Thursday, January 06, 2011

Documentaries, Part 1

I have been on staycation all week this week. It's been the best thing that's ever happened to me. OK, perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement, but it has been EXACTLY what I needed after all the traveling that goes with the holiday season. It has been so worth it that I may do this again next year. Anyway, I've been massively productive in many ways that don't appear upon first glance to be productive. I've over half way through my continuing ed that I need to do for my license renewal in June, we've made tremendous headway on our Hoarders-ish basement, and I'm nearing the end of a second book. Crap, I wish I were doing the 25 book challenge this year!

I've also done a lot of sitting on my ass and watching TV. Loads of it, in fact. This is notable as I'm not usually one to selfishly sit in front of the TV. We don't have cable so my temptation to do so is not what it might be if we did. But between Netflix, Hulu and Roku, I have found a shitload to watch this week. And really, all I've watched is documentaries. I was going to give each one of them their own blog post, but really, that's just overkill. But I did want to highlight the ones that I've deemed worthy of my staycation time, so here we go with the first three.

My friend Matt recommended Cropsey to me which is a good thing because I'm pretty sure I never would have discovered it on my own. The name "cropsey" refers to an urban legend of a Boogeyman like killer, some say he has a hook for a hand, others say he was a crazed Boy Scout counselor, other versions have him living in a subterranean series of tunnels. Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, both raised on Staten Island, tell the tale of a series of child abductions that might have been (or might not have been) perpetrated by a man named Andre Rand, who worked at the Willowbrook State School - a home for children with mental disabilities famously exposed by Geraldo Rivera in 1972. The story unfolds slowly but never too much so. I watched this from midnight till about 2AM one night and I had myself so freaked out that I really didn't want to turn the lights off to go to bed. So in other words, it was right up my alley, as most true-crime stories are. Highly recommended.

Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook
I was inspired to watch this partially because of the role Willowbrook State School played in Cropsey but also because I was scouring the net looking for Geraldo's original documentary footage from 1972 when he exposed Willowbrook as being basically a cess pool and dumping ground for kids that had nowhere else to go. This documentary highlighted four different families that had a family member, either a son or daughter or a sibling, that was in Willowbrook prior to its closure in 1987. Consisting primarily of new interview footage (although there was some Geraldo footage in there as well), this was a good but not great documentary. I think I was expecting more dirt on Willowbrook and less of the personal family drama. It was still worth watching as it barely clocked in at 60 minutes, but not exactly what I was expecting. One of the things that impressed me was how much care for the mentally disabled has improved over the last 25 years. This film was made in 1996, so it is pretty old by documentary standards, but I still felt that the message was relevant. May we never forget the atrocities of Willowbrook so that we are not doomed to repeat them.

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
I stumbled across this in the documentary section of Netflix Streaming. I'm not a big sports guy (no, really?) so I usually shy away from sports documentaries, but I figured that I was at least sporty enough for bowling. A League of Ordinary Gentlemen is all about how bowling lost its cool and the steps the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was taking to get professional televised bowling back on the map. The film followed four pro bowlers - three seasoned professionals from pro bowling's hey day (Pete Weber, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., and Wayne Webb) as well as a younger, less well known bowler (Chris Barnes.) The documentary followed these men for a year culminating in the 2003 PBA World Championship in suburban Detroit - the first time pro bowling had been on TV since 1997.

Like I said, not being a big sporty guy, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I have to say that it was very entertaining. The guys take their bowling VERY seriously. I think I felt most sorry for Wayne Webb, who won over a million dollars in prize money in the 80s but squandered it all away, marrying and divorcing multiple times and declaring bankruptcy twice. The world championship round was a nail-biter and I was really engaged so I guess they accomplished what they wanted. I also learned more about pro bowling than I thought there was to know.

See how much you can learn just watching TV? I have a few more to watch before I head back to work next week and I'm still trying to decide if I have it in me to watch 8: The Mormon Proposition which is streaming on Netflix. We'll see what happens.

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