Monday, September 5, 2011

Reasons 4, 5, and 6 to turn off the cable and rent a good documentary…

Continuing my last blog post where I promised ten good reasons to rent a doc and only delivered three...   

I'm back and in honor of Labor Day, I am highlighting three classic documentary films by extraordinary directors that look at labor, the unemployed and one nut job consultant.  So here are reasons 4, 5, and 6

Reason 4 - Harlan County USA (1976) 104 minutes

Dangerous Harlan County, KY during the mining strike
Barbara Koppel, director
 Academy Award winner and one of my personal heroes, Barbara Kopple, made this film about a long and hard fought coal miners’ strike in Harlan County, Kentucky. It is nothing short of brilliant. It is so dangerously real that it makes me want to force the producers of Mob Wives and Jersey Shore to watch it and then apologize to everyone they have ever offended with that muck they call reality.  Not stopping there, anyone who has ever called another person white trash because they were poor and uneducated should be forced to watch this too.  Because this is a film about poor and uneducated people – mostly women – who run the picket lines and are about the bravest people you will ever meet on screen.  My favorite scene happens when Barbara Koppel is assaulted by an armed coal company goon and probably would have been killed had it not been for her cinematographer who recorded the assault.    
Mining Company Employee with gun

Reason 5 - Mr. Death (1999) 90 minutes

 Errol Morris, director

This is somewhat of a creepy recommendation, but on my list because,
·         (a) it’s about a man and his consultant work and how terribly, horribly, freakishly wrong expert consultants can be
·         (b) its by the famous documentary director Errol Morris. Morris and Kopple are divides apart artistically.  Where Kopple is a purist, Morris is a shameless provocateur, mesmerizing circus ringleader and sensationalist showoff who seeks bizarre stories to explain this American life (apologies to Ira Glass).  

Mr. Death is about an execution “expert,” Fred Leuchter, who provides his dubious services to prison systems and riding on that success becomes a Holocaust denier.
Fred Leuchter trying out an electric chair
Fabulous music by Caleb Sampson – though you would not want to play the soundtrack at your next dinner party.

Reason 6 - Roger and Me (1989) 90 minutes

 Michael Moore, director

My Reason?  It’s about unemployment in Michigan! And it’s grimly funny and classic Michael Moore before he became The Michael Moore. He looks at joblessness in Flint, Michigan, his hometown and birthplace of GM, and how the people there cope with their recent economic hardships. 
Christmas Eve Eviction
Throughout the film, Moore tries to track down Roger Smith, the chairman of (the still very profitable) GM, throughout the film to ask why he would close the plants in Flint and move jobs to Mexico. 

If you are squeamish, close your eyes or FF through the “Pets or Meat” segment.  One of the highlights of the film for me is the former feminist radio host who becomes an Amway lady and tells Moore she loves to color analyze people and determine their color season. She explains that she is an autumn and orange is her color, but later confesses that she has made a terrible mistake.  She is not an autumn after all.
 “It's really a shock to me, because I am out there color-analyzing women all the time. Little did I know that I was not the season that I was telling people I was.” She seemed so upset to that Moore agreed to have his colors analyzed.  Hilarious. 

Poor Flint! 

Happy Labor Day and look for Reasons 7, 8, 9 and 10. 

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