A Cluster of Possibilities

The final part of this week's Culture Digest: some favourite documentaries available online

To finish up this week’s focus on documentaries, and to anticipate tomorrow's announcement of the Venice Film Festival award winners, here are a few favourites from the past 80 years or so – a small selection that illustrate some of the wildly different approaches various directors and writers have taken. (See my earlier two posts this week – part one and part two – for more on the subject.)

Len Lye’s GPO Films

The New Zealand film pioneer and kinetic artist, Len Lye, came to London in the 1930s and his camera-less animation techniques attracted the attention of John Grierson and Alberto Cavalcanti of the General Post Office Film Unit. They sponsored Colour Box (1935) and other films on the condition that Lye included a postal advertisement at the end. Screened in cinemas in Britain, the film divided audiences and won awards, though some festivals had to invent a special category for this new style of animation.

More information about Len Lye can be found at the Len Lye Centre, in Plymouth, New Zealand.

Ghislain Cloquet, Alain Resnais & Chris Marker, Les statues meurent aussi (Statues Also Die, 1953)

A groundbreaking essay film directed by Ghislain Cloquet, Chris Marker and Alain Resnais about the impact of colonialism on the perception of African Art.

Marcel Ophüls, Le Chagrin et la Pitié (The Sorrow and the Pity, 1969)

Marcel Ophüls’s devastating two-part documentary by about the collaboration between the French Vichy government and the Nazis. Urgent, neccesary filmmaking that has great contemporary relevance.

David and Albert Maysles, Grey Gardens1975

David and Albert Maysles hypnotic study of two wealthy socialites who have fallen on hard times is still watched, discussed, imitated and revered.

Jennie Livingston, Paris is Burning1990

Jennie Livingston’s influential chronicle of the ball culture of New York City in the 1980s and its LGBT+ communities is a heady, invaluable portrait of race, class, gender, sexuality – and survival – in America.

Agnes Varda, Les glaneurs et la glaneuse (The Gleaners and I, 2000)

The great Agnes Varda’s study of gleaners – people who collect leftover crops from farmers’ fields – explores how, according to one of her interviewees, ‘junk is a cluster of possibilities’. It’s an idea that is a timely as it ever was.

Marcus Werner Hed and Nathaniel Mellors, The R&B Feeling: Art. Music. Death., (2014)

Directed by Marcus Werner Hed and Nathaniel Mellors, this portrait of the eccentric British artist Bob Parks explores his wild life in Los Angeles in the 1970s, his unique performances and approach to art-making, his fall from grace, his troubled relationships and the tragedy that transforms him. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure: a film that is as inventive as its brilliant, troubled, subject. 

Jennifer Peedom, Sherpa: Trouble on Everest (2015)

On 18 April 2014, an avalanche on Mount Everest killed 16 Sherpas and mountain workers. In her study of the tragedy and its repercussions, Australian filmmaker Jennifer Peedom interviews sherpas, their families, the climbers and tour managers. With its combination of great sensitivity, incisive journalism and brilliant cinematography, her film is a profound analysis of the ethics of mass tourism and its impact on local cultures.

What will be recognized as the best documentary of 2016? The full line-up of contenders for the prize in Venice is here.

Jennifer Higgie is the editorial director of frieze.

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018