Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Documentaries & subjective reality in film

Documentaries: You’ve heard about them. You might have even seen some. Let’s talk about them.

This from the recent Entertainment Weekly for Apr 24/May 1 (the Summer Movie issue), re: "Tyson," the documentary of Mike Tyson, likened by some to be a "marketing genius, period:"

’Tyson’ draws no conclusions about the former heavyweight champion who’s as famous for his 1992 rape conviction and subsequent prison term as for his prowess in the ring, except that he’s a potent puncher, a damaged man, and a handsome object for the camera’s gaze.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole point of a documentary (rather, a documentary done right) to let the viewer draw their own conclusions? That is, of course, unless the filmmaker has his/her own agenda that they want to shove down your neckhole.

“Tyson” is being characterized, interestingly, as a “nonfiction” film, a nomenclature that has confounded me when I’ve run across it in numerous previews that I’ve seen for the film. What is a “documentary,” then, if not inherently “nonfiction?”

With that question in mind, I point you in the direction of the recent film, “JCVD,” starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. This film is being touted as some kind of metatextual documentary, which sounds more like what I’d think of when thinking of a “nonfiction” film. However, it’s really more biographical fiction than anything. Here’s the synopsis:

The "Muscles from Brussels" is back and facing the biggest fight of his life. Returning to his home town for some much needed rest after losing his daughter in a lengthy custody battle, Jean-Claude Van Damme finds himself smack in the middle of a bank heist. Even worse, the cops think the penniless aging action star is the culprit. Now in the midst of a dangerous hostage situation where everyone wants their piece of Van Damme, JCVD will have to use his Hollywood training to plan an escape. But can Van Damme really be the underdog hero in real life?

Van Damme plays himself, pretty much. There’s supposed to be some point in the film where he delivers an impassioned monologue that adds some depth to his skills as an actor. It can’t possibly be as good as Bela Lugosi’s “home” speech from “Bride of the Monster,” but I hear that it is pretty good.

Now, we have JCVD getting all dramatic in “JCVD,” Mike Tyson being portrayed with some real pathos, and we just had Mickey Rourke turn his history of haggard living into a film about wrestling and the athletes that sweat, bleed, and die for it. We’re seeing more reality from actors, acting in films that are fictional accounts, but might as well be biographical or documentary style endeavors.

But, as with all things, you only see what you’re supposed to, what the camera captures. Look at Rourke’s wonderful portrayal of Randy the Ram, then look at how his fucked-up mug has changed since he starred in “Angel Heart.” Watch Van Damme emote in “JCVD,” then try to sit through any film of his made in the aftermath of, say, “Sudden Death,” his last film to even sniff multiplexes. Be amaze at how soft-spoken and articulate “Tyson” makes its subject seem, while you ignore the fact that Robin Givens is nowhere that the camera can find.

Therein is your truth. Make a documentary about that.

Here’s a list of some choice documentaries, just because we’re on the subject:

American Movie (1999)
American Pimp (1999)
Beef (2003)
Beyond the Mat (1999)
Bowling for Columbine (2002)
Crumb (1994)
Dancing Outlaw (1991)
Devil’s Playground (2002)
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows (1998)
Hoop Dreams (1994)
Lost in La Mancha (2002)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996)
Scratch (2001)
Spellbound (2002) (2001)
Super Size Me (2004)
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
When We Were Kings (1996)

1 comment:

Ron said...

No love for Trekkies?