–Arts and letters for the modern age–

Cathode Ray Zone

–Arts and Letters for the Modern Age–

Docs About Movies

by | Jan 5, 2023

Documentaries about movies abound in the form of film essays that use various genres to express their argument. Viewers are bound to recognize favorite films they’ve seen as well as discover films for a future watchlist. Here are some of the best examples of this kind of documentary that have premiered recently.

Is That Black Enough for You?!?

Excellent documentary, written and directed (and narrated) by Elvis Mitchell, whose film critic voice is now as important as ever.

Mitchell takes the audience on an odyssey of black cinema from the silent era to the present, although the end of the 1970’s is a cutoff point where the documentary covers specific titles and trends. While films that have been produced since are mentioned, a second installment examining contemporary films more closely would be welcome.

Blaxploitation (like Nouvelle Vague or Mumblecore) was not created by the filmmakers who revolutionized black representation in the late ’60 and ’70s but rather by the media. Still, it’s an apt moniker for films that told similar stories to the ones Hollywood was regularly churning out with white performers.

My personal biggest eye-opener was the 1973 comedy “Five on the Black Hand Side,” which used the phrase (and I am paraphrasing) “I’ve come to kick ass and chew bubble gum, and I’m all out of bubblegum.” Of course the line is also used in the 1988 John Carpenter classic They Live.

Is That Black Enough for You?!? is available on Netflix.


The Story of Film: A New Generation

Perhaps the best use of the word ‘anthropocentric’ ever heard in a movie.

The Story of Film: A New Generation is a sequel of sorts to Irish film critic Mark Cousins’ The Story of Film: An Odyssey, a 15-hour television mini-series that was broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2011.

A New Generation clocks in at under three hours and mixes images from cool films of the new millennium with classic films. So, we are as likely to have a reference to Cocteau’s, Blood of the Poet or Ozu’s, Tokyo Story, as well as Atlantics or Goodbye to Language or Under the Skin or the latest in VR film technology and our relation to the streaming world.

A seamless film that’s effortless to watch, and Cousins’ distinct Irish brogue pronouncing names like ‘Leos Carax’ brings joy to my ears.

The Story of Film: A New Generation is available on streaming platforms from Music Box Films.


In Search of Tomorrow

A tremendous sci-fi documentary, which even at five hours is never boring and flows with ease. A combination of behind the scenes featurettes and Entertainment Tonight-type interviews, In Search of Tomorrow cuts deep into film culture revealing well-known classics alongside forgotten gems of the genre.

Filmmaker David Weiner examines American sci-fi themed films that came out in 1980 through 1989. Weiner also has helmed lengthy excursions into 1980s horror, In Search of Darkness.

Each year of the 1980’s is given equal treatment, with specific films given the full-treatment that includes in-depth information from both in front and in back of the camera. Weiner covers a lot of territory and you may be surprised how many titles you’ve forgotten, like 1983’s Strange Invaders.

In Search of Tomorrow is streaming for free on the Roku Channel.


Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

You don’t have to agree with the thesis of director Nina Menkes to thoroughly enjoy “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power.”

Her film is a hybrid documentary in the style of film deconstruction told through the prism of a classroom lecture, that uses classic film clips to prove a point. Mainly that women are reduced by sexual politics in their roles in various movies

The point here is predetermined, which is that films made by women are not as widely or well-promoted as films made by men.

There’s also the contrast of the male versus the female gaze, and the use of slow-motion to emphasize action, in the case of men, but to fetishize bodies, in the case of women. 

From Metropolis to Blue Velvet and so many more, there are not too many films that escape Menkes’ point that the film industry treats women as second-class victims.

For every Vertigo there’s eventually a Promising Young Woman. I personally agree with some of her arguments while tangents of her spiel feel like she’s making this up as she goes.

To be fair, compressing a semester’s worth of film theory and criticism in a two-hour format leaves some threads untied. Let it be said that Menkes uses the best and cleverest clips to display nude scenes that sustain her thesis. Films like Carrie, Pretty Baby, and more recently Under the Skin.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power is currently available on video-on-demand.


Coming Soon

Actually, “Coming Soon” is from the early 1980’s. At just 55-minutes, with John Landis at the helm and Jamie Lee Curtis hosting, this engrossing documentary has only ever been released on VHS.

A review of horror movie trailers, with Mick Garris co-writing and producing. Classic Universal monsters through the decades merge into the era of Halloween.

The most interesting parts are the Hitchcock extended trailers; the kind that are not made anymore, where the esteemed director plays himself: Marnie, The Birds, Frenzy, and Psycho. There’s also great behind the scenes footage from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, a Universal film that was in production when this rare doc was made.


Lynch/Oz

Documentary wunderkind, Alexandre Philippe, deconstructs the cinema of David Lynch with a concentrated effort to divine imagery inspired by The Wizard of Oz.

Lynch/Oz is divided into six parts each narrated by critics and directors:

[1] WIND – Amy Nicholson

[2] MEMBRANES – Rodney Ascher

[3] KINDRED – John Waters

[4] MULTITUDES – Karyn Kusama

[5] JUDY – Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

[6] DIG – David Lowery

You’d be surprised at the various references to Oz in every one of Lynch’s films. Sure, references in something like Wild At Heart are noticeable, but Philippe digs into subtext to reveal a wealth of Oz links you never realized existed.

Philippe has done previous documentaries exploring film in relation to Monument Valley (The Taking) and Hitchcock’s Psycho shower scene in 78/52, in addition to others.

There’s not a false note here, and repeat viewings only extend the connection between Lynch and Dorothy.

Lynch/Oz is currently streaming on MUBI.

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