Documentaries to watch

Nov. 6, 2014, 12:24 p.m.
Still from "Man on Wire."
Still from “Man on Wire.”

Watching documentaries is a great way to relax while still doing something productive and educational, or at least that’s how I justify spending so many hours on Netflix. I’ve compiled a list of some great ones out there.

Man on a Wire

The movie centers on Philippe Petit, an astonishingly spirited and reckless tightrope walker in his attempt to accomplish his ultimate feat—to traverse a tightrope across the newly built twin towers in 1974. While the footage of the actual walk is astounding and exquisite, the most compelling aspect of the movie is the character of Philippe himself, an unbelievably animated and jubilant story teller whose absolute devotion to and belief in his craft is frightful and inspiring. The fact that he managed to persuade a handful of people to dedicate copious amounts of time, energy and money to assist him in a highly glorified circus feat speaks volumes to his helplessly infectious personality. Through his interviews Philippe turns otherwise underwhelming occurrences, such as a close run in with a security guard on the eve of the event, into a gripping tales. This man could have honestly been reading the periodic table and you would be alternating between laughing and gripping the edge of your seat. This story has the added allure from a psychological perspective of a man who truly felt the purpose of his life; the only way his life was worth living, was if he ferociously pursued this adventure. Fascinating.

Surf Wise

This movie has it all: humor, nature, extreme sports, conflict and dysfunctional families. Surf wise is about Doc Paskowitz, one rather exceptional Stanford medical school grad who, after two failed marriages and some other disenchanting experiences, ends up abandoning a successful medical practice in Hawaii in the pursuit of fulfillment and authenticity. He decides that surfing is where true happiness lies and so he relinquishes all his possessions, moves into a 24 foot camper, marries a woman who he believes to be his perfect sexual partner, has nine kids and proceeds to drive them all over the country to surf. The documentary explores how nine kids, who were raised with no formal education, completely disconnected from society and subject to their father’s extremely eccentric views on health, fitness and sexuality, come to terms with their childhood and attempt to reintegrate into society. This movie explores the tension between the living by ideals and dealing with the realities of life and the many vibrant members of the Pascowitz family help to weave an astounding if not tragic tale.

Mile Mile and a Half

This movie is great for outdoor enthusiasts and nature admirers. It tells the story of five artists who hike California’s John Muir trail with the goal of capturing the amazing sights and sounds they encounter along the way through their diverse artistic mediums. The characters are relatable and they meet other fascinating artists, musicians and adventurers along the way but the true beauty of the piece lies in the astonishing cinematography and the clear appreciation of nature that this film is both derived from and contributes to.

Exit Through the Gift Shop

This movie questions the authenticity of our definition of art and the arbitrariness with which we consider something to be art. It centers around a hilarious if not completely insane French man named Thierry Guetta who has a passion for filming street art and has even managed to extensively film Bansky, the most sought after and elusive member of the international street art community. But when Banksy finds out Thierry never had any intentions of making a movie out of the thousands of hours of tape he decides to turn the tables and tells Thierry to make his own art show, an endeavor which Thierry most eagerly embarks upon. Theirry rents an entire production team to mass produce flashy and absurd pieces of “art” and then spends all his time hyping up his upcoming show. He ends up selling almost a million dollars worth of art and is met with roaring success to the utter confusion of Banksy and every other artist who could not believe that the same art enthusiasts who bought and admired their work were paying hefty prices for these appalling knockoffs. But maybe the film is just another orchestrated statement piece by Banksy about the authenticity of trends and the looseness with which we call things art.  So meta.

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