On The Reel: Documentaries Galore
As the world gets crazier, it’s time to put some truth in our lives
The era of “peak TV” also means an abundance of entertainment, and some of it right at our fingertips. You don’t have time to go through it all with your job, kids, video games, and maybe even your gambling addiction. If only there was some cocky little sh*t willing to comb through it all…well you’re in luck because here I am. Every week, On The Reel will give you something to watch in theaters, a couple shows or movies to stream, and maybe even a hidden gem or two.
To quote Bender from Futurama, I’m back, baby. On The Reel took a break last week thanks to some family issues that needed to be dealt with and I do apologize for that. Had there been one, I would’ve suggested everyone going to see Alien: Covenant…and I would’ve been dead wrong. After peeping it this weekend and screaming at an invisible Ridley Scott for subjecting us to whatever he thought that thing was. In retrospect, it may have been a good thing there was no column last week. Alien: Covenant suffers from the same major issues as Prometheus just as an actual Alien movie and not a movie merely dipping its toe in the Alien franchise. Characters doing things with no rationalization, which would come from development. Of course, there is none of that development so it becomes easy to root against them rather than for them. Scott says he’s doing two more flicks for the franchise and it might be time to rethink that; either decide against it or get new blood behind the camera. The latter makes more sense than the former so we’ll see. But Lord have mercy, that movie was tepid and just frustrating.
That was last week, this is this week. In order to flush the taste of Sir Ridleys’s latest out of my system, it appropriate to get into some documentaries, which streaming services seem to be infatuated with, and for good reason. A documentary, whether good or bad, can still provide a somewhat unfiltered story on any given subject. If there’s a compelling narrative, you get your entertainment and your education all wrapped in one. Those teachers and parents in the ’90s would’ve been so proud. This week, we’ve got Batman, Bond, a bastard, and directors dodging bombs.
Batman’s Other Father
For most people, Batman has two dads, like that girl on My Two Dads. Instead of Paul Raiser and Greg Evigan, it’s Bob Kane and Thomas Wayne. But what if I told you Batman has more in common with the girl from Three Men and a Baby? In comic book circles — meaning social circles of people who talk comic books, not circles made of comic books — Bill Finger was like the dirty little secret. Everyone, including artists and writers, pretty much understood Bob Kane took a lot more credit than he deserved. He and Finger collaborated in creating the Dark Knight but it was Finger who came up with most of the things we associate with Batman. The Bat Cave? Finger. The Batmobile? Finger. Bruce Wayne and the murder of his parents? Also Finger. Batman and Bill, directed by Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, details the crusade of a little-known author, Marc Tyler Nobleman, to get Finger the credit he deserved.
The documentary is multiple things at once: An insightful look into the mind of a guy who wants to do the right thing, a historical exposé on the downside of the comic book industry, the tragedy of money and fame coming between friends, and just how long and arduous the legal process can be. There are times when it doesn’t know if it wants to be about Finger or Nobleman, which makes it a tad uneven, but it works for the most part. Even if you’re not a fan of comic books, comic book movies, or somehow not a fan of Batman, you should still check it out. It’s a compelling story and seeing someone fight for justice always warms the heart. Hulu is looking to become a major player in the documentary landscape and this is a pretty big notch on their belt.
The Other Guy Who Was James Bond
James Bond is like the President of the United States, in that there is a small group of people who can lay claim to it. Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig; that’s five guys in 50 years. The one thing they all have in common — even Dalton — is they continued their careers once their 00 status was rescinded. Thats probably why most people forget the guy who played Bond between Connery and Moore. In 1969, George Lazenby was licensed to kill in the very dope On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
But it was just that once. For years, different reasons from different people have been given as to why he was one and done: The box office performance convinced the producers they needed to get Connery back, Lazenby decided he didn’t want to be locked down to a franchise he felt would soon be extinct, Lazenby was difficult to work with so no one wanted him around for the next installment, or the one about Lazenby getting losing all good sense when he got caught up in a brief moment of fame and fortune.
