DOC-UARY: 31 DOCS IN 31 DAYS – PART FOUR
Reviews by Chris MacKenzie
10. The Weather Underground – 3 Shaky Camera Lenses (Out of 5)
A detailed look at the Weathermen, a band of radical 60s protestors who eventually lived several years in hiding after bombing US Government targets in protest of the government’s actions in Vietnam.
Thoughts: This film has great access to many of the major players both inside and out of the organization. As a result, this documentary is an interesting history lesson. It also serves as a good look at the arc this country took from 1965 to 1980. Several of the members of the Weather Underground, including one still in prison, are interviewed, yet all seem to be holding back a bit. Not wanting to incriminate themselves for past crimes may be a clear part of it, but as the film progresses, we see a clear element of regret in their pauses.
The film traces the evolution of the group, from peaceful student protestors to what can only be called domestic terrorists. We are given the mindset of those involved, and you can see a logic in it, you also begin to see the huge holes in it. There are several actual recordings of the Weather Underground’s declarations, and while dated, they certainly sound passionately genuine. However, there is also lots of evidence shown that they were not considered a real part of the Revolutionary Left by groups like the Black Panthers. “Not acting against violence IS violence” becomes their credo, but throughout the film, most everything is chalked up to the intense passion of youth. While the filmmaker’s focus is obviously on the experience of the radicals, they do not delve very deeply into the staggering number of bombings carried out by the group.
It seemed like the movie wanted me to like the protestors at first, and in my opinion, overdid the, “See how bad things were?” setup by showing too many graphic images from Vietnam. Not that atrocities weren’t going on, but the images shown certainly weren’t the images they were seeing in the everyday media. A full color shot of a man naked from the waist down bleeding profusely from a deep gash in his thigh was not on Walter Cronkite’s newscast, but this documentary uses images like this to justify the Weathermen’s intense passion to stop the war. This feels a little manipulative and there to put the Weathermen in the best light. Obviously, these things happened, but it feels a bit revisionist to imply these mostly-privileged, white college students witnessed any of it.
The movie tosses around many of the terms from the sixties which don’t age well. Hip expressions like “Far Out” are heard often and begin to weaken more important terms like “Revolution.” Again, the movie doesn’t try to point this fact out, but it eventually makes you realize that these were cool kids who got swept up in a mess and took things a bit too far.
In the end, one of the leaders of the group sums things up the best when he states that if a violent act isn’t condoned by a government, then most people will see it as being inappropriate or worse, a sign of mental illness. It’s not clear if he means that as a complaint, or an epiphany, but by the time he says it, I felt it was the perfect explanation for why what they did, while noble in their minds, was wrong.
An end-of-film update on all of the members interviewed shows that most are still involved in progressive issues, but all have retreated to the same mainstream sensibility they sought to destroy. Despite my critique, this movie shouldn’t be viewed as a condemnation of 60s idealism, but it does give a good insight into anyone who thinks it’s right to employ violence in the name of selfrighteousness, a theme that can be translated to several situations in today’s world.
Thoughts: This documentary gives the ultimate fly-on-the-wall look at what goes inside a test kitchen. That is, if this test kitchen allowed flies. More laboratory than warm hearth, these chefs dissect the elements and flavors of each dish down to a molecular level. This isn’t about mama’s recipes or comfort foods, this is about cuisine that is high art, both before and after you put it in your mouth. It is fascinating to watch the chefs in the kitchen as we see the smallgroup dynamic which creates these dishes unfurl. There is protocol and pecking order firmly in place. From the Top Chef to the newest cooks and servers to join the restaurant, this hierarchy reinforces the standards by which the food is made.
This film takes an exceptionally hands-off approach to the footage, there is no narration and very little in the way of added information. This movie is a good companion to “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” by showing us the opposite. While “Jiro” celebrates one individual’s commitment to culinary excellence, “El Bulli” shows how it can also take a cast of dozens to create an amazing meal.
Not knowing a ton about “molecular cuisine” I found myself wanting a little more information on the processes through which the food was being put, but at the same time, I took it for what it was, a rare look at the painstaking process required to be excellent.
At the end of the movie there are several beauty shots of the final dishes, and despite not knowing everything they were doing in the kitchen, those gave a somewhat satisfying insight into why the process is so arduous.
12. The Antics Roadshow – 3 Shakey Camera Lenses (Out of 5)
A quick look at people who use self-expression to stir up trouble, and more importantly, thought.
Thoughts: This “documentary,” which lures you in by slapping Banksy’s name all over it, is little more than a clip show with the commercials taken out. Having said that though, the clips are fantastic. The movie opens with a man dressed as one of the Mario Brothers racing his go-kart through the streets. As he darts in and out of real cars, he drops banana peels a la Mario Kart. The wacky, devil-may-care antics of all those profiled, including a few who were obviously suffering from mental illness (who breaks into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace to have a chat with her?) still stays respectful to its subjects and admires the reactions they got. There is little discussion beyond “These people did this”, but you walk away admiring these people, from loons to legitimate theater movements (Improv Anywhere), who use their creativity and humor to challenge the status quo.
“The Weather Underground”, “El Bulli” and “The Antics Roadshow” are available on NETFLIX.