Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
I often get good responses for articles about documentaries. You can turn on the television any time of day to find out what’s happening in the world of fiction, but non-fiction? That takes some seeking out.
Luckily, online video provider Netflix has a huge selection of documentaries available to stream, and a subscription to the service costs only $8 a month.
Here are two good docs currently available on Netflix:
The best-selling book by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner that applies economic theorem to everyday situations was produced as a documentary in 2010. The film version is divided up into vignettes based around the book’s chapters, each chapter being directed by a different documentary film director. The topics range from cheating in sumo wrestling to whether paying students for good grades will actually work. This A.D.D. method of information delivery should make for decent viewing for this generation of over-saturated technophiles, who crave knowledge but require it to be delivered in brief sound bytes in order to accommodate their goldfish-like attention spans.
Unfortunately, the first vignette, by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) is easily the worst, and could turn off viewers whose A.D.D. renders them unable to sit for more than five minutes through something they deem impalpable. Spurlock investigates whether someone’s name has an effect on how successful they are in life. The topic eventually gets boiled down to race, with Spurlock taking a typically binary American viewpoint of comparing blacks to whites and vice-versa (ironically enough, with research gleaned from a South Asian scientist). This narrow viewpoint, which implies that there are only two racial groups in the US that matter, is typical of the kinds of boneheaded and adversarial us vs. them dichotomies found in Spurlock’s other works.
Once past this, though, Freakonomics takes a darker turn, with the aforementioned sumo story by Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) and a disturbing segment on whether Roe vs. Wade had a major effect on the drop in the American crime rate during the 1990s (directed by Eugene Jarecki, who made Why We Fight). These two excellent segments make Freakonomics worth watching.
This Academy Award-nominated documentary from 1988 explores the nuclear tests performed at Bikini Atoll in the 1940s. Comprising mostly grainy footage filmed by the post-war American military’s obsessive propaganda wing, the film follows the inception and execution of the tests, as well as the aftermath and its effect on both the atoll natives and the servicemen stationed nearby and charged with measuring the bombs’ destructive power.
Radio Bikini is, at times, hokey and silly, given the bravado of the American military and the ignorance of its members of the power they were wielding, set to a backdrop of perky Pacific island music. As the film plays out, though, the naiveté wears away to reveal the terrifying toll the tests had on both those within range of the radiation, and the world at large, effectively ushering in the arms race against Soviet Russia.
Well worth a gander if you’re at all interested in military gaffes, Cold War history, or footage of big explosions…plus, it’s short (only 56 minutes)!