Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I love the docs

For the past two years I've had the same planning period - third. Third is the best planning period because it straddles our two lunch periods, so while everybody else gets 35 minutes to eat, I get two hours.

This semester, though, the administration blindsided me with first period planning. I still have to get to work at 7:19 or they dock my pay $45, so I go in every morning and spend the first hour and a half planning for the day. The upside: I actually get more work done this way because I tend to plan things at the last minute. The downside: If a teacher is late I end up covering their class.

Most days, though, I sit at my desk and create my handouts and research things and whatnot. And it's kind of boring because I'm really sleepy.

So a week ago I started watching documentaries through Netflix instant viewing while I worked. Documentaries are great because you can get the story even if you're not actually watching. I can't really watch narrative films because I'll miss too much of the visual elements while I'm working on teaching stuff, but with a documentary a lot of the scenes are audio. So I'll listen, then when it sounds like I need to be watching I'll switch over to the movie and check out what's going on, then go back to typing

They need to be happy movies though or I won't be able to have a good day. Born into Brothels has been sitting in my queue for ages but I just don't want to start my day with child prostitution.

I've seen the first two Evenings with Kevin Smith (which were fucking awesome and if you haven't seen these shows you should), Super High Me, Confessions of a Superhero and am currently in the middle of King Corn.

I'm learning things. I don't remember ever sitting and watching this much educational material in this short a period of time before so it's kind of like taking a college class in assorted topics.

I keep seeing something I wish I could show the kids. Super High Me got me excited for a minute because there's some terrific persuasive technique in that film, but then I realized I can't show Super High Me because it is about how awesome it is to smoke pot every single day forever.

I think the administration would frown on that.

Instead I'm getting an Inconvenient Truth, which is not available on instant viewing, although if anybody can think of a persuasive film that's better and less boring for a group of 15-year-olds, feel free to share. Bowling for Columbine isn't really persuasive and Farenheit 911 is too filled with fallacies for my taste. Maybe Supersize Me.

After I finish King Corn I don't know what else I'll watch. Got any ideas? What are your favorite documentaries?


  1. Anonymous9:48 PM

    Moore's sneaky persuasive techniques are so transparent. I wouldn't recommend him.
    Super High Me was silly and the persuasions are good, but the creator of it (I forget his name) doesn't include enough points of view in his documentaries. Same with Moore, but to a lesser extent.
    And slimey persuasive techniques are easily dismissed when the docu is about fast food rather than than war conspiracies.

  2. I don't know how persuasive the film is, but my favorite doc of the past few years is "King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters".

  3. 'filled with fallacies'? The tone's a little stilted, but there's a lot of truth there. A lot of people dislike Michael Moore, but I think he's funny and usually right.

    I strongly believe we don't show enough docs in class. What about Hoop Dreams? Stolen, about a big art theft (you can borrow my copy).

    The prep+lunch deal is sweet. I lost my prep (extra $), which means planning at home or staying later. I just usually napped, anyways.

  4. I agree there's a lot of truth there, but there's also a lot of manipulation of the facts. He's a big fan of the straw man, and I'm trying to get my kids to avoid those kinds of things.

  5. and, I just gotta say: 'sneaky persuasive techniques' can have a lot of meanings. One meaning is that Moore's methods of interviewing subjects and reviewing events are used to buttress false assertions. Another meaning could be that he sneaks into places- but the guy's the size of a house, he's almost as big as me. A final possible meaning could be that Moore did something, someone else found himself/herself responding to this in an emotional manner (the way I cried at the end of 'F 911' at the pain that mother faced after losing her son) and resenting that power- the power to make you feel. There are other meanings.

  6. I didn't say anything about "sneaky persuasive techniques." I said "Filled with fallacies," which it is. I agree with his point, I just don't agree with the way he tries to get it across. I don't want my kids to emulate his style, which is a bit aggressive and manipulative.

