An excerpt from a chat log, created after being asked to write about documentaries.
baseball 24-Oct-19 05:47 PM
do you think you can help me with a project?
I’m supposed to talk about documentaries, but I’m kind of stuck on narrowing anything down.
Skull 24-Oct-19 05:48 PM
baseball 24-Oct-19 05:48 PM
So I have a handful of ones that kind of stick out to me that I think are important Titticut Follies, koyaanisqatsi, The Watermelon Woman, Nostalgia de la luz, and like. Shoah.
Skull 24-Oct-19 05:54 PM
What’re they about?
baseball 24-Oct-19 05:58 PM
oh boy. so.
Titticut Follies is about an asylum for the criminally insane, and how they were treated. It was filmed in the 60s and then extremely banned for a while. The hospital JUST changed in 2017.
Watermelon Woman is a… docudrama I guess? It records the filmmaker, a 1990s black lesbian, and her search for an actress who she believes is in an 1900s black lesbian. So it has one part that’s kind of contrived to be an excuse to tell the other part, which is the actual documentation of queer culture.
Nostalgia de la Luz is the only film I’ve seen from Patricio Guzmán , who I kind of want to talk about as a documentarian more than I want to talk about Nostalgia. His first ever documentary was called Torture and other forms of Dialogue so like you get it
Shoah is the nine hour long documentary about the holocaust which uses exactly zero archival footage. It’s all interviews that were made for the doc and visits to places mentioned in the stories. It took more than a decade to film and is from 1985
and I have no clue what koyaanisqatsi is supposed to be.
Do any of these stand out to you I guess?
Skull 24-Oct-19 06:08 PM
I don’t think I’ve seen any of those in particular but probably Titticut Follies since I’ve watched a few docs about insane asylums. Mostly because I live close to Pennhurst and they had only closed a year before I was born so
Also as someone who’s mentally ill it’s wild to think I would probably be shoved in there in those conditions if things hadn’t changed
baseball 24-Oct-19 06:12 PM
yeah, absolutely. The way it was shot is also just very upsetting sometimes, too, Frederick Wiseman the director guy just like. Goes into these places and stays for at least a month or more until everyone’s forgotten he’s there, basically, so they just start doing what they’d be doing behind closed doors.
So he’d just hanging out with his camera, sitting in on interviews with a pedophile who’s being questioned about why he did it, and then next scene the guards are screaming at person stripped naked in a cell and jeering at him. At one point he just like… watches a force feeding.
baseball 24-Oct-19 06:13 PM
He does edit it and so he’s deciding what’s important enough to show, but otherwise it’s just long, uncut footage.
But yeah, it was so upsetting (to the prison) that they argued he’d violated the inmates’ privacy rights by publishing the documentary, and a judge ruled it could only be shown for educational purposes to nurses, new staff, etc. in medicine. It wasn’t until the 80s that it was released
and that hospital has only just reformed. Again. In April 2017.
Presumably it did a lot to influence some mental health care, but it’s still just like… the literal institution itself ignored it and had people die inside it up until 2017. When this was released in 67.
Skull 24-Oct-19 06:21 PM
Yeah I’m sadly not surprised. The one I watched was suffer the little children, and they kids tied to beds with bugs crawling all over them and it didn’t get closed until 87
now its a…. haunted attraction 🙂 because thats respectful
baseball 24-Oct-19 06:27 PM
I mean. At least you have authentic traumatized tiny ghosts around. I feel like a lot of documentary focuses on suffering? Which I don’t think is really a bad thing, but it could also just be me having a bias towards those things. Like, biopics I guess aren’t always about suffering, and you know. Nat Geo ones, I guess. So it might be a bias. Like, of all the ones I posted above, I think koyaanisqatsi and Watermelon Woman are the only ones that aren’t about some kind of huge tragedy, and even that’s debatable depending on how you interpret koyaanisqatsi (or even Watermelon Woman, since it’s about something that leaves a huge hole in your life, even though it keeps an upbeat tone.)
Skull 24-Oct-19 06:29 PM
Yeah agreed. It’s probably because suffering inspires emotion, gets a reaction, y’know? Suffering is easier to show than joy in a lot of ways, and if the documentary is meant to make awareness of something, awareness of a group’s suffering is a pretty good way to do it. Tug on them heartstrings.
baseball 24-Oct-19 06:40 PM
Yeah. But I do kind of wonder if it’s sometimes just the same thing as watching a fiction film or series or something. Like, you get the upsetting content you need, but does a documentary feel real at all when we’re used to things behind screens being kind of fake? I’m not saying fiction doesn’t affect reality, but I do kind of wonder if like… awareness of the group really works towards change, or if it’s just more of the same with people viewing it as fiction and therefore something that you don’t actually need to deal with. Like, Watermelon Woman has one scene with a multirace, same-sex couple, and they have sex on screen. It’s no more graphic than like what we’re used to now? There’s some panning up legs and kissing shots and the usual stuff. Even though critical reception was fine, the movie had been made using a National Endowment for the Arts; it used to be the NEA would just give the grant to an organization to distribute as they saw fit, but after Watermelon Woman, a newspaper article showed up questioning why the NEA funds (so, taxpayer dollars lol) were being used to create lesbian porn and distribute it 🙂
and then the NEA restructured themselves so they picked and chose which project to fund, instead of just giving out blanket grants anymore. 🙂 so it’s like…… did you all even really care? you know?
