Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Documentaries

"In feature films the director is God; in documentary films God is the director."
--Alfred Hitchcock

"Every cut is a lie. It’s never that way. Those two shots were never next to each other in time that way. But you’re telling a lie in order to tell the truth."
--Wolf Koenig

Thanks to the miracle that is Netflix, I've had the pleasure of viewing two beautiful, but starkly different, documentaries in the past few days. One is a picture of brutality and hubris, the other a celebration of beauty and humility.

I don't remember how I found out about THE COVE. But I do remember that when I heard about it I quickly added it to my Netflix queue, and then hit that all-important "Move to Position #1" button. On Saturday afternoon, I popped it in the laptop and became engrossed by the thermal camera images of dolphins being slaughtered that accompany the opening credits.

THE COVE is a film that details a small group of activists, people culled from various professions and walks of life, that see the wholesale and needless extermination of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Led by Rick O'Barry (the guy who trained Flipper, and has since renounced dolphin captivity), this team is comprised of deep sea divers, special effects wizards, and ex-military who put their freedom and lives on the line to accomplish their mission. Their mission was to simply document what has been going on in Taiji. And what, exactly, has been going on? The fishermen in Taiji have a cove that is located along dolphin migration patterns. They herd dolphins by the hundreds into this cove, where trainers from all over the world select dolphins to be bought and transported to their various dolphinariums and aquariums. This process is viewable by anyone from the street. What happens next is that the dolphins that aren't selected are herded into a secret cove that isn't visible from the street. These dolphins are killed. All of them. Male, female, children. Their meat is harvested and sold. Approximately 25,000 dolphins a year are killed in Taiji.

This is the time for a disclaimer. I am a carnivore through and through. While not a hunter, I have no reservations about responsible hunting. Many of my friends are hunters, and they bring me meat from the deer or elk or fish or whatever. I am not a member of PETA or Greenpeace. This is not an issue of responsible hunting - it's people making money off of the brutalization of another species for profit, with no regard to the environmental or health impact.

If we were talking simply about an issue of hunting dolphins because, culturally, they are a desired food, there wouldn't be that big of a deal. It would still be sad, but daddy's gotta eat. The main problem here is that almost no one eats dolphin meat. In fact, (and I'll try not to spoil the movie for you) eating dolphin meat is terribly dangerous to your health. What O'Barry and the team discover goes way beyond an animal cruelty issue (although it most certainly is that, as well) and extends into a health crisis. Watch the movie.

It's hard to give a rating out of five to a movie like this. I understand that there is one point of view being portrayed here. I also understand that this movie is made with a strong agenda. Still, if it can soften the heart of this carnivore, it must be effective. 5 Private Spaces out of 5.


From uber-serious to uber-awesome. Here's the plot for IT MIGHT GET LOUD: put The Edge, Jimmy Page, and Jack White in a room together and let them talk about guitars. Fantasticality ensues.

I wish, wish, wish that I had seen this in the theater. I've got a decent enough TV, but I really wish that I had heard this on big surround-sound, thx speakers. The movie tracks these three guys from their youth to the time that they fell in love with guitars.

There is a great little segment on how they each got their first electric guitar, and it's absolutely precious to watch these guys talk about the instrument like it was a child. The Edge talks about his first electric guitar in the same way that I talk about Sam being born. Speaking of The Edge, my favorite scene in the movie is a short little snippet in which he is listening to the original four-track demos of Where the Streets Have No Name. In the background, you can here Bono counting. And The Edge, listening intently and obviously remembering this time, this time before everything got so huge, before U2 became really gigantic, he almost gets emotional. Almost, but not quite.

What I really loved about this movie was the three men, who represent three generations of rock and roll, all demonstrate an incredible amount of mutual respect and humility. It would be easy for Jimmy Freaking Page to not take Jack White seriously, but he watches and listens, and dang it if he isn't learning a thing or two. And Jack White, the poster child for irreverence, watches Page and The Edge with an awe that is remarkable. The Edge is steady throughout, serving as a kind of bridge between the generations.

The only complaint I have is that I would have loved to have seen more of them playing together. At the very end, they all play The Band's "The Weight" together - The Edge and Jack White trade off singing the verses (Page makes a comment about how he can't sing at all). It's pretty great. That four minutes is worth the price of admission.

IT MIGHT GET LOUD gets 4 Claudettes out of 5 - it loses one because I wasn't satisfied in the end. But then, that's what rock and roll is all about, isn't it?


myleswerntz said...

a great two-fer. I'm a sucker for documentaries.

If given the chance to see one of those three guitarists, I'm going to have to go with Page. While I have warm-fuzzies for Edge, and Jack White's guitar makes me want to break tables, Page is channeling something else entirely when he plays.

the hamster said...

myles - you're right: page is channeling something. and leave me out of it. drag alison lohman to hell, not me. i'll take jack white. i'd kiss the man on the mouth if he'd let me.

john - greatness here, sir. good films and good takes. you're pushing our Hockey Maskable boundaries.

myleswerntz said...

speaking of which, are we ever going to finish that FTT series we started some billion years ago?

the hamster said...

myles - good call. i think we left off at number 3 or 4. we'd have to check the backlog. all i know is i hope to never sit through 8 and 9 again.

after all this higher caliber film and thought, i have a slasher review to put up within the weekend. and scream queen jamie lee curtis, at that. get us back to our roots!

myleswerntz said...

okay, back in December 2008, I did FTT IV, and Hammy did a retrospective of all of them together after he finished #10. But...I think we need to do this right, and do reviews on 5-10, including (sigh) Freddy v. Jason.

It's only right.

the hamster said...

fine. let's do it.

you push a hard bargain, mr. werntz. if i didn't know you better, i'd think you were working for the vorhess' estate.

the hamster said...

vorhees' estate.