What's up with the rush of interesting documentaries in recent weeks? On second thought, make the years.
have called this the golden age of documentaries ever since Errol
Morris and, to a larger extent, Michael Moore broke through and had
relatively robust box-office and critical success in the late 1980s,
cresting with the unprecedented frenzy that surrounded Moore's
Fahrenheit 9/11 and continuing with Davis Guggenheim's An
Inconvenient Truth, March of the Penguins and a flood of other unique contributions to the genre.
More recently, the last few weeks alone have given us such diverse docs as Catfish, Restrepo, I'm Still Here, Guggenheim's Waiting for Superman and even Jackass 3D, all of which are presented via different perspectives and techniques that challenge what a documentary is and should do. (Conversely, the authenticity of David Fincher's quasi-docudrama The Social Network is being questioned by some — is Mark Zuckerberg really that big of an asshole?)
As New York Times film critic A.O. Scott discussed in a recent essay, “Documentary seems, more than ever, like a catchall rubric, a label that can be affixed to heterogeneous, even contradictory products, ranging from the pranks of the elusive street artist Banksy (recorded in Exit Through the Gift Shop) to Baseball: The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns' meditation on the recent history of baseball.”
Scott concludes his investigation with this curious nugget: “So the salient question might not be, “What is a documentary?” — an abstract, theoretical approach to a form that is grounded in the concrete facts of life. Instead it might make sense to ask what (or whom) a given documentary is for? Is it a goad to awareness, an incitement to action, a spur to further thought? A window? A mirror? The more you think about it, the less obvious the truth appears to be.”
Which brings us to another documentary that opens today at the Esquire, this one with local ties: Terry Lukemire's 4192: Crowning of the Hit King, which looks at — and only at — the playing career of Cincinnati native Pete Rose. (Read my interview with Lukemire and Rose here.)
Some, like former Reds beat-writer Hal McCoy, have questioned Lukemire's film due to its refusal to investigate Rose's controversial post-playing-days issues. But is that criticism fair? Maybe, maybe not — it depends on your point of view.
All I'll say is that Lukemire's unabashedly positive film is not meant to be a comprehensive look at Pete Rose; it's just one facet of a complicated man.
Elsewhere, the ever-prolific Clint Eastwood is back, as is the sequel to the unexpected (not to mention derivative and banal) low-budget horror film Paranormal Activity — which, come to think of it, also purports to be a documentary of sorts.
4192 — An entire generation has grown up knowing more about Pete Rose's failings as a person than his accomplishments as a baseball player. Terry Lukemire's new documentary, 4192: The Crowning of the Hit King, aims to put the spotlight back on a singular career that's been overshadowed by its subject's admittedly self-inflicted mistakes. Lukemire's deftly crafted, surprisingly emotional 90-minute documentary, which was produced locally by Barking Fish Entertainment, features a musical score from Guided By Voices frontman Bob Pollard, narration by actor J.K. Simmons and interviews with a handful of Rose-related baseball figures. But the backbone of 4192 is formed by Pete himself. (Read feature here.) (Opens today at Esquire Theatre.) — Jason Gargano (Not Rated.) Grade: B
HEREAFTER — Screenwriter Peter Morgan (The Queen), for director Clint Eastwood's latest, follows the example of critical darlings like Crash and Babel by combining the mostly-parallel narratives of a San Francisco psychic (Matt Damon) trying to lead a normal life, a French TV journalist dealing with a near-death experience and a London schoolboy grieving the death of his twin brother. Unfortunately, Morgan doesn't have anything interesting to say about either grief or the way people confront the question of what happens after death. (Read full review here.) (Opens wide today.) — Scott Renshaw (Rated PG-13.) Grade: C
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 — Very few details about this sequel to Oren Pell's unexpected low-budget hit are being supplied in advance to its opening this week. Let's at least hope the sequel surpasses its banal, Blair Witch-aping original. Conversely, I bet they're hoping this bests the disastrous Blair Witch sequel. Pell produces; Tod Williams, the guy behind The Adventures of Sebastian Coe (which starred a young Adrian Grenier) and The Door in the Floor (which featured a strong Jeff Bridges performance), directs. (Opens wide today.) — JG (Rated R.) Review coming soon.