Documentary Films

3 thoughts
last posted July 7, 2015, 2 a.m.
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Tim's Vermeer

When I heard that there was a film about a tinkering geek and non-painter who becomes obsessed with re-creating a Vermeer from scratch, I couldn't help but be more than a little curious.

I've always loved art, but have never been a serious "art lover" or art snob. My connection to art and painting is pretty interesting. I'm surprised I never took it up. My father and almost all of his siblings were painters, but I've never really been able to draw anything but stick figures. I also can't say that I know a thing about the Dutch masters either, but the quality and detail of Vermeer's work has always been something that I've found to be incredible.

The film at times feels as tedious as the actual work of producing a Vermeer in all it's subtlety and detail, but I feel that may have been the intent at times. Regardless, it's well worth it. It's a really engaging, fun and surprising little journey. I highly recommend it.


Man on Wire

I was having a problem sleeping the other night and discovered this film on Netflix.

The film is about Philippe Petit's attempt to walk a high wire between the Twin Towers in New York.

As a kid, I recall hearing about this feat, and being totally amazed by it. Having worked in the Twin Towers as a consultant and spent a lot of time around them myself in the 90's as a contractor for various firms, I was really interested to learn more about it. I remember always being amazed by their height, and recall on more than one occasion, walking down to the plaza after dinner when it was quiet and just looking up at them.

The film combines reenactment with archival footage to tell the story, and it's a fun ride, recounting Philipe's other exploits which included traversing the towers of the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sydney Harbor bridge.

One of the things about the film that I really liked was that there was this sort of heist element to it where the heist wasn't about hurting people or stealing property, but rather about seeing what you could get away with. This resonated with me because as a kid, I belonged to a group of misfits that were involved in such exploits, though nothing we ever did was as crazy or as death defying.

I still don't know or understand what drives or motivates people like Philippe, but I couldn't help being drawn in by his character.

The reenactments were well placed and integrated well into the story, and helped keep the talking head factor to a minimum. There was lots of great archival footage and photos of their exploits. I really liked that Philippe and his crew thought to shoot lots of their own film and photos as they went through this journey, it really took you back, and gave you a great sense of what it was like to be a part of their adventure.

I was too bleary eyed that late at night to even bother reading the description, I was really just pulled in by the thumbnail in the library and started watching immediately. I only found out later that in addition to being a really amazing little film, it was the winner of the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was easy to see why.


The Wrecking Crew

I remember hearing about this film being produced as early as 2004, and remembering that I couldn't wait to see it. I had, for the most part, forgotten about it, and missed it when it made its festival run in 2008, but interestingly as it turns out, it wasn't until this year that it made a theatrical run, a fact to which I was completely oblivious. It wasn't until a few nights ago when hunting for my next film to watch that the title popped back into my head and I found myself renting it on iTunes.

I've been sucked into a number of documentary films in the past couple of years that deal with music, but more notably, groups of musicians and producers who built empires in far flung places. Most of these people, while excellent musicians and producers in their own right, all seemed to have flown the flag of underdog at one time or another in their careers, but what they managed to achieve in terms of their contributions to pop culture is nothing short of incredible.

One such group, based in Los Angeles was known as "The Wrecking Crew", given the moniker because the established studio musicians at the time felt that the new crop of younger, hipper, rock oriented players would wreck the music industry. They achieved something decidedly contrarian to this prediction. Playing with such producing giants as The Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Phil Specter, this group of musicians played on some of the most memorable tracks of our time. They took music that otherwise would have come off as mundane had it been played as written and turned it into something special with their embellishments.

It really is a pretty fascinating look into the development of the LA music scene and the creation of some of the most recognizable music of an entire generation.

The film itself was, as produced, about average. There was nothing particularly special about its production techniques or shooting; it didn't have some of the flair of Muscle Shoals for example, but the content was well presented, and the revelations at times, at least for me, were striking. I for one had no idea that Glen Campbell got his start as a sessions player in this crew, or that a woman, Carol Kaye, was behind the signature bass lines of "The Beat Goes On" (Sonny and Cher) the "Mission Impossible" TV show theme, and dozens of other notable tracks as well.

Director Denny Tedesco gives the film a feel that comes off as a bit reverential at times of his father, Tommy, but his prominence as part of the crew and Denny's life makes that understandable. I don't think this detracts too much from what I perceive as the films intent of showing the people behind so much great music.

As most eras do however, it came to an end when into the late 60's and early 70's, fans became more aware of groups who actually played the music on the records that they were playing on stage when on tour. With a few notable exceptions, the era of the Wrecking Crew and those that preceded them were mostly working in service of the song, the era that followed was about the personalities of the band and the talents that they brought to bear not only in their live performances, but in their studio performances as well.