It’s only April and already there’s a rare collection of pop culture documentaries to tickle the mind: Mike Myers squeezed the life out of legendary rock ‘n’ roll manager Shep Gordon with Supermensch, Jeff Radice expanded the civil rights history of Dock Ellis with No No: A Dockumentary, Charlie Lyne waxed nostalgic over 200 coming-of-age classics in Beyond Clueless, Alexandre O. Philippe studied zombies with Doc of the Dead and Frank Pavich brought justice to Jodorowsky’s Dune. While there’s also been a handful of vastly important political documentaries — see: Damnation, The Immortalists, and The Great Invisible — something must be said of the films that manage to teach and entertain at the same time.
Those are the documentaries that don’t exactly scare you: for every Taxi to the Darkside, there’s also a 20 Feet from Stardom, and while critics and filmmakers can argue forever on what’s more impacting, both get you in the seats. What’s more, both are equally integral to the form. Here’s a shortlist of subjects that might prove fruitful for any documentarians looking to put the lens on entertainment.
Bonnaroo Music Festival
Founded in 2002, Bonnaroo has since become the go-to North American music festival, rivaled only by Goldenvoice’s Coachella in Indio, CA. Each June, the festival takes over a 700-acre farm in Manchester, TN and showcases the most acclaimed talent in music history. Past performers include Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, The Police, Kanye West, Radiohead, The Beach Boys — the list goes on. While there have been several fan-sourced documentaries over the years, there’s been no authoritative documentary so far. Think about Michael Wadleigh’s breathtaking Woodstock, or even D.A. Pennebaker’s classic Monterey Pop — both legendary pictures that captured a movement and a generation. It’s high time someone does the same for the ‘Roo. And properly.
“The Fatty Arbuckle Curse”
For decades, producers have tried to get a proper film going about the violent silent film actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. A popular screenplay circulated around Hollywood over time eventually landed in the hands of John Belushi, then John Candy, and then Chris Farley. Notice a trend? Not surprisingly, the series of young deaths has spawned what many refer to as “The Fatty Arbuckle Curse,” since the script popped up so close to each actor’s respective deaths. Similar to Jodorowsky’sDune, it would be entertaining to see what exactly happened with this failed project, and it might come at a good time, too. Currently, HBO is adapting Arbuckle’s life for the small screen based on David A. Yallop’s The Day the Laughter Stopped with Modern Family star Eric Stonestreet at the lead. Fingers crossed?
In an era of Chelsea Handler, Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey and Amy Schumer, it would be wise to turn the page back to one of the earliest female comics: Gilda Radner. With the exception of a TV movie and an episode of E! True Hollywood Story, in addition to the occasional Saturday Night Live retrospectives, there hasn’t been a proper documentary about the late star. But what a story to tell! Despite an early death, Radner lived one hell of a life, what with her stint at 30 Rock, her one-woman Broadway show, her film appearances and marriage to Gene Wilder. Given that her peers aren’t getting any younger, this is one subject that deserves a little priority. Our advice? Start with Radner’s heartbreaking memoir, It’s Always Something.
Forty years later, Stephen King remains just that: a king. The Maine writer has sold over 350 million copies of his books, and he shows zero signs of slowing down. There are many layers to his psyche, whether it’s his fascination with classic rock, his longtime support of the Boston Red Sox or his reasoning for buying the van that nearly killed him… and that’s what would make him such an engrossing subject to study. What’s more horrifying than stepping into the mind of the creator? So far, nobody’s accomplished it: the 1999 documentary Stephen King: Shining in the Dark is both incomplete and inconsequential, while the various one-hour spots on TV don’t even scratch the surface of the famed genre writer. No, someone needs to get intimate with the New Englander, even if it means a visit to Pet Sematery, a tour through Salem’s Lot or a drive with Christine.
Few basketball players live a life like Alonzo Mourning. Currently, the former All-Star is Vice President of Player Programs and Development for the Miami Heat and devotes much of his time to charity work in and around Miami. But here’s the thing: He wasn’t always the nice guy. For a long time, he was often considered one of the many bad boys of the NBA, an edge that twice earned him NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award and a spot on the NBA All-Defensive Team. (Go read about his 1998 on-court fight with ex-teammate Larry Johnson. It’s wild.) This year, Mourning will receive the praise he deserves when he’s inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Why not accompany the event with a full-length documentary? Who knows — perhaps the Heat’s prospective threepeat might turn some gears for No. 33.