Here Come The Docs (Movies, That Is)

They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere! And I ain’t talkin’ about nail salons or Buffalo chicken wings or right-wing crazies.

Documentaries, that’s what I’m here to discuss. Docs are out there by the thousands, old ones and new ones. You can catch them on the small screen on HBO, SHOWTIME, PBS (NOVA and Independent Lens, are two of its documentary series), CBS (60 Minutes), etc., etc. Not to mention the oceans of docs you might peruse via Netflix.

Now, I’ve seen various documentaries on the tube over the last few years, but I’ve watched more on the silver screen than at home. That’s partly because I haven’t been partial to plopping myself in front of the magic box too much. On the other hand, my cinema attendance always has been robust. Another reason, the more important of the two, is that, starting in the early aughts, many documentaries have found their way into theaters around much of the globe. That’s very true in the Philadelphia region, which I call home. My wife Sandy and I, fans of the genre, approve.

Here’s a cool thing about documentaries, which tend to be low-cost affairs and never rake in dough à la, say, Logan or La La Land: Once in a while one of them will settle into the theatrical marketplace and take nearly forever to depart. In saying this, I have in mind a doc that Sandy and I saw with friends in Philadelphia last November.

The Eagle Huntress, the film to which I refer, opened in The States one month before we viewed it. Remarkably, it’s still in some theaters across this fair land and still in the Top 100 of money grossers, as measured by the fascinating website Box Office Mojo. That’s staying power, folks, that few movies of any sort possess.

A nice movie, The Eagle Huntress spins the tale of a young Mongolian girl who is drawn to the historically male-only endeavors of taming and bonding with eagles and training them to race and to hunt in specific ways. Its central Asian scenery is gorgeous (what’s not to like about deserts and glacial mountains?), and the story line is not your everyday fare. But, to me, the plot didn’t ring quite true. I’m convinced that the final test of the girl’s gifts — to have her eagle chase down and kill a fox on treacherous mountain slopes  — didn’t go as neatly and smoothly as the director hoped for. I believe he’d have stayed out in the wilderness, filming take after take, until the desired outcome was achieved. Otherwise the movie would not have had a clean and tidy ending.

Enough quibbles. On to the three docs that Sandy and I went out to see in the past month: Kedi; In Search Of Israeli Cuisine; and I Called Him Morgan. As with The Eagle Huntress, they are playing here and there in cinemas around the USA and other countries. And if they haven’t yet made their way to Netflix or the like, indubitably they fairly soon will.

In a nutshell, I recommend these movies highly. Kedi tells the tale of street cats (felines, not hipsters) in Istanbul that have developed beneficial relationships with various humans with whom they share space. In Search Of Israeli Cuisine is a flick for foodies and for travel buffs. The goods on display in this movie, and the rural and urban settings in which they are grown, cooked, and consumed, look great. As for I Called Him Morgan, well, it made my knees go weak, as it is about one of my jazz heroes, trumpeter Lee Morgan. It also is about Helen Morgan, Lee’s common-law wife who shot him to death in a Manhattan jazz club in 1972. When Lee passed, the world lost a magnificent talent. He could play like nobody’s business and penned irresistible songs, from the nimble and fleet to the panoramic.

It’s a funny thing about Kedi. Sandy, a cat lover, liked it, but not as much as I did. That’s saying something because I decidedly am not a cat person. You’d have to pay me a few thousand dollars weekly to house one in my abode. But Kedi put me under a spell. I suppose it was the cinematography, more than the story, that got to me. I don’t know where, other than in Kedi, you’re going to see the world from cats’ perspectives. What did the director do, train a coterie of cats to become cinematographers and to follow their feline buddies around town?  Wow, seeing Istanbul from inches above the ground was, I thought, the coolest. On the opposite hand, so were the aerial shots of the city, for which feline cameramen had no input. Those images served no particular purpose, as far as I could tell, other than to look amazing. And amazing they did look.

After viewing In Search Of Israeli Cuisine I started thinking about a movie that hasn’t been made but could be: In Search Of American Cuisine. That is, it’s not easy to define what a nation’s cuisine is. Or was, for that matter. As with most issues and subjects, things often are more complicated than you might at first assume. In the Israeli case, culinary traditions from many dozens of countries and cultures have been brought to, or already existed in, the land of Israel. There they have intermingled, evolved, and been experimented upon. I went into the movie thinking that there would be an emphasis on Eastern European Jewish cooking (brisket of beef, smoked meats, kugels, etc.), but in Israel those dishes are not dominant in the least. Today’s Israeli cuisine draws more from Middle Eastern and North African cultures than from any others. Fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and seafoods are what Israelis, as do many peoples the world over, place into their mouths. I left the movie hungry for grilled fish and for hummus, Israeli staples.

