaries – maybe I’m just not intelligent or receptive enough for them. I’ve had debates with colleagues before as to whether they can really be classed as films of not – I’m fine with the classification, but it seems many others are not – but that hasn’t stopped there being an awful lot included in the 1001 book. Continue reading

Gimme Shelter

I was quite looking forward to this film. Although I’m not a massive Rolling Stones fan, I can often be found listening to their greatest hits, amongst which there are many songs I’m rather partial to, in particular Paint It Black, You Can’t Always Get What You Want and Honky Tonk Women, and I haven’t heard too many of their songs that I’ve particularly disliked. Also, the only music documentary I’d seen prior to this was Anvil, which is pretty good if you ask me. 

The film follows the Rolling Stones on their 1969 US tour, culminating in a massive free show at Altamont Speedway, San Fransisco. The events of that show have gone down in history, remembered as the moment the 60s ended when a concert-goer was stabbed and killed by the Hell’s Angels, who were hired as security for the event. Many other audience members were beaten or injured during the concert, which was rife with drug abuse, nudity and people giving birth, making me all the more grateful to have been born long after all that free thinking and spirituality was around.  

Before getting to the Altamont, we see various other performances throughout the tour, including a terrific rendition of Jumpin’ Jack Flash at Madison Square Garden, and footage of the band listening to their music in hotel rooms, and watching the editing process of this very film in the editing bay. We are given a bit of an insight into the band’s personalities (Mick Jagger comments that “It’s nice to have a chick [perform with them] occasionally” after Tina Turner belts out I’ve Been Loving You Too Long), but for the most part I was sadly bored, despite Jagger’s relatively engaging presence. He always seemed fairly unsure of where he was or what he was doing (can’t think why), and he had an air of someone who couldn’t quite understand exactly how he’d gotten to where he was, and just generally dicked about on stage whilst the other band members were concentrating on getting the job done. What I expect from music may not be the same as other people – I tend to prefer a good quality recording rather than atmosphere and ambiance, hence why I rarely go to musical events – and I imagine I’d have been severely disappointed had I attended any of the gigs on the Stones’ tour.

The only interesting segments were about the organising of the free concert, having to arrange a venue to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of audience members, but this was overshadowed by the impending on-camera death of Meredith Hunter, an audience member who attempted to mount the stage. I do not relish the opportunity to watch an actual death on screen, and I did not feel comfortable watching what is essentially a scene from a snuff film. I get the feeling that had this event not taken place on film, then this documentary would probably not appear on the 1001 list. It’s only really worth watching for the stellar soundtrack.

I get the feeling I’ll track down Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light documentary eventually, because, y’know, it’s Scorsese; but sadly all this film left me with was an increased desire to re-watch Spinal Tap.

Choose life 5/10

Man on Wire

Another film I reviewed for the So You Think You Can Review tournament at the Lamb, this also sees the start of my attempting to review at least one documentary a month for this site.I’ve had the debate many times with various people as to whether a documentary can really be considered as a film. This usually happens when I use the phrase “I watched a great film last night; it was a documentary about…” The conversation’s other participant invariably glazes over at the ‘D’ word, as how could anything compiled entirely from archive footage and talking-head interviews be seen as entertaining? After all, there’s the danger they might actually learn something. I feel that if there was ever going to be a documentary that could sway the naysayers, then that film is Man on Wire. Even though it is very much a true story, told by those involved with the aid of photographs, footage and re-enactments, this tale of a man attempting to infiltrate the World Trade Centre and walk a tightrope between the towers is compelling, nail-biting stuff, and for the most part feels like a work of fiction.
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Shoah

Without a doubt this 9 hour documentary about the holocaust, comprising entirely of original material with no archive footage, is worthy of a place on the list. Director Claude Lanzmann spent years interviewing historians, builders of the concentration camps, train drivers, camp survivors and even Nazi officials who ran the camps, and spent almost 5 years editing the hundreds of hours down to a four disc set. Viewing is a sobering experience, the very definition of hard to watch, but such insight of so important an event needs to be heard, with a barber tasked with shaving the Jews before they were gassed commenting that “people burn very well.” Yes, it could be shorter, as there is some repetition to hammer home the points, but anyone who felt they were only told a small portion of a much larger story in school history classes should consider this essential viewing.
Choose film 8/10