BrainstemBob Approved: Two New Documentaries
As I get older, and I am definitely getting older, I find myself watching more and more documentary films. Documentary films show us the neglected corners of the world that don’t get much attention, shining a much-deserved light on the people, places, and events from the past, present and future, and give us more insight on the human condition. Documentaries have many marvelous qualities; they can educate, enrage, and inspire us. They can move us to take action to right wrongs. They can also be incredibly entertaining. What I’m saying is, I love documentaries. Given a choice between the latest box office blockbuster or an unknown little indie documentary, I’m almost always going to choose the doc. And I’ve seen two in the last week that are well worth checking out.
One of the things that drives me crazy, given the fact that we’re presented with a nearly unlimited number of choices when it comes to film, movies, TV and music is that, even with access to such a wealth of options, most people stick with the same tired old stuff. The same crappy pop songs. The same worn-out TV shows. The same boring movies.
I prefer to skirt the edges of the mainstream, to look for the stuff that isn’t getting the mainstream heat, but that is almost always infinitely more interesting. ‘Almost There‘ is a documentary that fits the bill. Like a lot of my favorite documentary movies, I went into it knowing nothing but what the short description on Amazon told me. Which is this:
“For many, Peter Anton’s house embodies an end-of-life nightmare: no heat or electricity, the floorboards are rotting, and the detritus of a chaotic life is precariously stacked to the ceiling. The film’s journey follows a gifted artist through twists and turns with enough human drama for a season of soap operas, plus insights into mental illness, aging in America, and the redemptive power of art.”
It’s a movie about an eccentric old artist that the two filmmakers came across at a fair. Peter Anton is a painter; he’s also an eccentric recluse who lives in the basement of what’s left of his childhood home in the bombed-out industrial wastelands of East Chicago, Indiana. The filmmakers take it upon themselves to start documenting Anton’s life and his art. They soon become part of the story as Anton becomes more and more dependent on them for his daily needs.
How did Peter Anton get to this place in life, where he lives all by himself in such squalor and filth in a home with no heat, no running water (save the water that pours from burst pipes and through the ruined roof), and seemingly no form of income. It’s a house unlike anything you’ve ever seen, choked with mold and grime and literally falling down around him. He’s dirty. He’s sick. His home isn’t fit for rats. It’s just him, his cats, and his art. While I don’t often care for docs whose directors make themselves part of the story, in this case their involvement is crucial to the whole story, and they act as surrogates for the rest of us.
I won’t go any further into what happens as the movie unfolds other than to tell you that, like life itself, the film deals with lots of ups and downs…happiness and crushing sadness…twists and turns…creation and destruction…difficult ethical choices…as well as the healing, redemptive power of art.
The best documentaries portray truths that are stranger than fiction, and ‘Almost There‘ is no exception. Check it out. It’s streaming for free on Amazon Prime, and it’s also available to buy for under 10 bucks. It’s outsider art at its finest.
Don’t trust me? Let the trailer convince you:
I grew up in the 1970’s. Depending on your viewpoint, that’s either the most awesome thing ever, or something to be winced at. God, what a strange decade. As a kid, I didn’t know any better; it was all any of us kids knew. Watergate, Vietnam, deep shag carpet…it was all normal. And part of our ‘normal’ pop culture, along with Saturday morning cartoons, Brady Bunch reruns and Star Wars, was Evel Knievel. ‘Being Evel‘ tells his story.
Everybody, even those born much later, knows who Evel Knievel is, or was. He was the crazy bastard in the red, white and blue jumpsuit and cape who jumped his motorcycle over cars. And buses. And Caesar’s palace water fountains. He’s also the guy who, if he’s thought about much at all these days, is remembered as the guy who crashed. A lot. And broke bones. A lot of bones.
Back in the day, in the age of 3 TV channels (4 or 5 if you were lucky), the home entertainment choices were slim. On Saturday or Sunday afternoons, after the morning cartoons and the mid-afternoon bowling shows (which we all watched if we were bored enough, let’s admit it) was ABC’s Wide World of Sports. “Spanning the globe” to bring viewers the best in sports, Wide World of Sports was often a savior to those of us with not much else to do.
Now, Wide World of Sports showed a lot of crap. Lots of gymnastics. Lots of ice skating. I think even they showed bowling (what the hell was with all the bowling in the 70s ?!?). But if we were lucky, we would get something more cool like auto racing or downhill skiing. And if we were really lucky, we’d get the Harlem Globetrotters or the ultimate, EVEL KNIEVEL. If Evel Knievel or the Globetrotters weren’t on during a particular episode, I’d usually turn Wide World of Sports off, but not until after Mr. Agony of Defeat’s gruesome spill off the end of the ski jump. That was never to be missed.
We watched Evel in nervous anticipation. Would his jump be successful? (It often wasn’t.) Would he survive? Of course he would. He might break “every bone in his body” (a popular urban myth that circulated around lunch rooms and playgrounds back then) but dammit, Evel Knievel would always survive.
‘Being Evel‘ is an in-depth, highly entertaining look back at the man and legend that was Evel Knievel. We learn about his childhood (difficult), his quest for bigger and more dangerous stunts with massive risk to life and limb, and what drives a man to such madness. (Spoiler Alert: He was a bit of an asshole and made lots of highly questionable lifestyle choices.) We relive the height of Knievel Mania…the toys (everybody had an Evel Knievel Action Bike, including me) and the mass marketing of everything Knievel.
We get a detailed segment on Knievel’s most famous stunt, his famed Sky Cycle rocket jump over the Snake River Canyon in 1974. Trust me, it’s the entire insane decade of the 70’s all wrapped up into a neat package.
As someone who as a kid saw Evel Knievel as nothing but a larger-than-life hero, ‘Being Evel‘ was a fascinating look back at the craze, but also the toll it took on him as a man. It isn’t pretty. The film also examines Knievel’s legacy, which is large. Today the world of ‘action sports’ earns billions of dollars, with new superstars pushing the envelope of what can be done with a motorcycle, car, bicycle or skateboard. They all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the Man, Evel Knievel.
‘Being Evel‘ is also available for streaming. As I write this, you can rent it for a buck on Amazon. It’s a dollar well spent for a look back at a bizarre time in our culture. Highly, highly entertaining.
Check out the trailer: