2020 Documentary Round-Up

Feels Good Man (2020)

Arthur Jones directs Matt Furie, Pepe the Frog and Donald Trump in this documentary where an indie comic book artist tries to reclaim his creation after it is co-opted by the Far Right and is deemed a symbol for hate groups.

A neat alternative history of the last decade in American politics and a primer for the more obscure (to this middle aged man) corners of the internet. An education for someone who thought they were up to speed with the niches and subcultures that exist out there. I always kinda felt meme culture is a symptom of a less creative generation. To share a recognised image as the height of wit rather than come up with your own joke makes comedians of even the humourless. Democratises funny? Sure. Devalues funny? Definitely. This follows a rather sweet and naive creative after his hard work is blacklisted by becoming an ever mutating meme. His struggle to reclaim hand drawn, 2D slacker amphibian Pepe has a Capra-esque quality. I don’t think this would work if Furie wasn’t such a gentle and recognisable Generation X dude. The director did lose me in one chapter about auctioning memes like Bitcoin but I think it is there to lampoon the ridiculousness of monetising the ephemeral and I got the intent if not the content.

7

The Young Observant (2019)

Davide Maldi directs Luca Tufano, Mario Burlone and Lorenzo Carpani in this documentary following an uncommitted young farm boy who takes weekend vocational classes to become a five star waiter.

The topic is fertile and the eternally bored and unengaged Luca has quality that reminds you of Antoine in The 400 Blows. You, the punter, are getting a peek behind ‘the pass’ into the world of high end hospitality, which while lacking revelations at least immerses you in the hard work and dedication to detail that goes on. Labours and effort which you don’t witness before you even are given your menus. Maldi begins to include increasingly staged, or perhaps re-enacted, moments towards the end… and while that is a perfectly valid method in the modern documentary it sacrifices the intimacy he achieved and makes you wonder whether (if he is going to break certain rules) there could be even more entertaining footage he can “re-do”?

5

Beastie Boys Story (2020)

Spike Jonze directs Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA in this filmed concert where the surviving Beastie Boys talk us through the photos, videos and music that made up their brilliant careers.

A stage show autobiography that tracks the evolution of their music and emotional maturity. A celebration of every white person’s guiltiest pleasure; white boy rap… and their fallen member Adam Yauch. I’ve had much fun revisiting each of their LPs in the days since. A perfect full stop to a laudable career, one that is continually self-effacing and charming.

8

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

Kirsten Johnson directs Dick Johnson, herself and Michal Hilow in this documentary where, on realising her father is dying of a degenerative brain disease, a filmmaker stages a series of fake deaths and afterlifes to prepare for that inevitable moment.

Dick Johnson seems like a lovely man – dedicated father, dessert lover, joyously expressive face. Watching him deteriorate is some maudlin shit. Doesn’t matter that his daughter tries to tart the harsh, grim reality up with some fatal slapstick (which don’t come often enough given the brief) and lo-fi Spike Jonze vision of Dick’s heaven (where he looks a little lost and exploited). This feels like monetising grief. I’m sure the artistic intention is to essay the process of losing a loved one with a celebratory brave face… but I felt like I was rubbernecking in on a game old trooper losing his marbles… Just because he was unfortunate enough to have a child who is an artist between projects at the wrong moment of his life. These are some big-ish budget home movies that I wouldn’t have chosen to watch if it wasn’t for the movie’s current critical adulation. Not for me.

3

Boys State (2020)

Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine direct Steven Garza, Ben Feinstein and Robert MacDougall in this documentary following Texan teenage boys who take part in a political summer camp where they form their own parties, legislative bodies, election campaigns and policies to learn about the harsh realities of working in the Washington DC system.

More gripping than Sorkin. More revelatory than Primary Colors. This gives you a worm’s eye view of American politics and attitudes and electioneering. Genuinely involving, funny and thrilling.

8

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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