Almost 50 years later, Becoming Bond gives the former model/car salesman a platform to tell his story; a story that becomes more fascinating when you discover this cat had no acting experience prior to being Bond and basically conned his way into the role. The documentary isn’t just about how he became Bond and what happened to him after 1969, but him narrating the story of his life. With Lazenby, it’s hard to separate truth from fiction because he’s always been his biggest fan and as previously noted, he’s a well-known philosopher. You know, a bullshit artist.
That said, he’s an incredible storyteller and the reenactments of the events in his life are on point as well. The documentary is worth a watch if nothing more than to convince everyone to see On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as its reputation has grown quite a bit these past 17 years. As a bonus treat, it too is streaming on Hulu so make it an evening with a Bond double feature.
Into Your Chamber Like Freddy Enter Dream
This might be a bit of a cheat since it’s not exactly new, but Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy is one of the best horror documentaries in existence. The seven-year-old documentary is a four hour comprehensive look at the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, dissecting every movie minus the remake. And it’s not just random people talking about how much they love it or don’t love it; Never Sleep Again has the power brokers, the movers and the shakers who’ve been with Freddy Krueger since the beginning. There’s Wes Craven, Robert Englund, Heather Langenkamp, John Saxon, Chuck Russell, Frank Darabont, Bob Shaye, Lin Shaye, Renny Harlin, and damn near anyone they could grab. It’s an extensive look at every single film in the franchise, starting with the 1984 original and ending with 2004’s Freddy Vs. Jason. That’s 20 years condensed into four hours and it’s well-worth every single second.
Besides hearing Craven’s inspiration for the film and its iconic villain, we get insight from producer and New Line Cinema owner, Bob Shaye, stories on why certain films are what they are, behind the scenes drama, Craven’s love-hate relationship with the studio, and a list of people who may have been attached to the franchise at different points, including Brad Pitt, John Stamos, and even Stephen King.
Saying anymore would do a disservice to the hard work it took to make this thing as there are several revelations that took me by surprise and at four hours, there’s always something new to discover or ponder because sometimes they drop jewels so quickly and subtlety, it takes a while for them to register. It’s perfect from start to finish and if you’re so inclined, you can cop from Amazon for the low or just subscribe to Shudder, also for the low, and watch it there. I suggest you subscribe to Shudder.
Some Directors Dodge Execs, These Guys Dodged Bullets
It’s probably no coincidence Hollywood’s Golden Age took place during World War 2. The world was in a state of disaray and people needed an escape. So why not go out to the movies to have yourself a snack? The era also inspired five of the most respected and powerful directors in town to do their part and document the war. Frank Capra ( It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), John Ford (The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), George Stevens (Shane), William Wyler (Ben-Hur, Roman Holiday) and John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Key Largo) are the titular five in Five Came Back, a documentary in which five current directors reflect on this quintet who went “over there” to do their part to make a difference.
Steven Speilberg, Francis Ford Coppola, Guillermo Del Toro, Lawrence Kasdan, and Paul Greengrass each discuss a different director, their legacies, their impacts on their own careers, and how much their sacrifices meant to the war effort. While it’s not the most comprehensive, it’s a good history lesson for those of us whose parents weren’t even born yet. My mo was born in 1960 and my dad in 1958, so it’s fair to say I’m in that group. The sense of pride coursing through the veins of these men is something to behold and the directors talking about them remain in awe today just as much as they were as kids.
It’ll take up a little more than three hours of your time as its separated into three hour-long episodes with each more revealing than the first. And since you probably spend most of your free time on Netflix already, it won’t be that much of a hassle.
Marcus Benjamin is a danger to the public, an alum of American University, St. John’s University, a screenwriter, and has an intense relationship with words. Witness his tomfoolery on Twitter, @AbstractPo3tic.