Saturday, August 29, 2009

Docs on DVD--suggestions for viewing: Trouble the Water/Garden/Dr. Bronner

The documentary form seems to be growing stronger with each passing month, and the last several have been particularly rich. Released to DVD recently are three must-sees, the first of which drew a lot of attention upon its limited theatrical release in August of 2008, as campaigning for the upcoming Presidential election was in full swing. I'm rather glad I did not see it then, however. Because of what we see in this film, the anger provoked by the Bush administration's mishandling of the Katrina/New Orleans combo might have sent me into non-recoverable apoplexy.

Watching TROUBLE THE WATER today is still difficult, but knowing that a new administration is in power and hardly likely to treat its citizens in the same manner eases some of the pain. As you may have heard, the documentary is the work of four major players: Kimberley Rivers and her husband Scott, the pair who shot much of the footage we see and who lived through Katrina, and filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessen who chanced to meet the other pair and discovered the amazing footage. Together the quartet has made the best thing I've seen to come out of the Katrina debacle. Because so much of the movie has been shot by and of the pair, their friends, neighbors and relatives, the footage has a "street" reality that puts to shame most other films that strive for this. (Kimberley and Scott at various times admit to their selling drugs to get by, and at one point, late in the film, Kimberly performs an original "rap" number that struck me as better than much else of this devalued form of music that I have heard.) Deal and Lessen add bits of Bush-speak and Nagin-speak (the New Orleans mayor) to the mix in small but effective doses, and I suspect that they have helped supply the "form" of the movie. The collaboration is a wonderful success. Be sure to watch the DVD extras for updates and an interesting look at Mayor Nagin in a conversation with Kimberley.

THE GARDEN tells the years-long, involved and very up-and-down story of some acres of land in the middle of South Central Los Angeles that, decades ago -- post-riots -- were given to the com-
munity as a garden project. The fine documentary, which was nominated for an Academy Award last year, allows us to understand some of the dirty, back-
room politics of L.A. and how fighting City Hall is rarely easy, pleasant or successful. We meet a lot of people in this 80-minute film by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, and our opinions of them grow and change over its short running time. Kennedy clearly has his heart with the gardeners -- mostly Latin immigrants, many of whom may be undocumented -- rather than with the real estate interests or politicians, but he goes out of his way to show us both sides of the issue, as honestly as he can. This is an ugly story in many ways, and unfortunately an all-too-typical one. But you finish the documentary as much filled with awe and appreciation for those who have tried to help as frustration with the self-preserving "system" that beats them down.

Goodness exists! You'll find it in another recent movie which I am delighted to admit has turned me on to a wonderful soap product that I've been using ever since I saw DR. BRONNER'S MAGIC SOAPBOX, the documentary directed by first-
timer Sara Lamm. I recommend that you try the soap, too, and I suspect you may if you finish this fascin-
ating film, which is about-- shock of shocks -- a capitalist company that is doing everything it can to remain "progressive," while at the same time trying to honor its founder and his beliefs. A wildly religious man, Emanuel H. Bronner and his all-one-god faith makes a strange bedfellow with his pure castille soap. But what the hell: the duo has more longevity and appeal than any other soap I can think of -- with or without the religious "instruction" that appears on every label. The film tells the history of Dr. Bronner, one very weird duck, and his early "organic" cleaning product. We also meet his children and grandchildren, who are continuing the not-always-so-good Doctor's legacy (the doc himself has gone to his reward) . They're a fascinating bunch and so is the doctor himself, as well as his soap product. Theres something quite strange about this man, with his German accent and tendency toward screaming while he talks, that brings to mind Adolph Hitler. I guess it goes with the territory. His sons, daughter and grandchildren are interesting, too, as is their commitment to keeping his soap (and religion) alive. Just to witness one son's encounter with a musician/skateboarder in his hotel -- and what comes of this -- the movie is worth more than most. Watch the DVD extras for updates, too.

No comments: