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Rob Edelman: Hot Docs and More

A good documentary, like good fiction, can entertain and even enthrall viewers. A good documentary also can spotlight an issue and offer truths and insights regarding that issue. However, unless that documentary deals with a hot-button topic-- such is the case with BULLY, which deservedly has received reams of publicity and a high-profile theatrical release-- most documentaries earn limited theatrical play, if they even make it into movie houses. But thanks to DVD and other non-theatrical venues, documentaries do become available to one-and-all. Each month, it seems, quite a few worthwhile docs are released. 

The following documentaries, each of which recently came to DVD, cover a range of subjects. Each, at the very least, is well-worth a look.

* AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE, directed by Steven Soderbergh, offers a portrait of Spalding Gray, the late writer-actor-monologist who apparently jumped off the Staten Island Ferry in 2004. Soderbergh, by the way, filmed GRAY’S ANATOMY, one of Spalding Gray’s monologues, in 1996.

* DRAGONSLAYER charts the plight of 23-year-old Josh “Skreech” Sandoval, an acclaimed professional skateboarder. As he tells Sandoval’s story, filmmaker Tristan Patterson offers a peek into 1990s American youth culture.

* In HOW TO LIVE FOREVER, filmmaker Mark S. Wexler probes the process of aging and growing old, and what it might mean to actually live forever.

* THE PRUITT-IGOE MYTH, directed by Chad Freidrichs, seeks to tell the truth about the Pruitt-Igoe public housing development, built in St. Louis in the mid-1950s. Once viewed as a model of its type, Pruitt-Igoe was razed in the early 1970s. The film scrutinizes the hows and whys of its creation and reassesses the reasons for its demise. 

* RAW FAITH, directed by Peter Wiedensmith, follows two years in the life of Marilyn Sewell, a Unitarian minister, and what happens when she decides to leave her position as senior minister at her Portland, Oregon, church.

* The final title is WINDFALL, directed by Laura Israel, which tells the story of a wind developer who promises to augment the failing economy of the rural farm town of Meredith, New York, by constructing industrial wind turbines.

Lastly, on an entirely different topic, I recently attended a symphonic orchestral performance. What attracted me to this event was one of the numbers performed. It was the music score from ON THE WATERFRONT, the 1954 classic.

When I think of ON THE WATERFRONT, which is one of my all-time favorite films, I think of Marlon Brando’s legendary performance, the famous taxi cab sequence, and the manner in which the scenario serves to parallel and justify director Elia Kazan and screenwriter Budd Schulberg’s decision to name names when called to testify before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee.

Too often, I have taken no notice of the film’s music score, which was written by Leonard Bernstein and is the only score this renowned composer ever penned for a movie. But Bernstein’s music plays a major role in helping to set the tone of the story, and tell the story, and capture the characters’ emotions.

Sometimes, the impact of a music score on the movie-going experience is overlooked, but this was not the issue regarding this particular performance. On one level, it was a treat to hear the score performed, but what made it extra-special was to hear it on its own terms, separated from the onscreen images. 

While Bernstein’s score is integral to the film, it also works as a piece of music that is beautifully written, and simply is pleasurable to listen to on its own terms.

Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not reflect the views of this station or its management.