Three great documentaries to broadcast
The proliferation of documentaries on streaming services makes it difficult to choose what to watch. Each month, we’ll pick three non-fiction movies – classics, overlooked recent documentaries, and more – that will reward your time.
Post it on Kanopy.
From his first film, “Titicut Follies”, shot in the State Prison for Insane Criminals in Bridgewater, Mass., To last year’s “City Hall”, shot in Boston, the great documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has created a corpus of works – “the films,” he still calls them – which doubles as a library of institutions, mostly but not exclusively American. It is striking to consider how cohesive his understated style has remained for more than five decades. and how well he was early in his career. His fourth feature film, “Hospital,” shot in 1969 at the Metropolitan Hospital in New York City, had a degree of access that privacy rules would likely make difficult today. .
He’s also the best Wiseman in miniature, because hospitals cover so many topics he would return to: the treatment of minors. The social protection system. Poverty. Abuse. Wiseman wasn’t even done with medicine: two decades later, in “Near Death,” his longest-running film and a plausible candidate for his biggest, Wiseman spent time in an intensive care unit at the hospital. Beth Israel Hospital in Boston, observing patients at the end of their lives and doctors arguing over difficult calls.
If “Near Death” presents humanity in its most fragile, “Hospital” finds above all compassionate doctors who treat, by proxy, the tumult and chaos of the city itself. A patient arrived after a transfer that a doctor said was life-threatening. A man presents with a bloody neck injury that turns out to be fine, but nearly affected a major blood vessel. In a striking scene for the time, a psychiatrist accompanies a patient in accepting his homosexuality, without seeking to change it. A girl tells her critically ill mother not to worry, minutes after Wiseman showed a shaggy-haired priest hovering nearby.
But in case “Hospital” looks hopelessly dark, it also contains one of Wiseman’s funniest sequences. A hippie who has taken what he fears is bad mescaline tells anyone who wants to hear it (including an unfazed doctor) that he doesn’t want to die. After a bit of ipecac and a string of vomiting that would be comfortable in a Mel Brooks comedy, he’s fine.
“The task” (2017)
Free streaming on the artist’s website.
What is the task? This is never entirely clear in the fascinating hybrid of documentary and psychological experiences of concept artist Leigh Ledare, filmed over three days at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in May 2017. Set entirely in one room , the film observes something known as the “Relationships Conference Group,” a gathering that brings together strangers to explore the dynamics that form. (To the uninitiated, this is more like group therapy than a business meeting.) Participants come from a range of ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. Among them are a handful of “consultants” – psychologists who cannot be distinguished visually from the regular members of the group, although their role in directing and potentially dominating the discussion will be examined and reconsidered before the end of the film. .
The exact subject of the discussion is subject to debate: The closest the “task” to a definition is that subjects are expected to examine their behavior in “the here and now”. (Sometimes even participants report being confused as to what they are talking about; part of the fun is observing reactions and facial language, and when people interrupt.) Conversations revolve around ideas about vulnerability, victimization , stereotypes and even if people play power games depending on where they choose to sit. The presence of the cameras – and Ledare himself – complicates matters. Participants wonder if they would behave the same if they weren’t aware of being recorded. Sometimes the chatter gets heated. When a man turns out to be a Trump voter, a woman shuts him down and demands that politics stay off the table.
“If it’s as good as it gets, then how did we get to where we are as a species? A man asks at one point, making himself laugh. But the subject of “The Task” is deadly serious. It seems to capture nothing less than the process by which people learn to trust each other – and not quite succeed.
Stream it on Hulu.
Anyone worried that social media will become a substitute for real life will find no solace in Liza Mandelup’s surreal and often funny documentary, which immerses viewers in the world of live streaming influencers. (These are different from Instagram influencers. Keep going!) With dreams of fame, Austyn Tester, a Bieber-capped teenager in East Tennessee, regularly hosts video chats in which he syncs to songs and offers compliments to her fan base of teenage girls, who seem elated at the slightest hint of attention. Sometimes these interactions happen in person, like when Austyn announces that he will be setting up a meeting at a food court on a Thursday afternoon. A girl tells her that she drove two hours for the occasion. He’s a balm for the insecurities of his followers: a versatile friend, boyfriend, parent, and mental health counselor they don’t even need the luxury of knowing in real life. At 16, he apparently doesn’t need much life experience to substitute for these things, either.
For her part, Austyn seems sincere about her desire to brighten up people’s days – a serious one that Mandelup juxtaposes against the dark environment around her, including a house invasion. with cats. Austyn’s mother says her father had substance abuse issues and beat them up, but Austyn believes he’s good at faking happiness until he does. (When it looks like he won’t, his problems begin.)
To show the community Austyn hopes to join, Mandelup accompanies Michael Weist, a teenage manager in Austyn’s line of work, to Los Angeles. He describes mentoring new influencers as sort of a time-bound gold rush. (This particular celebrity brand tends to be evanescent.) He also looks barely older than his clients. But Michael doesn’t think Austyn’s “Like” numbers are where they should be. “I wouldn’t touch him,” he said.