Must-See Documentaries: Weird and Wonderful World

by James Christian

Think documentary’s are boring? You’ve been watching the wrong ones. Here at Rohrbach, we have a terrific collection of documentaries on DVD and video. Here are four strange delights from the media collection:

Crumb (1994)



Art nerds and sex freaks, take note. Cartoonist R. Crumb is one of the greats of the  underground comic boom. Characters like Fritz the Cat and Mister Natural linger in the counterculture subconscious. His publication Zap Comics, peddling its mix of twisted sex, philosophy, and burnout cynicism, is revered and studied to this day. Now the unabashed weirdo finds himself under the filmmaker’s microscope. The film crackles with unsavory energy, as we hang on Crumb’s every rant and anecdote, peruse his eye-popping illustrations, and hang out with his bizarre brothers. Directed by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) and produced by David Lynch, Crumb is a demented, heartfelt classic of the art-doc genre. Call Number: NC1429 .C78 1998

Grey Gardens (1975)


Grey Gardens

This portrait of two eccentric shut-ins dances between sympathetic essay and outright freakshow. Edith Beale and her daughter Edith Jr. share a decaying estate in upscale East Hampton, New York. The house has no running water and wild raccoons live in the attic. Their poverty is not singular in itself, except that the two Edies were once members of the American aristocracy, close relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Filmed by the Maysles brothers (Gimme Shelter), the film has amassed a cult following, as viewers keep returning to the whimsical wasteland of Big and Little Edie. Quietly surreal and unbearably intimate, Grey Gardens has all the entertainment value of reality TV, but you won’t hate yourself for watching it. Call Number: CT275.B435 G7 2001

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (1987)


Cane Toads: an Unnatural History

Nature documentaries have a certain reputation: breathtaking camerawork, swelling orchestral score, the cuddly narration of a Hollywood big-shot, all calculated to make you gawk in awe at the majesty of Earth. Cane Toads chucks that pretentious baggage out the window. This animal antagonist is a pestilence, not a marvel. Venomous, sex-crazed, and ugly as hell, the Australian cane toad was introduced to stop the beetles decimating the crops. The toads proved useless at their job, but they did breed like crazy. The warty menace multiplied across the country, devouring small animals (including mice, as shown in one squirm-inducing scene) and squirting poison at larger ones. Still, the Aussie interviewees have diverse opinions on the hideous creatures, from a man who crushes toads with his truck—they pop like balloons—to a little girl who dresses them up like dollies. Charming, informative, and unrelentingly gross, Cane Toads will hop into your cold slimy heart. Call Number: QL668.E227 C36 2001

Paris Is Burning (1990)


Paris is Burning

For some people, being fabulous is a full time job. Paris Is Burning chronicles the New York subculture of black drag shows of the late 1980s, a whirlwind of wild fashions and savage personality clashes. The scene is divided family-like “houses,” competing not for money but the admiration of their peers. Leaving the sequin-drenched camp aesthetic in the dust, these drag queens strive for high fashion and “realness,” the pursuit of looking authentically female. If you want drama, there are catfights and stinging insults galore. If you want history, Paris Is Burning offers a snapshot of a bygone subculture, inaccessible to most viewers. From the improvisational “vogueing” dance-fights to the brain-frying hip-hop, disco, and house soundtrack, Paris Is Burning is on fire. Call Number: HQ77.95.U6 P37 2005


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