I watch a lot of documentaries. Any subject matter will do – from history, art, war, science and so on, I am usually hard-pressed to find a subject I won’t enjoy. This post will be the first in a series of curated documentary recommendations. This edition is dedicated to the oddball. Documentary subjects that live sometimes mundane and sometimes magnificent lives. In any case, they are all completely unique in their own peculiar way. See the list (in order of importance) and watch some clips after the jump.
10. Beauty is Embarrassing
Wayne White is an art director, illustrator, animator and the set designer behind many of my favourite TV shows growing up like Pee Wee’s Playhouse, The Weird Al Show and Beakman’s World. This documentary chronicles the relatively unknown impact his work has had. While he isn’t a household name, you will be able to immediately identify his style. I loved this documentary as it showcases Wayne’s attitude towards art and his desire to add humour and fun to something he doesn’t take seriously but does very well. Part revered artist, part lunatic, you will love this documentary if you appreciate people who don’t really care about how things “should” be.
9. The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia
This documentary is essentially the at-home version of people watching in the sketchiest, depressing, crack-infested wrong part of town. The White family are a group of rednecks from rural West Virginia that live by their own rules. Overall it’s fun at their expense but it does have its’ serious moments that will leave you sympathetic to their troubled legacy.
8. A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
I have never followed professional or league bowling, but I can appreciate a sport that is so iconically American and manly. This documentary was an unintentionally funny depiction that follows the path of several professional bowlers and their efforts to return bowling to its’ glory days of the 70s and 80s. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen the film Kingpin you will appreciate this.
Marwencol is an independent documentary film that explores the life and work of artist and photographer Mark Hogancamp. After being attacked outside of a bar by five men who beat him nearly to death, nine days in a coma and forty days in the hospital, Mark was discharged with brain damage that left him little memory of his previous life. Marwencol tells the story of Mark’s rehabilitation of creating imaginary worlds and people with GI Joe dolls and props. Pretty deep stuff that makes you appreciate those around you.
6. King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
An inspiring and hilarious documentary. The storytelling of good vs. evil in King of Kong will have you rooting for the underdog like no other documentary I’ve seen. An easy ten out of ten.
5. Winnebago Man
On the surface, a documentary about a youtube sensation seems a bit lame. But if you’re familiar with the original Winnebago Man video, you will appreciate the lengths that filmmaker Ben Steinbauer went to uncover the true story behind the infamous Jack Rebney. Rebney’s storied life goes well beyond his hilariously foulmouthed blooper reel. An entertaining and surprisingly touching documentary on everyone’s favourite angry Winnebago spokesman.
4. Bill Cunningham New York
Bill Cunningham is a different kind of oddball in the sense that he is a seemingly normal and charming old man embedded in the completely bizarre world of high fashion. For decades, the Schwinn-riding cultural anthropologist has been obsessively and inventively chronicling fashion trends for the New York Times. This documentary is probably the most feel-good on the list, and even if you’ve never heard of him it’s a great story that will inspire your own self-preservation to keep on keepin’ on.
3. Tabloid by Errol Morris
The totally captivating and unbelievable story of Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming, who in the 70s was accused of kidnapping and raping Kirk Anderson, an American Mormon missionary. The incident, known as the Mormon sex in chains case, became a major tabloid story in the UK. I had never heard of this story before watching the documentary, but what I loved most of this film was the delusionally candid interviews with the accused and the unravelling of an off the wall story. An immaculately executed documentary by Errol Morris.
2. The Devil and Daniel Johnston
A documentary about the life and music of alternative singer/songwriter Daniel Johnston. This documentary details a powerfully honest cross section of genius and mental illness as Daniel struggles with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia while seeking refuge in writing his music. How someone so mentally damaged can write such tender and loving songs is totally inspiring.
1. American Movie
My absolute favourite documentary and one of my favourite films in general. American Movie centers on a low-budget horror-film buff named Mark Borchardt, who has decided to make the ultimate horror opus in the form of an indie feature entitled Northwestern, the scariest film ever made in his Wisconsin town. Filled with determination and passion, this documentary follows Mark for a year and a half in the making of Northwestern. This documentary encapsulates the heart of filmmaking. It’s easy to laugh and make light of Mark’s determination, but it’s his unflinching determination that is ultimately admirable. American Movie plays out like one part Hearts of Darkness and one part Fubar. Awesome.