Documentaries are special to me, and not just because my main character is making one in Shadows and Ghosts. Like the best narrative non-fiction, these films give audiences tightly and imaginatively crafted views of a wide range of subjects.
Here are some of my favorites:
F for Fake (1973) Dir. Orson Welles—the man who scared everyone with a fake Martian invasion profiles two notorious frauds: Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Irving.
Gizmo (1977) Dir. Howard Smith—a lighthearted and thoroughly entertaining look at inventions.
The Day After Trinity (1981) Dir. Jon Else—a haunting film about Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.
Hoop Dreams (1994) Dir. Steve James—even if you’re not a basketball fan, you’ll love this film about two young men pursuing their dreams of playing with the pros.
Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey (1994) Dir. Steven M. Martin—remember the electronic sounds in “Good Vibrations” and The Day the Earth Stood Still? This fascinating film is about the inventor of the instrument that made those sounds, Leon Theremin.
When We Were Kings (1996) Dir. Leon Gast—I find boxing difficult to watch, but couldn’t tear myself away from this chronicle of the events leading up to and including the 1974 match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali.
Buena Vista Social Club (1999) Dir. Wim Wenders—you’ll fall in love with these gentlemen and their music.
The Fog of War (2003) Dir. Errol Morris—Robert S. McNamara discusses his years as Secretary of Defense for the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and the tragic mistakes that were made. With a score by Philip Glass.
Super Size Me (2004) Dir. Morgan Spurlock—a sobering look at what a diet of fast food can do to a person’s health.
March of the Penguins (2005) Dir. Luc Jacquet—I haven’t met anyone who didn’t say, “Awwwww” at least once during this beautiful film.
Sketches of Frank Gehry (American Masters: Season 20, Episode 7, Sept. 27, 2006) Dir. Sidney Pollack—an intimate view of a great artist and architect’s life and work habits by one of his close friends. This was Pollack’s only documentary, and it is a gem.
Wordplay (2006) Dir. Patrick Creadon—the film for anyone who does the NY Times crossword puzzle first and reads the paper second. Even better, my stepson, Derek, is playing drums on the soundtrack!
Who the #$&% Is Jackson Pollock? (2006) Dir. Harry Moses—this one is a hoot: truck driver Teri Horton buys a painting for $5. When she tries to sell it in a garage sale, a local art teacher suggests it might be worth a bit more than her asking price….
Man on Wire (2008) Dir. James Marsh—breathtaking film about Phillippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire feat at the World Trade Center.
Causes Barbara Froman Supports
Chicago Coalition for the Homeless
Greater Chicago Food Depository
Lawyers for the Creative Arts