Baraka 1992 ****

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Ron Fricke’s visually stunning documentary has no commentary; it’s a feast of images taken from all over the world, capturing geographical and sociological phenomenon and leaving the audience to gape in wonder and draw their own conclusions. Baraka is a Sufi word for spiritual grace, and Fricke’s film captures just that, from the opening shot of a snow monkey sitting in his rock pool, looking as peaceful and pleasantly bemused as viewers will be watching the cavalcade of volcanoes, mines, monasteries, dances, tribal rituals and various other ephemera. Baraka is a mood piece, investigating the lesser-seen riches of the world, and one best enjoyed in the highest definition possible.

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Grizzly Man 2005 ***

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Not all of Werner Herzog’s documentary ideas are fun to watch; his 2005 doc The Wild Blue Yonder has audiences queuing at the exits when screened at the Venice Film festival. But Grizzly Man shows the maverick director at his best, patiently and idiosyncratically telling the moving story of Timothy Treadwell, an environmentalist who set out to live with grizzly bears, a species with which he had a keen affinity. Unfortunately for Treadwell, the feeling was not mutual, and he ended up being killed by the creatures he loved. Herzog narrates in his own voice, his off-kilter tones adding a layer of humour to what could easily be a downbeat story; Treadwell comes off as a well-meaning but naïve individual, a perfect hero for this absorbing portrait of a man whose passion for nature led him to extremes of behaviour, and to a sad demise.

Secret Disco Revolution 2012 ***

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Writer and director Jamie Kastner scours through the sparkling dumpster of archive disco footage and pulls together a slight but fascinating picture of the era, a time when music was hot stuff and clubs were pumping out a vibrant, glitzy sound that made an indelible cultural mark before fading away into other genres. With interview subjects from Thelma Houston to a reluctant Village People, who seem rather suspicious of the film-maker’s motives, the artists seems far less enamoured of the period that the scholars who Kastner enlists to tell the story; their high-brow theories seem at odds with the rather more practical experiences of music industry veterans. Secret Disco Revolution works best as a cinematic juke-box, showcasing a number of notable disco hits, and a few rarities that should have fans of the era reaching for their Spotify playlists.

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Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait 2006 ****

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Artist Douglas Gordon teams up with Phillipe Parenno for this art-installation piece, a feature film documentary in which, through a multi-camera system, a football match between Real Madrid and Villareal is shown from the point of view of one man ; Zinedine Zidane. With a throbbing soundtrack by Mogwai, and occasional but unimportant subtitles to reveal the thoughts of the great man, there’s no conventional narrative here, but if you can get into the swing, Zidane is a film that captures the idea of work like few others. As Zidane huffs and puffs in off-the-ball runs, it suddenly becomes apparent that the game feels very different than when seen on television, and reveals the amount of work it requires to provoke the seconds of activity that chance the course of the game’s destiny. The experiment was done before with George Best, but this version has a mood and energy of its own.

Jesus Christ Savior 2008 ***

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Klaus Kinski was, without much doubt, a genuinely unhinged individual, capable of brilliant on-screen performances and with a somewhat dubious off-screen life that’s been well documented in several books. This documentary is a record of a live 1970’s stage performance given by Kinski in a packed theatre where he gives an astonishing, ranting performance that quickly turns into a screaming match between him and the audience. A spoken word piece from the point of view was always going to be controversial, but Peter Geyer’s assembly of archive footage depicts a man at the end of his tether, a horrifying but hypnotic document of Kinski at his best and worst.

 

Room 237 2016 ***

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Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has become something of a Rorschach blot in which everyone seems something different emerging from the murk. Rodney Ascher’s documentary allows six contributors to unfold their theories about the potential meanings, with everyone working from the premise that the great man couldn’t possibly have set his sights so low as a straightforward horror film. Room 237 suggests, amongst other things, that The Shining is Kubrick’s apology for faking the moon landings, or that it’s an examination of Native American genocide. The arguments aren’t particularly well presented; no interviewees are seen, and their droning voices are intermingled, so that it’s sometimes unclear which theory is which. But while none of the theories are convincing, Ascher’s film forces audiences to look at the wealth of detail in one film, and consider why so many diverse people have been fascinated by its elusive, elliptical content.

Culloden 1964 ***

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Long before Paul Greengrass sprang onto the scene, Peter Watkins was an enfant terrible of British political cinema, taking on the authorities with potent and challenging fictions, and also staging imaginative reconstructions like 1964’s The Battle of Culloden. Predating The War Game, his celebrated consideration of what a nuclear war would be like, Culloden fixes itself onto one of the great military battles of history, the last stand of Bonnie prince Charlie and a battle between Scots and English forces that proved to be the last of British soil. Watkins films proceedings as if TV camera were actually there, interviewing soldiers for vox-pops on all sides and conveying a you-are-there feel. The atmosphere if 1746 is caught in stark black and white; whatever the arguments are for or against Scottish nationalism, and Culloden is remarkably even handed for a film about a massacre, Watkins makes a strong case for war as a destructive force.