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Recommend me some documentaries

Lately I've been on a documentary binge. Some particularly captivating ones were The Universe. Some of them are a little conjectural (time travel, parallel universes, colonising space), but even the "worst" episodes still have something of interest to a layperson.

What else? I've also been watching a crapload of Louis Theroux's documentaries, despite having already watched many of them years ago. He's covered everything from black nationalists to pro wrestling to Westboro to big game hunting, so they're pretty diverse. Horizon is hit and miss in quality, but that also covers an extremely varied range of topics. Mythbusters is more about entertainment than education and not exactly "documentary" material, but some of the stuff they've done is unquestionably cool and oddly informative (despite more recent episodes being less about busting myths than blowing things up).

Share other good documentaries about anything if you have any to share.

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This was quite good:



Here's Stewart Lee talking about blasphemy:

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Yeah, I agree, the universe is pretty good:



Search youtube for "strange days on planet earth" (4 parts). Just a nice little story about how humans are wrecking ecosystems with invasive species (in addition to all the other wrecking they do).
Search youtube for NOVA, or NOVA documentary etc.
Louis Theroux's child molestor "rehabilitation" bullcrap clinic was disturbing, where they show provocative films and then measure the dick hardness of the inmates to make sure they're not getting aroused.. or something, I forget.. if that doesn't seem orwellian to you then...

search youtube for: "land of the tiger" -lost

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gggmork said:

Louis Theroux's child molestor "rehabilitation" bullcrap clinic was disturbing, where they show provocative films and then measure the dick hardness of the inmates to make sure they're not getting aroused.. or something, I forget.. if that doesn't seem orwellian to you then...

Watched that one.

It's invasive, even cruel, but you really need to ask yourself whether it's more of a violation than what those men are there for in the first place. TBH I thought that facility treated them rather well for an assortment of child molesters.

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If you haven't seen it, Attenborough's "Life on Earth" series may be old (1979) but it is still an excellent set of programs.

One of the things I like about it is the fact that it is old. It doesn't do the things that modern documentaries do for their dumb audiences. It doesn't feel the need to change camera angle every few seconds and move to a new scene every few minutes just to keep the audience's attention. It doesn't feel the need to give the animals a fictitious, anthropomorphised back story to help us feel empathy with whatever is on screen. It just shows us stuff while David Attenborough tells us stuff. It treats the viewer as if they might actually have some intelligence and might even be interested in the subject matter.

I have to admit that I find Louis Theroux a bit meh. His programs, IMO, tend more towards entertainment than information or rigorous journalism and I have found his questioning and general presentation quite weak.

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I liked "Dreams With Sharp Teeth" and "King of Kong".

"The Captains" is worth watching, if only for the revelation that William Shatner ISN'T the craziest Star Trek captain.

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Air Crash Investigation is awesome. Much less gunk and repetition than in other similar shows. They apparently believe their viewers are paying attention, which is rather nice if you are actually doing so.

In the UK at least, the National Geographic Channel will sometimes have a whole day where they show nothing but Air Crash Investigation. I didn't get much done on those days. In the US, it seems harder to find on TV. :(

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TimeOfDeath said:

That guy pissed me off. What a pompous douchebag! :)


Yes, Harlan Ellison is a grouchy dick. He's also a clever one who has his fingers in loads of sci-fi shows, good and bad. Watch below to see Walter Koenig and James Doohan take him apart for dissing Star Trek. :D

These guys are awesome.

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Are you open to films as well? It can be quite interesting to see how the subject matter is managed into a feature length documentary, especially considering the mind of the individual behind the film and how you might shape your own observations based on how or in what light the material is presented.

Werner Herzog, for example, is known for pulling things under a lens in a certain way that offers the viewer the chance to form unique opinions based around his reductionist and oftentimes bluntly nihilistic attitude (although that could be in part due to his German monotone). Grizzly Man is probably the best known example, or Into the Abyss. Kevin Macdonald was the one who introduced me to feature length documentaries however with his films Touching the Void and One Day in September.

Take a look at these if you find the time. Have a snoop around! I'm still weaning myself onto documentary films and series and trying to find film makers that allow me to approach subject matters from angles I never would have otherwise. It can be quite rewarding, sometimes.

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I'm partial to mockumentaries. Waiting For Guffman, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind...

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Enjay said:

I have found [Louis Theroux's] questioning and general presentation quite weak.

I think it's his style of questioning that I like about his programmes. Despite the topics that's he covered being all over the place, there's a common factor in all of this shows: He has his opinions, but he generally lets the people he's spending time with speak for themselves and avoids influencing them by asking specific or loaded questions from the start. It's a very natural and unbias way of exhibiting a group of people and a topic. Of course it's often entertaining as a bonus, and there's times when Louis' argument, however passively asserted, is proven to be naive at best (such as in the African Hunting Party episode).

Anyway, great suggestions thus far everyone. Keep 'em coming.

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Quick list of some of my favorites:

-Exit Through the Gift Shop (this one gets really interesting in the second half)
-Waltz With Bashir (interesting hybrid of animation and documentary, neat subject)
-The King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters
-The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (literally the only Morgan Spurlock doc I find worth watching for any reason whatsoever)

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I'd be lying if I said I wasn't partial to Inside Job which gives a small lesson and examination into 2008's financial crisis.

