Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
I haven’t had much time to blog lately. Real life has kind of taken a dump on my internet profile. But I have managed to catch a few nice documentaries on Netflix Instant. Thought I’d pass the recommendations onto y’all before I go back to hiding in my closet.
This fascinating look at the history of eugenics, covering the beginnings of the movement with Darwin, through the work of his cousin Francis Galton, and into the era of the Nazis and Soviets, is invested with the sort of bomb-shelter quietude that marked Chris Marker’s great “La Jetee” — watching it is a bit like tuning into a transmission from some hidden nocturnal realm. The tone is incredibly dispassionate, and the pacing is so deliberate it’s almost hypnotic, like the verbal outpouring of an especially monotonic therapist. Happily, the content is free of inane talking heads, relying instead on primary sources. I learned a few things while watching it. For instance, I had no idea that Art Nouveau was an outgrowth of eugenics. Nor did I realize how neatly Sweden’s early twentieth-century interest in racial purity presaged Nazism. How is it that Sweden, the poster nation for hippy-dippy liberalism, has such a deep connection to Nazi Germany? And why did no one tell me about it in school? The reviews featured on Netflix are worth taking a look at. They reveal the instinctive revulsion that contemporary folks feel when encountering ideas that are natural outgrowths of Darwin’s writing. Their objections make me wonder: Was the Nazis’ killing of millions in the name of racial purity any worse than the Soviets’ killing of millions in the name of ideological purity? How did one end up being considered more awful than the other? Written and directed by Peter Cohen.
Interesting, intermittently entertaining look at the hubbub surrounding the supposed reappearance in Arkansas of the ivory-billed woodpecker. The doc moves easily between elegiac ruminations on the topic of nature and folksy, libertarian-minded skepticism regarding politics and the gullibility of the public. Writer-director Scott Crocker makes insightful, not-pressed-too-hard connections between the extinction of wildlife due to loss of habitat and the demise of small-town America due to the loss of domestic jobs. Seen in that light the still-unconfirmed woodpecker sightings seem divinely appropriate: they’re the only thing that’s brought vitality back to this impoverished region of the American South, mostly through the twin boons of eco-tourism and generous (and perhaps completely unwarranted?) grants from the federal government. I also got a kick out of the doc’s delineation of the fascinating subculture that is bird watching. What interesting folk bird watchers are! When they invoke the phantom bird their faces light up like neon advertisements. They’re believers, seekers, treasure hunters. In their case the gold isn’t under the rainbow, it’s flown over it.
“Windfall” is another doc that seems rather libertarian in its sympathies. Its topic is the scandal that has erupted in the wake of the wind farm industry’s encroachment into upstate New York. As the local farming enconomy has tanked some locals have turned to wind as a source of income. Director Laura Israel shows how the government-subsidized firms behind these schemes focus on areas with weak economies and lax zoning laws. They start by offering a few residents money to erect windmills on their property. If they accept they’re faced with the unenviable task of convincing their neighbors that it’s not so bad living with a science fiction monstrosity looming outside your bedroom window. The windmills strike me as apt metaphors for the grotesqueness of contemporary do-goodiness. They’re 400 feet tall, each blade weighing seven tons, and they make a constant whooshing noise that makes you think of the prairie gales that are said to have driven some early pioneers to insanity. And yet some have convinced themselves of their beauty (or at least their moral appropriateness). The movie does a great job of nailing the vibe of the affected community. It’s a mix of rural thorniness and just-moved-from-the-city sophistication. The people are real characters, too. Each has a firmly held and somewhat sympathetic take on the situation. Together they’re dealing with an off-kilter, slightly comical conundrum, one that evokes the novels of the wry New York humorist Kirsten Mortensen.
Though it’s overly long and repetitive, I appreciated filmmaker Marble Slinger’s respectful look at something I was completely ignorant of: the culture that has developed around glass pot-smoking devices. Slinger does a nice job of tracing the history of the form from the work of pioneer Bob Snodgrass to the underground glass blowers of the present era, who seem to be every bit as wild and showoff-y as our tattoo artists and skateboard designers. To be honest, I find most of the work shown in the movie to be garish and overwrought. And yet it’s hard not to admire the way the folks involved in this subculture have developed and maintained a sense of shared aims and traditions. Their confidence in their identity is real and inspiring, and it’s refreshing to encounter a burgeoning art form that takes pride in being functional as well as creative.
I couldn’t have been happier with this “Nature” installment chronicling a man’s efforts to spend the better part of a year acting as virtual mother to a flock of turkey poults. That man, the naturalist Joe Hutto, speaks in a quiet voice, and his words have a ruminative, poetic bent; at times his low-key presence swells slightly and he achieves an almost Whitmanesque expansiveness. (You can see why his turkey wards are so eager to follow him.) It’s a sort of essay film: the words and images have obviously been massaged into a reenacted narrative, and occasionally you’ll catch Hutto and his team showing things they couldn’t possibly have caught on the fly. It’s a bit jarring but it doesn’t really hurt the movie. Rather, it lends it a storybook quality reminiscent of the work of Robert Flaherty, Disney’s “True-Life Adventures,” and Clarence Brown’s “The Yearling.” Galloping across the Florida scrub and pouncing on worms and grasshoppers with an almost unnatural dexterity, the turkeys make you think of miniature dinosaurs, and the talented “Nature” photographers do an ace job of catching the birds’ individual personalities. They manage to bring you into Hutto’s perceptions, too. The reflections he delivers concerning the nature of life and relationships struck me as being perfectly pitched between lyricism and common sense. Directed by David Allen. Written by Lynn Hoppe from a book by Hutto.