Skull 24-Oct-19 06:43 PM
Yeah. Like I know what the filmmakers are trying to do (most of the time), raising awareness of a particular issue or doing something that’s close to home whether its LGBT, the mentally ill, etc., but unless it also has some other backing or attention the people who watch it and it directly effects are people that already care about said issue, y’know?
Not to be a debbie downer but say, how often is a white person gonna seek out a documentary about the injustice black people face? Or straight/cis people going to watch an LGBT doc?
I RARELY watch a doc and am like “wow i had no idea my eyes are open”
I watch something I already knew about
baseball 24-Oct-19 06:55 PM
Yeah, I guess that’s fair. do you sometimes watch them just to like. get an opinion from them? like some of them almost feel like very long youtube videos sometimes. like a cross between that Rare Earth guy and a vlogger lol
I guess vloggars are technically documenting their lives and stuff
Skull 24-Oct-19 06:57 PM
Sometimes, but rarely. lol
Whenever I watch a doc it’s like… this is my downtime, y’know? I’m gonna watch something within my interests
baseball 24-Oct-19 07:18 PM
Yeah. That’s basically all I did as a kid with Nat Geo and Eyewitness docs. but that does make me kind of wonder where the more intense docs fit in. because a lot of these are just really unpleasant or you need willpower to watch
like, Shoah’s nine hour run time aside, it’s not really pleasant to watch documentaries about genocide, even sort of fancifully shot ones like Nostalgia de la Luz, where it’s not exactly about the dictatorship but it is discussing the bodies hidden in the desert, and how they’re hidden under the world’s clearest sky, and etc.
Skull 24-Oct-19 07:21 PM
Yeah I respect them for making Shoah since its not something we should ever forget about but also
I do not have it in me to watch 9 hours of holocaust interviews
baseball 24-Oct-19 07:23 PM
yeah. I barely have it in me to watch koyaanisqatsi . which I do not know if I actually have it in me because the most I’ve been able to do is watch 10 minute segments at a time on youtube. I’m sure that with a larger screen like in a theater it would be a very different experience
koyaanisqatsi is just like…. long shots of literally everything
and it’s the second in a trilogy of movies that are just long shots of everything. so you have time for your eye to actually look at things, but like… i don’t know how long I can actually pay attention, though the adhd meds are definitely helping compared to the last time I tried to watch it
These are all important probably, but they’re all long and hard to watch sometimes, and I don’t know if many people have ever seen them or would even really want to, you know?
it’s definitely a lot easier to just watch Nat Geo tell us about the rainforest frogs lol
Skull 24-Oct-19 07:26 PM
yeah, it’s hard to hold attention that long for ANYTHING let alone a documentary thats supposed to grip you
baseball 24-Oct-19 07:28 PM
Haha, with this group all together I think it’d be hard for any of them to like. Grip you for SO long. Watermelon Woman or Nostalgia would probably have the best luck, but even then, on both of those in a topic I was invested in, sometimes my attention just like… drifted
all the same, i guess if I had to save some documentaries for the future, I probably would save some of these ones over Nat Geo. Maybe people won’t like to watch them as much, but they say something about us and the world around us, even if I’m not always certain what exactly it is
lol if u had to save one movie about the human condition I bet it’d be Venom
Skull 24-Oct-19 07:31 PM
baseball 24-Oct-19 07:32 PM
Skull 24-Oct-19 07:32 PM
baseball 24-Oct-19 07:32 PM
go for it
i’ll let u escape now, thanks for your help
Skull 24-Oct-19 07:36 PM
One day prior:
Can I enlist you for help in the next article I’m writing?
i can try haha
What’s it about?
It’s about documentaries and i am going to be awful and
Submit a documentation
Of a conversation about documentaries (esp surreal and meta ones)
Just to be. Kind of mean.
So like. Having a way too curious convo about documentaries and then explaining them and then just like. Copy/paste or screen cap the convo
Like a monster.
Okay I’ll try to be less profane
Yeah otl that’s going to be. The real struggle here.
But yeah sometime next afternoon I’m gonna start with “can you help me with a project?” And then use that as an excuse to talk about documentaries, so when you see that, that’s when we start talking. I’m hoping to go through Titticut Follies, koyansomethingquatsi, and also like how even if you’re right there shooting you still have some bias in editing
And then, of course, staging documentaries 🙂 because I am mean. ]
[This document and conversation are entirely real, including the staged parts, and posted with the permission of the participants. Editing has been minimal— but conversations on how to create and stage the documentary have been omitted for immersion purposes.
All documentaries are works of fiction struggling to recreate a real experience. But a map that perfectly captures a landscape 1:1 is simply the landscape itself, and so some creative liberties must always be taken when imparting information.]