  7. I was really swayed by "Who Killed the Electric Car" - pretty timely now too with gas at $100/fill up.

    I agree with you about Moore's films. He could do a better job making his points if he didn't grandstand so much - but then it wouldn't be as entertaining.

  8. I would agree with "Who Killed the ELectric Car?" and "King of Kong."

    But I'd also add "This Film is Not Yet Rated." It's a doc that scrutinizes the MPAA and its corrupt ratings systems. It's AMAZING.

    I also loved "Word Play." But that's not persuasive, unless you count making crosswords look appealing. Which I count as pretty damn persuasive.

    "The Fog of War?" There was that recent on Roman Polanski. Was it on HBO? I liked that a lot. But that also might be persuasive in a way that you may not be interested in. Plus there's the statutory rape.

  9. Most political docs bore me, too polemical and are really just agit-prop for the devout. Here are some that I really like, but they're more about people, than issues. Murderball, about paralyzed wheelchair handball players. Darkon, about people in Maryland who take a role playing game very seriously. Spellbound, about the spelling bee. Mad Hot Ballroom, about the NYC public school ballroom dancing program. The Thin Blue Line was so persuasive it got a convicted killer a new trial where he was exonerated (if I remember correctly). Les Blank's docs are pretty good too, especially The Burden of Dreams about the making of Herzog's Fitzcaraldo and I Went to the Ball about Cajun culture in Louisiana. Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now is pretty stunning too. My favorite filmmaker is Chris Marker, though his docs are very unconventional, more like personal essays and difficult for some to get into. Sans Soleil is the one most readily available.

  10. HEART OF THE GAME, about a high school girl's basketball team and their coach . . . it's truly a special piece of work, and all the more because it's all true.

    And it's safe for kids. In fact, they'd get a lot out of it.

    Great doc, one of my faves.

    And um, Emily, it's true that Moore manipulates emotions with film, but all filmmakers do that. Even the king of docs, Errol Morris, does that.

    If what is being presented is true, it's not a fallacy. It can be told dryly or with emotion and camera tricks, but true is true, no matter how it's gussied up. Same for falseness.

    I always wonder why folks get worked up that he's manipulating filmed events . . . news does that. Internet. Youtube.

    That, to me, is the true straw man argument, to say he's manipulative. We all are. That's called making a case, pitching ideas and emotions, it's manipulation.

    The question should be, in terms of Moore, is he doing it with the truth, or is he doing it like Fox News, using lies and dogwhistles?

    Just my opinion, for better or worse.

  11. Michael Moore's films are great, and are not filled with fallacies. You can twist and turn the things in his docs to suit your point of view, just as he can twist and turn something to suit his point of view. That doesn't make it a lie, or an untruth. It makes it a point of view.

  12. Capturing the Friedmans is pretty awesome. Doubt it's good for a young audience though...

    You want a good documentary with structured argument? Maxed Out, about debt in America is interesting and entertaining. I haven't seen it, but I noticed "Manufacturing Dissent", which is a documentary on HOW Michael Moore creates his arguments in his film. No idea if it is pro or con regarding his filmmaking abilities, but thought it interesting in light of the discussion ongoing in the comments.

    Guns, Germs and Steel? That one was an interesting book, and may show interesting construction of arguments (and there's a book!)

    Blind Spot: Hitler's Secretary is fascinating. King of Kong is awesome, but there's not much in the way of persuasive argument in that film.

    And of course there's always "Power of Myth"... :)

  13. Fallacies are persuasive techniques that often work very well. I'm trying to teach my kids to use other methods.

    Instead of arguing against points that might cloud his argument, Michael Moore tends to pretend there are no counterarguments. I'm strictly talking about Farenheit 911. I have no problems with his other documentaries, but that one intentionally leaves out a lot of information.

    I'm just trying to teach my kids a different way of persuasion.

    We spent a week going over fallacies already.

