The proliferation of documentaries on streaming services makes it difficult to choose what to watch. Each month, we pick three nonfiction movies — classics, overlooked recent docs, and more — that will reward your time.
‘Film about a father who’ (2020)
Stream it on the Criterion Channel. Rent it on Apple TV and Vudu.
In “Film About a Father Who,” director Lynne Sachs sorts out her feelings about her elusive, troubled father, Ira Sachs Sr. Combining film and video formats, the film brings together images that Lynne has created over more than 30 years. with other material from her filmmaker brother, Ira Sachs Jr. (“Love Is Strange”), and Ira Sr. yourself.
From the start, Ira Sr. a bit like a flake. Lynne, explaining what her father did for a living, calls him “a hippie businessman, who buys land so steep you can’t build on it, bottles mineral water he can’t put on the shelves, and uses other people’s money.” to develop hotels named after flowers.” He also appears to have been a serial compartmentalist, a trait that may have been innocent enough when it came to extravagances (he owned two Cadillac convertibles and kept one secret), but it caused a lot of drama for his family.Lynne interviews some of the women with whom Ira Sr. had dealings and the many children he fathered, including two adult half-sisters that Lynne knew nothing about until 2016. Did she have any suspicions, you might wonder? Lynne suggests that Ira Sr.’s secrecy is hers. and led her siblings to take a stand of what she calls “accomplice ignorance.” And Ira Sr.’s mother, referred to by Lynne Maw-Maw, only made things complicated when she was alive because, says Lynne She “couldn’t handle the constant flow of people she was supposed to, in the words ‘love’, in the way we’ve been taught to love family.”
In interviews, Ira Sr. nevertheless about as a genius slut – fun at parties maybe, but definitely a handful to have as a father or partner. “Film About a Father Who,” the title of which is inspired by Yvonne Rainer’s “Film About a Woman Who,” is a consideration of how one man’s easygoing demeanor produced everything but easy family dynamics as it rippled across generations. The film is only 74 minutes long, but contains lives.
Stream it on Kanopy or Mubi. Rent it on Google Play and Vudu.
Some documentaries are intended to bring order to the world. Leviathan, on the other hand, likes abstraction and disorientation, as Dennis Lim noted in 2012 when he profiled the filmmakers for DailyExpertNews. Co-directors Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor of Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab, a group that combines the academic discipline of ethnography with the artistic possibilities of filmmaking, shot it during six voyages aboard a fishing trawler from Massachusetts. But it is hardly an explanation or clarification of the fishing industry. It begins with a quote from the book of Job and unleashes a furious stream of images in which it is often difficult to know which way is up or even whether it is day or night.
As the title implies, the human presence is something secondary to the monstrous swirling of the sea or the clattering, menacing chains of the boat’s equipment. The swampy, slicker fishermen aren’t identified until the credits; their voices are often barely audible (the distortions of their words suggest that Charlie Brown’s teacher provided some sort of metallic feedback), and their routines are never explained.
In interviews, the filmmakers noted that they wanted to surrender some of their freedom of choice to the elements. Waterproof cameras are dragged underwater like a fishing net or pulled above the surface to jump along with some floating seabirds. They slosh on the ground with the catch of the day, as much of the trash as the ginger beer rummaging around in a pile of shells. Shooting at ultra close range from trunk height or at odd angles, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor offer perspectives on the boat’s appearance and sounds that seem detached from where our eyes would naturally shoot for meaning. It’s so lively you’d sometimes swear you can smell the ship too.
‘The velvet background’ (2021)
Stream it on Apple TV+.
Todd Haynes isn’t really reinventing the rock band biopic documentary in “The Velvet Underground,” but there are times when he seems pretty close. The title is in a way a misnomer: the focus isn’t so much on the band as it is on the Warholian cultural ferment of the 1960s from which the group emerged. (It’s more underground and less, uh, velvet.) Dedicated to the memory of Jonas Mekas, who appears, and featuring excerpts from films by him and film artist contemporaries such as Bruce Conner, Stan Brakhage, and many others, Haynes’ film is just as interested in image, sound and feeling as it is in recording history.
The profuse use of split screen evokes Warhol’s ‘Chelsea Girls’, a work that juxtaposes images from two projectors as the soundtrack alternates between the film strips, allowing viewers to make connections. In a similar vein, Haynes is committed to capturing the cultural cross-currents that have shaped the band and its members.
John Cale, one of the founding members of the band, talks about the influence of experimental musicians such as John Cage and La Monte Young on the music he made. Later, from a fan’s perspective, musician Jonathan Richman recounts hearing “overtones you couldn’t explain” while watching the Velvet Underground play. Film critic Amy Taubin links Warhol’s silent films — intended to be played at the slower-than-standard 16 frames per second — and the avant-garde music scene: “It was all about extended time.”
Haynes’ film does not shy away from standard biographical details. There are stories of Lou Reed’s irritability and a long section on what happened to the band after the groundbreaking (or not best-selling) first album. But you don’t have to be interested in the music, if at all, to appreciate “The Velvet Underground” as a movie.