So, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary binge recently – primarily because I’ve got exams in a month or so and don’t want to be distracted by falling in love with a tv show (though there’s a new show called Kings which is quite interesting).

Anyway, here are three mini reviews of the ones I’ve seen so far:

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

I really like musical documentaries (or rather rockumentaries). There’s some really interesting about watching a band in their space, as the dynamics bob and weave and you see musicians doing what they love while trying to tackle the serious aspects of it as well (recording, management etc).

I Am Trying To Break Your Heart is about Wilco and their almost universally heralded 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Essentially it runs through the band in their loft and then studio writing songs, having issues regarding mixing, and the now legendary drop from their label Reprise Studios. It takes you halfway into the head of one of contemporary America’s most important songwriters, Jeff Tweedy, and shows you the more maniacal, always-looking-for-attention side of musicians.

In The Shadow Of The Moon

So, here’s the thing: If when you were a kid and you did not possess a burning desire to venture into outer space, to have your shoes imprint their marks on the surface of the moon, then you had no imagination and no soul. Simple as.

If you still do not have that same desire, then you still possess neither of those two things. Or maybe you’re just an insufferable realist (like House, but without the sexiness or the wit).

This documentary takes us all the way back to the 50s, to the era of the test pilots. From there, it takes us to Kennedy’s “by the end of the decade we will put a man on the moon” speech, to recruiting astronauts to making the lunar module and the orbital shuttle to the journey itself and to their return, and the subsequent outpouring of utter joy.

There’s no real narration here, unless you count the 27 odd members of the various Apollo crews who journeyed towards the moon (Apollo 13 it was, I believe, who couldn’t land on the moon). It’s inspiring, geniunely heart-wrenching and one of the greatest stories mankind as a whole can ever hope to tell. Full of stunning images, beautiful and funny anecdotes as well some really lovely noise (the rockets firing up at Cape Kennedy – aural orgasm!). Really is worth watching if even 1/10th of you has some essence of adventure.

The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

The essence of this film is Robert McNamara’s life, and in particular 11 lessons he gleans from it. Considered by many to be a fairly controversial character, he comes across as anything but in this documentary/interview, admitting mistakes frankly, while never trying to outright lay blame on someone else (though he does try and do it in a subtle fashion).

It’s a bit telling that his eleven lessons aren’t particular pieces of new, insightful knowledge that’d shake your socks off. In fact, they’re probably nothing more than common sense, or eons of knowledge that now is common sense. Yet, it leads me to think how tough certain circumstances are, and how tough making decisions in those circumstances are. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but as McNamara alludes to, a ‘Fog of War’ exists within war-related decision making, or dare I say security-related decision making. In other words, one cannot look at the whole board, or most of it. In such situations, the common sense knowledge he passes on throughout the documentary seems to rather missing.

He also, perhaps only to my ears/mind, seems to speak with a subtle fondness of Wilson’s statements about how WWI was the end of wars as we knew it – that the US helped win the war to end all wars. Maybe, just maybe, if JFK had lived we might’ve seen a brighter challenge to Realism in that era.

It’s a must watch for anyone interested in politics or even history, for it’s an ‘expose’ of sorts into the mind of one of the brightest political minds of the past half-century, whether you agree with whatever the use of that mind was or not. Some of his words have almost seemed prophetic as well, regarding Bush jr – seeing as though the film was released in ’03 (or 02), I’ve read around that the interviews concluded before the Iraq war.

Anyway, when you couple the extremely interesting content with great montages and superb music from Philip Glass, you’ve got a documentary worth watching.


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