  14. Anonymous11:50 AM

    What I hate about Moore is the emotional manipulation he does. Remember the subplot in Fahrenheit where the woman's son died in the army and she was standing in front of the White House, cursing Bush. Moore was using that as fuel so the audience would feel angry at Bush.

    It doesn't matter whether you're right or wrong in a documentary, you've just got to be able to make a good, respectable argument. An emotional argument is pretty much dead end and fades away an hour after the film is done. I've studied the science/art of writing arguments, and Moore is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to actual 'good' documentaries. He uses poor transparent technique that sucks in people who simply don't want to find REAL reasons to believe what Moore is telling them is the truth. He provides a Mickey Mouse truth that is easy to swallow. Crying mothers are Moore's tools, not concise arguments.

    Anyways, to get away from Moore, I haven't seen THANK YOU FOR SMOKING but I've heard it's really good.

  15. Well I teach that pathos is a good way to persuade as well, but I think with Moore it's the level of pathos he uses in that film.

    I heard he followed several military families, waiting for one to lose its son. It just feels so fixed, more than most docs.

    And thanks for the suggestions so far, everybody. This is a lot of movies I have to watch.

  16. Anonymous11:58 AM

    Jesus Camp is pretty interesting too because the makers claim to be neutral still to this day.

    It's bound to cause strong opinions from your kids, especially considering it includes such fantastic lines as (referring to Harry Potter): "You don't make heroes out of warlocks."

  17. Anonymous12:00 PM

    Oh, also don't forget parts of Fahrenheit that show Bush and leaders of Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries together. Moors uses this as an argument as to how Bush is working with the terrorists, while anyone without their hand in their ass would know that leaders of countries tend to, you know, communicate. Heck, those pictures of Bush talking to the Iraqis actually shows us a side of him I believe we'd like to see more often.

    But I doubt I'm saying anything that people here didn't know. Michael Moore makes Mickey Mouse popular culture documentaries. That's why the masses eat his stuff up - they go down as smooth as clams. What else is new?

  18. "I don't want my kids to emulate his style, which is a bit aggressive and manipulative."
    - and -
    "Fallacies are persuasive techniques that often work very well. I'm trying to teach my kids to use other methods."

    So I'm assuming that you are trying to keep them from becoming lawyers, politicians, or news journalists.

  19. Just trying to teach them how to write well.

  20. Anonymous9:20 PM

    Moore's techniques don't work on intelligent people, people who know the subject content, or people who know about writing or business.
    So it's not exactly a style I'd encourage to others, and I'm glad my writer's craft teacher thought the same.

  21. That's a HUGE fallic (sic) assumption, Carlo.

    There are many intelligent people who enjoy and support his work. And learn from them.

    This guy is a gadfly, true, but he's made people in America much more politically aware than they ever were before.

    And again, they aren't HIS techniques. He uses the same techniques he sees ON THE NEWS and flips it back on them.

    Have you ever listened to him talk in interviews and whatnot? The guy is very smart.

    People specifically point to when he went after Bush in 9/11, and they forget that ROGER & ME is a great doc.

    BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE brought me to tears. It's a great documentary and deserved the Oscar it won.

    And the man has courage. He stood up on in international live television stage in 2003 and denounced a war that had just begun and called Bush a liar. A liar who lied to get us into a war. And got booed.

    Today, all of us know he was right. So which person is operating with intelligence, the man who was right years ago about that lie or the ones who booed him and now claim smart people know better than to listen to him?

    But really, this idea that his work is only for the ignorant masses and that intelligent people know better is yet, in itself, an example of an fallacy, only in this case, a Republican one.

    Seriously, dude, I love ya man, but you're WAY off base with that last comment.

