You know those moments when your own life is unfolding in a decent, healthy way, but you’re kind of addicted to ~EMOTION~ so you seek out secondhand stimuli to consume for the purposes of feeling alive? I was in one of those moods last night, so I took to Twitter to ask for some tear-inducing movie recommendations. Someone suggested I check out A Very Long Engagement, which I did, except it turns out I watched the wrong one (the one referred to me is a French film, I ended up with a documentary about a 42-year-long lesbian relationship). I was happy with the mistake, though — nothing makes me feel quite like a documentary. When someone hasn’t seen a documentary I’ve found particularly life-altering, I want to shake them by the shoulders and scream, “YOU MUST HAVE THE FEELS THAT I HAVE EXPERIENCED BEFORE YOU CAN CONTINUE TO LIVE,” which is probably the wrong way to go about making anyone do anything, so instead: a brief listing of some of the documentaries I’ve watched these last few years that have given me a case of the Mariah Carey emotions.
It makes sense to start with this one, because it’s fresh in my mind — a 42-year-long affair (straight or gay) is nothing to sneeze at. Edie and Thea met in the 60s and came of lesbian-age together in New York. Their relationship (and eventual marriage) was equal parts inspiring and enlightening to watch unfold — too often, lesbian relationships are presented in the media as manic, flighty flings that go hard and go home in the span of three weeks. Watching these two together through literal sickness and health made me reevaluate the pessimism I’ve recently developed about monogamy and “true love.” It also scared the crap out of me that I’ll never find what they managed to, in some ways I wish I didn’t know it existed, but what can you do?
Life in a Day documents July 24th, 2010 using 80,000 videos submitted to Youtube from users all over the world (including people who were given video cameras they might have not otherwise had access to). The videos were edited into a 90-minute film that captures both the mundanity and profundity of life happening in 192 countries, in one day. And it is FREAKING BEAUTIFUL. I can’t tell you the number of times I cried watching this doc. You’re essentially invited into homes and cultures that the average person would never have the privilege of experiencing firsthand. One huge takeaway for me was that country and language had no bearing on what people agreed to be most important to them (spoiler alert: it was their loved ones).
3. Paradise Lost (Collector’s Edition) (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills / Paradise Lost 2: Revelations); Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
I don’t want to give away too much here, but this trilogy of documentaries follows the case of the famously dubbed West Memphis Three — three teenage boys who were accused and convicted of murdering three adolescent boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early 90s. The most interesting thing about this trio of films is that the release of the first film convinced more than a handful of people that the West Memphis Three were wrongfully convicted — the second and third documentaries only occurred as a result of the first. Metallica — who the WMT were huge fans of — actually got involved in their defense as a result of the first film (Remember, this was a time when wearing black and listening to Marilyn Manson automatically meant that you probably spent your spare time killing small animals in the woods.) Watching all three will take up an entire day, but once the first film ends, you won’t mind the time investment.
What can I say about Tabloid? It’s no tear-jerker, but you’re definitely going to feel things watching it. Mostly, confusion. Occasionally, shock. Always, entertained. It’s the story of Joyce McKinney — pageant winner, potential kidnapper and rapist, definite crazy person. In the 70s, beauty queen Joyce was accused of following her Mormon ex-lover to England, where she allegedly kidnapped him, chained him up in a cabin, and raped him. Then she did a ton of other crazy shit that seems completely unbelievable — but by the end of the film, you’re pretty convinced this woman invented the phrase “unimaginable crime.” The rub is that, even as Joyce and her antics cross every moral line you can imagine, she remains utterly likable. Never have I encountered a more endearing criminal — one who’s convinced of her own innocence to this day.
In 2009, Diane Schuler drove the wrong way on the Taconic parkway and caused a car crash that killed eight people — her daughter, her three nieces, three men in another car, and herself. Her son suffered massive brain damage as a result of the accident. I mean, this is one heartbreaking story. The documentary tries to unearth what in the hell caused such an epic crash and mostly follows Diane’s husband and sister-in-law as they try to prove that alcohol abuse didn’t play a role in the accident (a theory that competes with an incriminating toxicology report). It’s just a horribly sad film.
I’m a loud and proud cat person, so a lot about this documentary was new territory for me. Mostly, One Nation Under Dog highlights the nuanced relationships Americans have with their dogs. It covers everything from ‘violent’ dogs who can’t seem to be controlled, to owners who are completely unable to cope with the loss of their dogs, to actual loss of dogs via termination (an aspect of the film that pains me to think about — it was actually terrifying). By the time this documentary was over, I wanted to gather every dog across the world for one big, collective hug.
What documentaries give you the feels?