Also have to recommend Brian Greene's Elegant Universe if you are interested or want to learn about various theoretical topics (namely string theory)

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Gasland
The Corporation
Water Makes Money
Who Killed the Electric Car?
The World According to Monsanto

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'the boy with the incredible brain' (can recite pi to like 10,000 places.. he 'sees' math as shapes or something). Ramachandran has a good reputation and tested him, search ramachandran videos too (talks about the brain). kim peek too while you're at it.

Polyworld: Using Evolution to Design Artificial Intelligence
(google tech talk)

human computation (2006 google tech talk... disturbing to us videogame players because the authorities are trying to harness videogame playing and turn it into computation (is that why modern games are shit?))

ted talks got shit, lots of government planted political idiocy in there but there were some good ones like:
Robert Full: Secrets of movement, from geckos and roaches
biomimicry in general (forget if it was on ted specifically)
theo jansen (made (self replicating?) wind powered walking art pieces, I'll put a video below cuz they look cool)

singularity summit has interesting videos

interesting people:
danny hillis
richard dawkins
stephen wolfram
richard feynman

here's the theo jansen creatures:

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gggmork said:

richard feynman

Feynman's stuff is always fascinating. This one in particular is very good (it's split into parts, but they're all on Youtube):



Also this one:



Then go buy a copy of "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman!" - you will not be disappointed.

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In light of your philosophy thread, I thought you might also find this interesting.



This is (the first part of) one episode in short series called Logic Lane, which involved philosophers from Oxford in discussion with one another (the other episodes are also online). This one features PF Strawson and Gareth Evans - both highly significant figures in Anglophone philosophy. In particular, Evans was something of prodigy - he's 26 in this video - who died long before his time, and his work on reference (particularly his posthumously published book) is drawn from, discussed, and disputed, in much significant current work in philosophy of mind and language.

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Mr. T said:

Good grief, no. Don't watch this. It's essentially a conspiracy theory propaganda film. It isn't so much as inaccurate - rather, it outright makes things up and lies to support its point of view.

The religion section at the start is one good example, with all the stuff about there being other mythical gods that share the same properties as Jesus (birthday etc.). If you actually look into it, there isn't actually anything to support that at all. The "source" used to back these claims is a book written by a fringe writer who was a consultant to the making of the film.

My favorite part is the JFK speech section, where they cut up parts of a speech that he gave and stitched them together to make it sound like he was talking about secret societies controlling the government (he was actually talking about Communism). It's hard to see that as anything other than deliberately misleading the audience.

Save yourself 122 minutes of your life and don't bother watching this turd of a film. Or if you must, watch it as an example of how a propaganda film can be constructed: certainly don't assume that anything that it says has any factual basis.

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durian said:

video

Sometimes I inwardly complain about youtube documentaries being chopped up into several parts, but for something like this it's not offensive. There's a lot being talked about and if watched the whole 60 minutes consecutively I'd get distracted by thinking about what's being said and I'd miss other things of interest.

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fraggle said:

Good grief, no. Don't watch this. It's essentially a conspiracy theory propaganda film. It isn't so much as inaccurate - rather, it outright makes things up and lies to support its point of view.

The religion section at the start is one good example, with all the stuff about there being other mythical gods that share the same properties as Jesus (birthday etc.). If you actually look into it, there isn't actually anything to support that at all. The "source" used to back these claims is a book written by a fringe writer who was a consultant to the making of the film.

My favorite part is the JFK speech section, where they cut up parts of a speech that he gave and stitched them together to make it sound like he was talking about secret societies controlling the government (he was actually talking about Communism). It's hard to see that as anything other than deliberately misleading the audience.

Save yourself 122 minutes of your life and don't bother watching this turd of a film. Or if you must, watch it as an example of how a propaganda film can be constructed: certainly don't assume that anything that it says has any factual basis.


It's certainly not something that should be viewed uncritically by stupid or naive people, but I still enjoyed the film.

I just had a look through my docos folder and here are a few that I would suggest checking out:

• Dirty Pictures is about Alex Shulgin, the chemist who introduced MDMA to *modern audiences*

• Workingman's Death is about people doing manual labor in the 20th century. The director has done a few more documentaries in a similar style (Megacities is the best known, Whore's Glory is the newest). You can watch it on Al Jazeera

• The Greatest Film Ever Sold is another doco by Morgan Spurlock. It has a really interesting premise and starts off strong, but kind of loses it's way towards the end.

• When We Were Kings is about the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. It won an academy

• the New Zealand episode of Ross Kemp on Gangs was quite good.

• John Safran vs God is really funny.

These films aren't documentaries, but they are fun for flicks "based on a true story":

• The Elite Squad about Brazilian drug cops

• Only in America, a really really really good TV movie about Don King

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durian said:

PF Strawson and Gareth Evans - both highly significant figures in Anglophone philosophy.

Ooh, Strawson, he must be related to Galen Strawson? He's cool to read.


As for docos, can't go past Michael Moore's Sicko, it was pretty entertaining to watch albeit quite daunting, and explains the horror stories of health insurance in America, and contrasts with high quality healthcare systems in different countries, including Canada. I've heard some bad stuff from friends who knows of friends in America forking out thousands of dollars because of a mere cut hand.

Zizek! is another one I'd say, as well as Pervert's Guide to Cinema. I've heard good things about him (he's a very enthusiastic and unorthodox Marxist/Lacanian philosopher), although I haven't gotten around to watching his shows myself.

EDIT: Totally forgot, Sound and Fury is a great doco about deafness, cochlear implants, and sign language. As a deaf person, I'd say it doesn't cover both sides too well, but still worth watching though.

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