  22. Anonymous12:26 PM

    Fine fine fine, I guess I was a little off base. I tend to do that...
    What he's achieved is good, obviously, as awareness is golden. I just don't like his off-the-roadmap dramatic sequences.
    I just personally think his documentaries aren't good enough as arguments. He uses his documentaries' popularity by trying to reach the largest audience possible, and that sadly turns his documentaries into fluff pieces, mostly. But they get their job done, and that's usually all that matters.

    ps. I love you too. Bahaha

  23. Anonymous12:30 PM

    Oh, and I never said Moore was ever wrong, just that the way he argues his points is elementary, but effective. The parts I've pointed out were, in my opinion, not fleshed out enough as arguments to convince people who may have counterarguments. Most of the American public don't have counterarguments to anything politically related, though, so Moore is effective to them.

    However, I never said that Moore would be inable to counter their counterargument. I'm sure he'd be able to, I just wish he did so in his documentaries because doing so would take them to a new level.

  24. Uh, pooh, Carlo. Nonsense. First you say that intelligent people see past the tricks he's using, now you say he does make arguments but they're elementary and plus, you don't like how he does it.

    Pooh. Fine, you don't like him, you don't have to. But what you are doing is trying to say, I don't like him because he's, like, either not smart or suspect in his methods, somehow.

    Disagree on all counts. totally. Even though I may not agree with Everything Moore does, the actions he may take, I would never say he's dumb or suspect or elementary . . . I think the opposite, I think he's proven to be a very smart political writer and operator.

    I think you're just doing the usual thing of ripping on someone because they got too popular.

    Hey, it's cool that you don't want to like him, I don't have a problem with that. But casting him as you have, as elementary and suspect, that I disagree with.

    Sounds like sour grapes.

    I may disagree with Moore on a couple things, but I recognize that if we had MORE people actively doing what he's trying to do, the world would be a better place.

  25. Anonymous2:10 PM

    I never said Moore was stupid. All I'm basically trying to say is that his documentaries leave out counter-arguments, and I prefer more encompassing documentaries. I don't disagree with Moore at all either. His documentaries just don't tickle my pickle.
    And I never said his arguments are elementary, but how he goes about showing them in his documentary. He keeps things simple and sweet, but I prefer more detailed and thorough arguments.
    I'm sure he's intelligent and can debate very well, but I think even he knows that his documentaries are meant to provide awareness rather than being end-all arguments in an of themselves.

    We can agree to disagree, but I'm not really disagreeing with you. I just think I'd enjoy him more if he made more detailed and thorough documentaries, which he's definitely able to do.

  26. Anonymous2:13 PM

    "I think you're just doing the usual thing of ripping on someone because they got too popular. "

    Low blow, man. lol
    I like a LOT of popular people, shows, and movies. I only usually talk about the ones I don't enjoy, though, because I find I learn a lot from them. And cause it's fun. haha

  27. Well, I think we are disagreeing, but I can live with it . . . I think you're characterizing Moore's work in exactly the way you criticize him for allegedly doing, which I don't think he does.

    So we do disagree on how he frames his work.

    But it's cool, man.

  28. Anonymous4:11 PM

    You might want to look at a doc titled: Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell. It's a simple tale of talent wasted, of promise gone astray, a cautionary story of a life gone wrong.

    Mitchell may have been the most talented basketball player to have never played in the NBA...but it's more than a story of his talent, it's a rendering of life that your students might know intimately. They may appreciate not only seeing themselves in Mitchell, but also glom onto his message of hope and redemption.

    I recommend it to almost every inner city teacher for their students to learn from, but then again I also favor reading the poetry of Charles Bukowski and Quincy Troupe to them too.

    I'm a believer in poetry in all its forms as an avenue of opening up worthy discussions--students might appreciate all three as voices that speak to them.

  29. joshua james: thanks. you're invited to the next salmon party.

  30. I'm not reading through 29 comments before mine, so forgive me if I repeat. But two of my favorite docs gained their weight from the filmmakers rolling with a mistake. Jupiter's Wife and Gimme Shelter. Also, for a long time I've wanted to see Dark days, but I haven't yet, so I can't speak to how good it is. And if you're looking for some innocuous fun, check out My Date with Drew.


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.