Possibly as an antidote to the mind-altering tedium that is the working world, Lorrie and I decided to watch three documentaries on DVD over the weekend:

The Kid Stays in the Picture
Very good. Based on the book by the same name, the documentary tells the rise, fall, and rise again — sort of — of Robert Evans, possibly the movie industry’s most influential producer during the Seventies (The Godfather, Love Story, Rosemary’s Baby, etc., etc., etc.). Since the movie is narrated by him, and the story is told completely from his perspective, part of the fascination is how much could possibly be real. However, no matter what, it’s a great Hollywood story.

Extras: Okay, since it includes some film footage referred to during the movie, as well as a couple of good acceptance speeches by Evans. However, watching Dustin Hoffman doing his Robert Evans impression over and over again, and seeing the vaguely stoned reactions from some of the random celebrities at an awards ceremony, may not be worth sitting through.

Devil’s Playground
Also quite good, although it turns out it could have been better. A documentary primarily shot around the turn of this century, it follows Amish youth as they participate in the rite of rumspringa, which starts when they are 16. In this rite, young Amish are given the chance to join the church, but are first set free to explore what the world has to offer, the better to work out any doubts. (Joining the church is permanent. If you renounce it later, you will be shunned by the community. However, choosing not to join the church after rumspringa is a respected, but discouraged, choice.)

It uses a typical documentary structure of following and interviewing some particular subjects about their choices and their final decisions. The choices faced are interesting, and the consequences of those choices can be devastating. (Without going too deeply into it, you don’t start watching this movie with the idea anyone will receive death threats from crystal meth dealers. Of course, the kid that does could probably get into trouble if he was sealed into a padded room.)

Extras: While the VHS version of this movie would be worth watching, the DVD version affirms it as a great documentary, just for the inclusion of some deleted scenes that were cut out late in the editing process. Those scenes should have been left in.

Home Movie
The director of American Movie — highly recommended — interviews five people about their unusual homes. The people living in the homes are definitely the subject of the movie, since the homes themselves don’t get a lot of play except as backdrop or prop. However, this is an eccentric bunch, with the possible exception of the woman who lives in a tree, who just seems to have lived an unusual life. Probably the weakest of the three documentaries, but it had some strong competition.

Extras: Okay, but not essential. Check out the Monsanto House of the Future bit, however. 🙂