Documentaries: “The Beatles”; “Cameraperson”; “The Eagle Huntress”; “Tower”; “Voyage of Time”


Cameraperson is a collection of clips, a sort of greatest hits, from renowned documentary DP Kirsten Johnson, whose camerawork has been featured in Citizenfour, Darfur Now, and others, and who has covered subject matter as varied as abortion, boxing, Bosnia, and Derrida. Yet, despite its ADHD-friendly format, Cameraperson loses momentum and gets boring sooner than later. Its virtue is that it wets the appetite, so that if one of the clips interests you, you know there’s  a whole documentary to explore.

If Cameraperson tries to cover a lot of ground, Terrence Malick’s Voyage of Time tries to cover everything. This 45-minute IMAX doc covers life on Earth, from the Big Bang on. The movie’s images, from oozing lava to vibrant sea-life to networks of rivers, impressed one of us; the score, taken from previous Malick films, impressed both of us. Narrated by Brad Pitt, the movie takes on the POV of a wonderstruck layperson who philosophizes vaguely, idolizing Love. Yet, the movie doesn’t ignore death: a ripped apart, shocked-looking fish floats up, dying, even in the midst of some talk about cooperation and interconnectivity. And, of course, there’s the ultimate damper: the end of Earth; one way or another—it’s just a matter of time.

A longer, less broad doc about people and nature is the Daisy Ridley narrated Eagle Huntress, which follows a Kazakh female teenager as she attempts to break into the traditionally male field of eagle hunting. Staying at a polite distance, the doc does not probe the psyche of its characters. It does, however, offer some stunning aerials and a bit of nail-biting action, set to a particularly moving, recurring melody. Ultimately, The Eagle Huntress presents a dilemma for liberal viewers: on the one hand, its narrative is as feminist as it comes; on the other hand, hunting itself and the stealing of the eaglets from their families seems, in a modern context, unethical.

A doc with no such ethical qualms is the humanist Tower, a rotoscoped recreation of the 1966 sniper shooting at the University of Texas, in Austin. Emphasizing the experiences of the victims and heroes while paying virtually no attention to the victimizer, Tower takes on the shape of an action-thriller, and much of the dialogue seems lifted from action-thrillers. It is quite possible, however, that clichéd dialogue is exactly how people spoke in that situation since, in a fraught situation, platitudes may be a communication shortcut, a kind of heuristic. The rotoscope animation, combined with occasional documentary footage, appealed to one of us, and is used to some effect to evoke the hallucinatory experience of one of the victims.

Finally, if you prefer a less somber visit to the sixties, try The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years. Ron Howard’s compendium of cool clips, including a marvelous thirty minute restoration of the Beatles’ performance at Shea Stadium, provides an instructive overview of the band and its artistic trajectory from pop sensation to something deeper and more sophisticated. Right on.

By Alec Julian & Carrie White


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