Darren Paltrowitz’s 7 of the Best

2016: Another Great Year For Film
.
As of late, most entertainment-related writers seem to be focusing on the deaths of celebrities and innovators that 2016 brought. Many of those same creative-types are also focusing on politics and how the recent U.S. Presidential election may impact them for the worst. Gloom, gloom and more gloom.
.
Such instead of considering how 2016 was another excellent year for film and television. Streaming services, independent studios and crowd-funding are bringing us more amazing content than we know what to do with. In turn, the real issue of 2016 ought to be that there is not enough time to experience so much of that great art.
.
Here are seven documentaries that I caught in 2016 which really spoke to me:
.
soaked_in_bleach_posterSoaked In Bleach
Over 20 years ago, the world lost Kurt Cobain as a result of a tragic suicide. Or so most people seem to believe. Now showing on Netflix, Soaked In Bleach presents an alternate viewpoint as to what happened within Kurt Cobain’s last few days living. Based upon private recordings from private investigator Tom Grant, and featuring testimonials from police officers and crime scene investigators, compelling evidence is presented within the documentary. Soaked In Bleach is not approved by Courtney Love or the Kurt Cobain Estate, so it lacks music by Nirvana, but the film is about so much more than one of the greatest songwriters of all time.
.
.
An eight-part miniseries, Soundbreaking premiered at SXSW in March and started showing on PBS in November. Subtitled Stories From The Cutting Edge Of Recorded MusicSoundbreaking is a exploration of recorded music from the early 20th century through today. Les Paul and Big Mama Thornton through Imogen Heap and Lada Gaga, it covers all eras, genres and trends. Even auto-tune is explored objectively, with its roots from Roger Zapp discussed. Unlike Soaked In Bleach, all the hits, icons and key video footage are included in Soundbreaking.
.
.
Russell Brand crossed over in the United States via his break-out role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which led to his hosting of MTV’s Video Music Awards. But Brand was an established star in the U.K. years before that, and remains as big of a star as ever over there. This documentary was directed by Ondi Timoner, who produced Dig!, the excellent mid-2000s look into The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Watching this film, you will not only have a better understanding of who Russell Brand is, but also how intelligent and original he can be. The scene of an apparently-intoxicated Katy Perry was a highlight for me.
.
.
Professional wrestling has been one of the most popular forms of entertainment around the world for over 50 years. But not all of its stars are able to maintain long-term popularity or good health. Diamond Dallas Page, one of wrestling’s top stars in the late 1990s, reinvented himself post-wrestling as the face of DDP YOGA. DDP’s yoga program — as seen on Shark Tank — has hundreds of thousands of followers, and has been known to save the lives of many. In this documentary, DDP takes on the tremendous challenge of trying to rehabilitate long-time friends (and wrestling peers) Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall (a.k.a. “Razor Ramon”). Every step of their inspirational journey is documented.
.
The Wrecking Crew was a group of session musicians that played on some of the most famous songs of all time. Hits by The Beach Boys, The Monkees, Sonny & Cher, and The Mamas & The Papas are among the gems that members of The Wrecking Crew were part of. Production on the film began in 1996, and while it screened at SXSW in 2008, proper theatrical release did not happen until March 2015. Fans of 20 Feet From Stardom and Standing In The Shadows Of Motown ought to dig this, although The Wrecking Crew is far less gloomy than those two flicks.
.
.
As a child raised on MTV, I watched a lot of spring break coverage on television. On-screen, spring break looks like nothing but fun and debauchery, but it turns out that spring break’s origins go back more than 50 years ago. The film explores the central figures and businesses behind spring break becoming a tradition, and ultimately how certain parts of Florida began competing with one another to become the true hub of spring break. Excellent archival footage on top of that, with MTV actually being a major part of the overall story.
.
.
An IFC series with two seasons to its credit, Documentary Now! stars Saturday Night Live alumni Fred Armisen and Bill Hader; Seth Meyers is one of its main creative forces. Each episode of Documentary Now! is a mockumentary and directly references a particular documentary. In turn, after watching an episode of the show, you will likely want to go back and catch a documentary that you had not previously seen. Then you can watch the same Documentary Now! episode again, pick up on a few more references, and feel your pop culture base expand further.