November 13, 2017
The combination of Daylight Savings’ 5 p.m. pitch-blackness and the realities of Minnesota’s November temperatures have officially hit me. Outdoor runs after work are finished and Netflix season has kicked into full gear.
My favorite section of Netflix, iTunes, you-name-it, has strongly shifted to documentaries over the years, and biographical documentaries in particular. Obviously movies in this genre can take many forms, from suspense to humor to drama to downright horror. However, I realize my favorites all have a common thread: Sharing a human experience; telling the story of a real individual, their life and reactions to the people, places and events that happen to them or around them, for better or worse. (Side note: this is also why I love The Leftovers, but that’s a whole different discussion that I won’t get into).
Here’s a roundup of some of my favorite biographical documentaries. Have some favorites that I’ve got to see? Shoot them my way so I have an excuse to stay in all weekend. Thanks
Tragic, raw and intimate, it tells the story of Amy Winehouse’s rise to fame and her struggles to cope with the pressures of the industry and her personal demons. I’m a sucker for any documentaries about musicians and their songwriting processes, and watching the footage of her in the studio paired with the context of her personal life left me listening to her lyrics, music and message in a totally different way.
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
A middle-school science teacher and a super-intense professional arcade gamer (who looks and acts just like Ben Stiller’s character in Dodgeball) go head-to-head in a true story about the competitive, political world of arcade games and the battle for the world record in Donkey Kong. Just watch the trailer. Yes, it’s a true story. Yes, these are real people. And it’s amazing.
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
What if fans on the other side of the world considered you the their Bob Dylan, but you had no idea? Rodriguez is a Detroit-based musician who recorded folk-rock albums in the early 1970s, but after the releases bombed, he quit his music career and disappeared form the music scene. Though he never made a name for himself in the U.S., his music rallied an insane following in South Africa (as in “he sold more albums there than Elvis” insane). This documentary follows two South African fans in the 1990s who tried to track their favorite musician.
Child of Rage (1989)
I blame this on entering the dark hole of YouTube one night, and I warn you, it’s a bit disturbing, but it ends up being kind of a happy story? Child of Rage originally aired in 1989 on CBS and profiles six-year-old Beth Thomas, a child psychopath. The documentary shares real footage of Beth speaking to a psychiatrist about the violent acts she has committed or plans to commit on her adoptive parents and brother. I told you it’s not the most feel-good story, but learning about the effects of child neglect/abuse and the impact it has on children making emotional connections is fascinating. At just 30 minutes long, it ends up having a happy ending — promise!
“I didn’t give a damn about going to the party or being at the party, it was getting dressed for the party. And there’s truth and poetry in that.”
She’s 93 years old. She’s been a fashion icon for decades. She’s a total badass. And she’s everything I want to be in 70 years. If you’re looking for something to put you in a good mood after you’ve been traumatized by “Child of Rage,” this is it.