What can I say about Lee Morgan? I’ve been listening to his recordings for almost 50 years. I’ve been in the long-defunct, grubby jazz club, Slugs’, where he was murdered. And for years I’ve wondered about the circumstances that led to his death. Possibly I’m wrong, but it always seemed to me that not much information ever came out about his shooting. If it did, I don’t know where. But now, lo and behold, Kasper Collin, a Swedish director and jazz lover, has seized upon and told Lee Morgan’s story, its bright beginnings and sad ending. But not fully, because that ending does not fit itself into a tight package. It never will be completely understood.

Would you have to be a jazz fan to enjoy I Called Him Morgan? Well, I’m going to say that even the non-aficionado will go for this one. The movie has a brooding, moody quality, especially in the snow-filled wintery sequences leading up to and following Lee’s death. And, in marvelous film clips, it shows off his bristling musical chops. What got to me the most, though, was the telephone interview, captured on cassette tapes, that Helen Morgan gave to Larry Reni Thomas in North Carolina, where she lived after serving hard time in New York for her crime. Thomas, who has worked as a writer, teacher and radio host, conducted the interview in 1996, a few months before Helen’s death. The slow relating of her life story in her creaky voice and her explanations of why she came to pull the trigger were, I thought, the movie’s core and backbone. And maybe its heart. Without the interview there’d have been not much of a movie.

Lee Morgan, famed though he once was (his hard-bopping song The Sidewinder was a pop hit in 1965), has faded into semi-obscurity. I Called Him Morgan might help to reverse that truth a bit.

(Don’t be shy about adding your comments or about sharing this article)

Advertisements

51 thoughts on “Here Come The Docs (Movies, That Is)

  1. C. C. Cedras April 26, 2017 / 7:01 am

    Great post!

    Documentaries are not my usual genre, so it’s something of a surprise that I’ve watched “20 Feet From Stardom” so many times. But, you get it. It’s the music, so much of it from my youth, and it’s the singing. While most will remember Darlene Love and Merry Clayton, it’s Lisa Fischer who steals the show for me. Her voice gives me chills.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joyce April 26, 2017 / 8:28 am

    I love your reviews…..always look forward to them . Also enjoy your clicks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. vprofy April 26, 2017 / 10:37 am

    Haven’t seen any of these. Looking to watch more movies. Will keep docs in mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Cindy April 26, 2017 / 10:42 am

    Loved reading about food, cats, and jazz–these (and my cat named Jazz) are a few of my favorite things! Thanks for the Sidewinder link. Great tune! Did you know there’s also a documentary coming out about Coltrane? It has a special sneak-preview at The Roxy tomorrow night.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cincinnatibabyhead April 26, 2017 / 1:01 pm

    CB loves a good doc and you have a pretty good batting average so I will be checking these out. Smoochables (CB’s better half) will be up for the nature/food films. Just finished Earth The New Wild, The Hunt and Planet Earth II. Great work with some unbelievable cinematography. As far as the Lee Morgan piece, yeah it will be watched also. Haven’t met too many jazz docs i have’t liked. Great take Neil. I’m always on the lookout for good listening and viewing. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  6. greenpete58 April 26, 2017 / 1:46 pm

    Thanks for the take, Neil. I LOVE good docs. I also love Lee Morgan’s
    “The Sidewinder,” so I’ll have to see the doc about him (I never knew he was murdered). Speaking of which, you MUST see “The Witness” if you haven’t already. It came out last year. It’s about the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese. Her younger brother (whom she was close to) goes on a search for truth and meaning, and he uncovers some startling revelations. It’s a very haunting movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Alyson April 26, 2017 / 3:07 pm

    Will look out for these if they make it across the pond. The great thing about watching docs on the silver screen is that unlike at home, you watch more intently, as you would a non-doc and so get much more out of it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. stacybenedict April 26, 2017 / 6:44 pm

    The Eagle Huntress sounds interesting. I don’t normally like documentaries, but I’ve seen advertised a number of docs about the 1992 LA riots that I want to check out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger April 26, 2017 / 9:47 pm

      Hi Stacy. I think you’re not alone in not being much of a fan of documentaries. Often there are too many talking heads in them. I tend to like a lot of docs, though.
      Thanks for adding your thoughts. Take care – – –

      Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger April 27, 2017 / 8:48 pm

      I looked at the website and read about the organization’s aims and mission. Very commendable.
      Being part of the process must have been a great experience for you.

