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Alt Text: Documentaries Decoded for Half-Dressed Movie Fans

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Old 07-09-2008
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Alt Text: Documentaries Decoded for Half-Dressed Movie Fans
Forty years ago, if you wanted to see a full-length movie with no interruptions you needed to spend the evening in the company of those with a similar desire to sit in the dark and do nothing.
Twenty years ago, you could bring the movie home, but you needed to get out of the house long enough to have a public argument with your significant other at the video store. Ten years ago, Netflix started to send the movies to you, but you still needed to get to your mailbox, which for most people involves mandatory pants.
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Being generally anti-pants, I recently picked up the Netflix Player, a device that allows you to stream movies directly into your home. Being a recluse has never been easier!
The device works quite nicely. It's easy to set up, easy to use and the image quality is arguably better than a garage-sale VHS tape. The main limitation is in the movie selection. Not everything is available for instant download, and what is available is often somewhat ... perverse. For instance, you can watch Young Guns II, but not Young Guns. That's something like Round Table coming out with an all-crust pizza.
There is one area where Netflix is chock-full of options, though, and that's in the realm of the documentary. As it turns out, pretty much anything that can be documented has been, and it's all ready to be poured into your lap like so much hot soup. You're going to need some help sorting through this mountain of movies.
Luckily, most documentaries come in one of three varieties.

First off, there's the sort of documentary you can get high school extra credit for watching. These are about old things, or scientific things. These are easy to spot, because the title tells you what the movie's about and why you should care.
Possible titles:
  • Turning Point: The Battle of Stalingrad
  • Seismology: When the Earth Kills
  • Wordsworth: You Probably Know a Couple Lines From Some of His Poems


The second sort of documentary involves a director who wants you to throw off the shackles of convention and/or oppression and get really steamed about some variety of injustice. For some reason, these titles are always weird half-puns. I'm not sure why lackadaisical wordplay goes hand-in-hand with social activism, but that's how it works.
Possible titles:
  • Standing on the Shoulders of Victims: The Glando-Meditech Scandal
  • Children of the Scorn: The Glade Valley School District Free Lunch Voucher Distribution Controversy
  • John B. Scanvander: Rebel Without an Original Subtitle


The third type of documentary is about some semi-obscure band, artist or quirky person with a cult following. These are marketed to people who are already fans of the subject, so the moviemakers don't need to explain what the documentary is about. In fact, the more obscure the title, the better -- that makes the fans feel smart for "getting it."
Possible titles:
  • Shocking Blue: The Bananarama Story
  • David Em: Rendered
  • Meryn

Bonus: Quick-Pick Picture Mode

When in doubt, you should go with something with a dinosaur, a penguin or a fighter plane on the cover when choosing a documentary. They're all pretty good, and it's a proven fact that penguin, fighter plane and dinosaur documentaries are being made faster than you can actually watch them, so you'll never run out.
- - -
Born helpless, nude and unable to provide for himself, Lore Sjöberg eventually overcame these handicaps to start development on a documentary about a dinosaur-penguin-fighter pilot.

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