Staff Picks: Movies
Staff-recommended viewing from the KPL catalog.
Our film collection offers a wide variety of educational and documentary portraits of many fascinating and noteworthy individuals whose contributions, in most cases, left a significant mark on the historical record. Whether you’re a history buff or a student looking to supplement print resources, don’t forget to browse our biographical works. Over the years we’ve blended artsy documentaries like The Fog of War, I’m Still Here, Man on Wire, Tarnation, and In the Realms of the Unreal: The Mystery of Henry Darger with PBS portraits of Ansel Adams, Mark Twain, Ronald Reagan, Frida Khalo,Woody Gutherie, Walt Whitman, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Here’s a sampling of some of the persons you may want to learn more about:
George H.W. Bush
John and Abigail Adams
Robert E. Lee
Frank Lloyd Wright
Charles and Ray Eames
Oddballs and Miscellaneous
The Fab Five
Fog of war
Technically, I've missed the mid-year mark but here's a list of my picks for recommended film viewing. I'm sure other titles will end up on the year-end tally (I suspect P.T. Anderson's The Master will be my number one) but here's a start.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
In no way deserving of the hype that this buzzed about indie has received but certainly warrants watching. A five year old protagonist's cute face and acting chops can't save this picture's flaws but many will find its story uplifting and moving.
Damsels in Distress
Indie darling and pre-Wes Anderson autuer of the twee aristrocracy, Whit Stillman returns with a film that will no doubt divide audiences along love/hate lines.
The Turin Horse
Bleak, hopeless, painfully unfolded end of the world fair shot in a sumptuous black and white that will appeal to the existentialist-leaning devotees of Bresson, Bergman and Tarkovsky. No Michael Bay stuff here.
The Deep Blue Sea
A somber story of heartache and loss expressed through the fine acting of British actress Rachel Weisz.
Gerhard Richter Painting
A straight forward documentary that will likely appeal to those familiar with the world's most famous living painter's role in the shaping of post-war art.
The Turin Horse
The PBS television series The History Detectives, not known for drawing attention to itself, made headlines this week by declaring that they have found and authenticated the Fender guitar used by Bob Dylan at the legendary 1965 Newport Folk Festival. The current owners of the guitar, the daughter of a man who flew private planes for Dylan in the 60’s, claims that her father picked up the sunburst Stratocaster after it was left behind after a trip. Not so fast says Dylan’s representatives, who claim the famous axe is still in the possession of Dylan. Who is right? We’ll just have to see, given Dylan hasn’t stated whether or not he’ll actually provide physical proof to contradict the program’s evidence.
Several months earlier, Dylan and filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker joined forces to film several of his United Kingdom shows. Don’t Look Back is a classic rockumentary that takes you behind closed doors to give you access to a somewhat contrived Dylan and his growing dissatisfaction with fame and with his folkie fans. His sycophantic entourage and their gratuitous mocking of both the press and his contemporaries (see: Joan Baez and Donovan) are weaved in between the footage of Dylan playing songs from his albums Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited.
Don't Look Back
Summertime in hot, hot, Michigan means getting out on the tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, trails and of course, diving in the water. For those days where the sweltering weather is prohibitive for even the most dedicated of athletes, be sure to stop by the library and browse our eclectic collection of sports-related documentaries.
Muhammad and Larry
Jews and Baseball
Vintage World Series Films, Detroit
ABC Wide World of Sports: 40 Years of Glory
The Birth of Big Air
Thrilla in Manila
Only the Ball Was White
Jews and baseball
Bobby Fischer Against the World is a fascinating rise and fall portrait of a man that struggled with genius, fame and mental illness. From his troubled childhood to his triumphant victory over the Soviet world champion Boris Spassky in 1972 and concluding with his final days living in national disgrace and exile, Fischer captivated the world with both his extraordinary aptitude for chess and his often peculiar public image. A fair and balanced documentary that presents the perspectives and recollections of those who knew him best throughout his life, Fischer’s tumultuous story is both sad and bewildering.
Bobby Fischer Against the World
The multi-episode series On the Waterways is a fun documentary that takes the viewer along with a young ship crew of college-age adventurers and introduces us to the many individuals and communities that lie alongside a body of water, while highlighting the important role that water has played in the development of towns and economies throughout the United States. Narrated by the late actor Jason Robards, On the Waterways may look and feel a bit outdated but it still stands up as an entertaining and educational examination on the relationship between humans and their environment.
On the waterways
From time to time, a film buried long ago, unknown to most, emerges from its cult status to reclaim its proper place in the pantheon of great cinema. The 1956 documentary On the Bowery is one such film that can make that claim. Introduced by the legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, who explains why he identifies with the film both on a personal and historical level (he grew up a few blocks away from where the film was shot), Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery takes the viewer to the famously impoverished New York City street known for housing the destitute and those suffering from alcohol abuse. While there is a very simplistic plot setup that frames the film’s three day course, most of the film captures the essence of the Bowery by employing a kind of impressionistic realism that gives the film its gritty, naturalistic look. Rogosin sought to portray his subjects sympathetically, simply showing their persoanl struggles without preaching or romanticizing their plight. The film was added to the prestigious National Film Registry in 2008 because of it groundbreaking stature.
On the bowery
For steadfast Beatles fan, this HBO documentary by Martin Scorsese is a must-see film. For the casual music buff, you’ll learn all about Harrison’s life as the “quiet Beatle”, from his austere, post-war Liverpool upbringing to life in the Fab Four and thereafter. Harrison’s unique contribution to both the music world and his interest in Indian spiritual practices are fully explored through old interview footage, concert clips and the honest remarks of friends and family like Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Olivia Harrison and Paul McCartney.
George Harrison: living in the material world
I’ve really enjoyed watching many of the sports-meets-society series called 30 for 30, produced by ESPN Films. Each film tackles a singular sports subject by broadening the scope of the featured topic by taking into account the social, economic, and cultural determinants as well as the historical impact. The films are well produced and include candid commentary by journalists, athletes and entertainers. One Night in Vegas details the final moments before the rapper Tupac Shakur was killed. The library owns the following films in this series:
Straight Outta L.A.
June 17th, 1994
One Night in Vegas
The Birth of Big Air
The Two Escobars
No Crossover: the trial of Allen Iverson
Little Big Men
Muhammad and Larry
One night in vegas
Every December, the National Film Preservation Board, established by Congress in 1988, chooses up to 25 movies to be added to the National Film Registry (NFR) List. The “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” films chosen must be at least 10 years old, though not necessarily of feature length, nor must they have been released to a theatrical audience (though you will recognize many that have.)
KPL has a great many of these films in our collection. I was intrigued to find a wide variety of movies, such as Halloween, El Norte, Toy Story (I) and Marian Anderson: the Lincoln Memorial Concert (produced in 1939.) Watch several of the shorts from the NFR list in Treasures from American Film Archivesand More Treasures from American Film Archives
To learn more about NFR films, check out 2 books from our collection, both with the main title of America’s Film Legacy. The older edition focuses on the first 500 films on the list, while the newer version updates readers about 50 movies more recently added to the list.
To find NFR films in the KPL catalog in the future, choose Movie Search on the horizontal menu, and type “National Film Registry” in the Word or Phrase search field.
Treasures from American Film Archives