      Like

  9. sniderjerry April 27, 2017 / 8:58 pm

    Yes, “Where you’ve been and where you’re at is never as important as where you’re going.” Meeting the ladies who wrote the screenplays and sharing in their energy was a bit like a going to church. I believe in a God of second chances. I hope you get to see the films. Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The Antipodean Blatherer April 28, 2017 / 6:52 am

    Documentaries are great, and documentaries about musicians and/or bands are the best of the best! They capture a time and place, the personalities, and best of all, the music. Great stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger April 28, 2017 / 8:00 am

      Hi. You’ll love the Lee Morgan film. It’s beautifully done.
      Thanks a lot for dropping by. Take care.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. K E Garland April 29, 2017 / 10:02 am

    The Morgan one sounds like a good story. Most musician’s stories are, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Ken Dowell April 29, 2017 / 10:22 pm

    I am also a fan of watching movies on the big screen rather than any of the various little ones and welcome the fact that documentaries are at least getting a little better distribution. Of those you mentioned Kedi is the only one I’ve seen. Keep an eye our for Step. I saw it last night as the opening film in the Montclair Film Festival. The 10-day festival has a lot of documentaries and I hope to get it together to do some short reviews of them on my blog. In the meantime though, I highly recommend Step. It’s an inspirational story set in an all-girls charter school in Baltimore.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger April 30, 2017 / 7:37 am

      Thanks a lot for the tip, Ken. I hadn’t heard of Step before. I’ll look for it.

      Like

  13. Aunt Beulah April 30, 2017 / 12:41 pm

    Speaking of great first lines (I was, you weren’t), you just wrote one. It forces a person to continue reading. Documentaries rarely make it to my neck of the woods, so i don’t hear about them and rarely see them, thus I appreciate your information. I like documentaries. The ones I remember are Michael Moore’s Roger and Me, Hoop Dreams, (Probably because I was raised in a basketball playing family) Gray Gardens, and two haunting docs about Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker, though I don’t remember either title. Can you help?

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger April 30, 2017 / 1:07 pm

      The Monk doc is called Straight, No Chaser. Clint Eastwood, who is a big jazz fan, directed it.
      Don’t think I ever saw a Charlie Parker doc. I’ll have to go to IMDB or somewhere to find out about it.
      Thanks a lot for adding your thoughts, Janet. Of the other films you mention, I saw Gray Gardens. There are tons of good documentaries out there.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Martin May 1, 2017 / 3:43 pm

    Great post. I’m going to look out for all these, and I predict that Kedi will be my kids favourite, they love cats!

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger May 1, 2017 / 4:12 pm

      Hi, Martin. They will love Kedi (and you will too!).
      Thanks a lot for stopping by. I’ll be seeing you – – –

      Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger May 3, 2017 / 4:19 pm

      Hey, I’m past the halfway point in your book. Enjoying it a lot. It’s a wild ride.

      Like

  15. jveeds May 19, 2017 / 2:17 pm

    I really liked The Eagle Huntress, particularly since it seemed to be in the honest tradition of documentaries that don’t simply make stuff up…even as we recognize that filming of animals sometimes takes some fudging. I believe the young woman actually played herself.

    I’ve been a fan of good documentaries since my days at the Annenberg School under the estimable Sol Worth. (Speaking of which, do you or your followers know how to get a video copy of “Through Navajo Eyes”?

    And speaking of jazz documentaries, you may want to check out the 1988 Chet Baker doc, “Let’s Get Lost.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger May 19, 2017 / 3:04 pm

      Hi. Thanks for the visit.
      I remember seeing the Chet Baker doc when it came out. It was good (and unsettling).
      There’s a new documentary about John Coltrane that I’m hoping to see.
      Sorry I can’t be of any help about the Navajo film.

      See you —

      Like

  16. jveeds May 19, 2017 / 2:31 pm

    P.S. the Navajo documentary itself is actually titled “Navajo Film Themselves” filmed here in Arizona. I believe there’s a DVD but as near as I can tell it costs $197…way above my budget.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. cincinnatibabyhead May 30, 2017 / 8:19 pm

    Neil, watched the ‘Eagle Huntress’ on the weekend with a few of the clan. Lots to like. The cinematography was top notch. How can you go wrong in that country. The people are photogenic with loads of character. The girl was beautiful with a million dollar smile. The story grabbed us all. A few tears were shed. You’re batting a 1000 on your recommendations. Princess Falda (daughter) had just visited a place called ‘Raptors Ridge’ in Maple Ridge BC. Check it out you might dig it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yeahanotherblogger May 30, 2017 / 9:19 pm

      Hey, CB.
      I took a look at Raptors Ridge website. It sounds great. Me, though, I don’t think I want to handle birds of prey. I’m chicken!
      Have a good night. I’ll be seeing you —

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s