Hilarious rednecks, grizzly bears, the homeless, and a LSD inspired comic book artist are just some of the focus subjects in our list of the top offbeat documentaries.
8. Overnight (2003)
Overnight traces the meteoric rise and fall of aspiring filmmaker Troy Duffy, a former bartender who turns out to be one of the most misguided and obnoxious human beings on the planet. After fucking up a movie deal and alienating just about all his friends and family, Duffy somehow managed to go on to direct an awesome cult flick called The Boondock Saints. The last shot of Duffy talking to himself as he wanders aimlessly outside a bar is truly disturbing.
Sample Dialogue: “As for my film career? Get used to it, cause it ain’t goin’ anywhere. Period.”
7. Monster Road (2004)
“I go for the lowest common denominator. Just get some stuff in front of the camera and get some action out of it. Get the most I can out of those figures before they wear out . . .” Monster Road explores the fascinating life and work of underground clay animation artist, Bruce Bickford, who collaborated with the late, great Frank Zappa on a number of projects such as the 1979 movie, Baby Snakes. This ain’t Gumby and Pokey, folks. Some of Bickford’s clay animation works are truly disturbing! Monster Road also introduces us to Bickford’s equally eccentric father, George, a retired aerospace engineer who is suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Sample Dialogue: “Isn’t it remarkable? This little planet we’re on . . . Is this the headquarters for something?”
Monster Road Trailer
6. Grizzly Man (2005)
“I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals, I will die for these animals . . .” Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog returns to his favorite theme, obsession, as he traces the story of Timothy Treadwell, an amateur naturalist who spent 13 summers among wild brown bears at Katmai National Park in Alaska. Treadwell and his girlfriend were tragically killed by one of the bears during the fall of 2003. This is an extraordinary, funny, and haunting documentary full of astounding footage and some great introspective narration.
Sample Dialogue: “And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.”
The Grizzly Man Trailer
5. Burden of Dreams (1982)
Les Blank’s riveting documentary focuses on the utter chaos surrounding the filming of Werner Herzog’s epic, Fitzcarraldo in the jungles of South America. Whether having to replace his entire cast, attempting to drag a 320-ton steamer over a small mountain or trying to deal with totally insane actor Klaus Kinski, Herzog reveals an unwavering obsession to finish his film.
Sample Dialogue:“Without dreams we would be cows in a field and I don’t want to live like that. I live my life or I end my life with this project.”
Burden of Dreams Trailer
4. American Movie (1999)
American Movie documents the life of Mark Borchardt, an obsessed filmmaker who lives about as far away from Hollywood as you could possibly get – Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Borchardt’s main goal in life is to finish a full-length horror film titled Northwestern. It’s obvious that this guy’s entire film career is based on the opening scenes of Night of the Living Dead. Mark’s determined to live out his version of the American dream. He’s also a deadbeat dad with three kids out of wedlock.
To fund his masterpiece, Mark runs up credit cards, borrows from friends and relatives, and works a series of menial jobs – from delivering newspapers to vacuuming a mausoleum. His creditors are after him and so is the IRS. He doesn’t give a shit. So he drops Northwestern and focuses on a shorter film called Coven, “a psychological thriller portraying an alcoholic writer’s descent into the demonic abyss of a self-support group.” He figures if he can sell 3,000 “units” of the flick at $14.95 apiece he can raise enough money to finish his dream project. The final scene of American Movie is very revealing. It shows some of Mark’s old silent black-and-white film clips from the early ’80s – the same friends racing around madly, drinking beer and raising hell. Nothing has really changed
Sample Dialogue: “Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That’s senseless! But that’s what happens, man.”
American Movie Trailer
3. Crumb (1994)
As Crumb opens, Robert Crumb, complete with his trademark cheap suit, thick glasses and porkpie hat, sits cross-legged on the floor, listening pensively to a scratchy blues record from his extensive and rare 78-rpm album collection. We soon learn that “bizarre” and “dysfunctional” don’t even come close to describing Crumb’s family. A bleak childhood led Crumb and his two brothers to escape into a fantasy world of comic books. Crumb admits that he was attracted to Bug Bunny as a child and later became fixated on Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. His first sexual memory is of hanging out in his mother’s closet and humping a pair of her cowboy boots, while singing “Jesus loves me, yes I know . . .”
Needless to say, he didn’t get a single date during high school. It was during the late ’60s that Crumb created his most popular work such as Keep on Truckin’ (which caused him “nothing but headaches”), Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, which was made into a cartoon that “embarrassed me for the rest of my life,” he reveals. He finally got revenge on Fritz in a later comic by having a female ostrich stab him in the head with an icepick. Crumb’s LSD-inspired comics during the ’60s truly captured the seamy side of America’s subconscious.
Sample Dialogue: “My father was a rigid, gung-ho type who had a hard-ass attitude to life . . . All three of his sons ended up to be wimpy, nerdy weirdos. He wanted at least one of us to end up as a Marine. He always wore a fixed smile, which I later learned was a sign of deep depression.”
2. The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia (2009)
From Johnny Knoxville and Dickhouse Productions, The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is basically a real Trailer Park Boys documentary. It’s genuinely hilarious if you take a step back and observe its truly absurd characters. For example, it features someone who has huffed so much gas he can tell, by scent, the difference in the grades now. Apparently he’s been told by doctors he has a hole in his brain and “I’ve got a brain cell that don’t work, I don’t know which one but that’s what they tell me.”
It’s like watching a car wreck. The people in this family are wild human beings. Lots of sadness, violence and drug abuse revolve around this family, and they mask a lot of their sadness by rolling with the flow, and living up to their legendary name. It’s an interesting look at a type of people most in this country don’t get to experience firsthand.
Sample Dialogue: “You know what my daddy used to say? He used to say, ‘When you get too old to cut the mustard, lick the jar.’ I don’t know what he meant by that.”
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia Trailer
1. Dark Days (2000)
Near Penn Station, next to the Amtrak tracks, the homeless have been living for years. Marc Singer goes underground to live with them, and films this “family.” A dozen or so men and one woman talk about their lives: horrors of childhood, jail time, losing children, being coke-heads. They scavenge, they’ve built themselves sturdy one-room shacks; they have pets, cook, chat, argue, give each other haircuts. A bucket is their toilet. Leaky overhead pipes are a source of water for showers. They live in virtual darkness. During the filming, Amtrak gives a 30-day eviction notice.
The “characters” in the film all told their individual stories but none of them tried to make any excuses for things they’ve done in the past to get them where they were which is what ultimately makes you sympathize with them. The documentary is beautifully shot on black and white film which was impressive considering the lighting issues inside the tunnel. DJ Shadow, a trip hop DJ provided the score which really added to the mood of the narrative.
Sample Dialogue: “What they should do is leave us down here, that’s what they should do. Leave us down here until they get housing and when they get housing they ship us out. But not just take us out of here. I mean we’re all down here by ourselves, my friend. Like a family alright, you gonna break up the whole family. It’s not worth it, it’s not fair to us”
Dark Days Trailer