Our weekly doc roundup collects critical reactions to some current documentary releases in the theaters and on DVD.
Billy the Kid, Jennifer Venditti’s first film, is a portrait of a troubled, misfit 10th grader named Billy Price. The critic for the Village Voice says “I have seen more than 25 documentaries this year, and after a while they all start to run together, both structurally and thematically. Billy the Kid is utterly original in both respects,” and TV Guide calls the film “…truly something special.” The film is also getting raves from documentary filmmakers and bloggers. Filmmaker AJ Schnack rounds up some of the reactions on his blog, All these wonderful things. Variety‘s critic, however, found the film’s portrayal of Billy an appallingly callous act of exploitation.
Judge for yourself: Billy the Kid opened in New York City on December 5th, and opens more widely in January of 2008. Watch the trailer.
POV alum Jessica Yu’s (In the Realms of the Unreal, 2005) Protagonist is an ambitious, conceptual look at four unrelated men and the moments of revelation and transformation in their lives. Yu was originally commissioned to make a film about Greek playwright Euripides, and she turned that project into Protagonist, in which interviews with her four subjects are intercut with puppets performing Euripidean drama. Salon.com’s critic calls it “…a highly original and at times thrilling use of the documentary medium, and one of the most revealing films about the troubled nature of contemporary manhood I’ve ever seen,” and many other reviewers praised the film for its experimental, but still accessible approach. Some critics, however, found the film “hermetic” and the New York Post says that “[n]one of the talking heads is as interesting as Yu thinks they are.”
At long last, documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has released some of his masterpieces on DVD for the home market! For some documentary fans, this is like being a kid at a newly opened candy store. For decades, you could only see Wiseman’s films at universities, a few libraries and on scratched up VHS tapes passed between friends and aficionados. Now, you can purchase DVDs including Titicut Follies (1967), High School (1968, POV 2001), Domestic Violence (2001) and more straight from Wiseman’s website, zipporah.com.
At the moment, the films are still not available on Netflix, but the website encourages you to tell Netflix to add it to their collection, and so do I. Wiseman is one of America’s greatest filmmakers, but his films have been too rarely seen due to their lack of home video and DVD distribution. Now is your chance to finally watch those films, and get startling, vérité glimpses of the many American institutions that Wiseman has chosen to film.
More on Frederick Wiseman:
Reason Magazine, “Let the Viewer Decide”: Documentarian Frederick Wiseman on free speech, complexity, and the trouble with Michael Moore.
Salon.com, Frederick Wiseman: The grandfather of cinema verite talks about domestic violence, “Domestic Violence” and the reality behind reality films.
GeraldPeary.com, Frederick Wiseman: Wiseman on his Public Housing.
Wikipedia, Frederick Wiseman: An overview of Wiseman’s philosophy, his process and his style.