The back-to-school sales have started. The countdown to summer’s end has begun. It’s the time of year when we start thinking about thinking; and what better time is there to get food for those thoughts than right now via Netflix documentaries. The streaming service’s offerings in this genre have never been better, or more thought provoking. There is something to pique everyone’s interest, from the “divine” to the ridiculous.
Stars in Their Eyes
1. I Am Divine – This is a fascinating biography of the outrageous performer known only as Divine. John Waters films are not to everyone’s taste. In fact, you might even say they are often in “Bad Taste”. However, his close friend and erstwhile muse, Divine, made them both a star. It was Divine who took the almost cartoonishly camp role of Edna Turnblad in Waters’ then cult comedy “Hairspray” and turned her, not just into an icon, but a theatrical tradition. This documentary shows how Divine became “Divine” and how he would do anything (literally) to achieve his dream of becoming a real character actor in mainstream films. Sadly he died just as this was starting to happen for him.
2. Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me – Unlike Divine, the grand dame of the Broadway stage, Elaine Stritch, was still performing almost until the day she died at 89. Stritch is probably best known to this generation as Jack Donaghy’s brassy mother, Colleen, on “30 Rock”. But actually she was one of the last in a generation of female performers coming up in a thoroughly male-dominated industry, one in which she helped to break down barriers and pave the way for the likes of Tina Fey. Equally bossy and big-hearted, Stritch offers sage advice, learned from her 70-plus years in show business, for both actors and comedians, as well as just everyday living.
3. 20 Feet From Stardom – The Oscar-winning feature documentary spotlights the voices behind the voices; the women who give depth and complexity to even the most insipid pop songs, but who mostly go unrecognized outside of the music industry. They make sacrifices and struggle and sometimes want to give up, wondering if it’s all worth it. Spoiler alert: it is. If you choose only one Netflix documentary from this list, this might be it.
Netflix Documentaries: Being Good Sports
4. The Battered Bastards of Baseball – Long before Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” management style, there were the Portland Mavericks. This Netflix Original reveals the story of the ragtag minor league team of has-beens and never-weres, brought together by Bing Russell, that became the most successful of its contemporaries.
5. Schooled: The Price of College Sports – A controversial and compelling look at what it really means to be a college athlete, as observed by industry insiders, educators, commentators, and the players themselves. See it now, before it premieres on the Epix network in October.
6. Maidentrip – Laura Dekker was only 14 years old when she set off to sail around the world – all by herself. But first, she had to prove to the Dutch courts that she was both compent and capable of such an extraordinary undertaking – and that her parents weren’t negligent in letting her do so. See the beautiful candid footage captured by this courageous and determined young lady as she travels the world’s oceans, and why it was an audience favorite at SXSW.
Odds and Ends and Bits and Bobs
7. Doc of the Dead – The rising of the undead has a history stretching all the way back to ancient folklore. Simon Pegg and George Romero, along with YouTube’s dark curmudgeon “Mr Plinkett”, are among those who take a humorous look at the proliferation of zombies in pop culture, from “Dawn of the Dead” to “World War Z”.
8. Bronies – Thousands of young men everywhere not only watch, but are fanatical about “My Little Pony”. Grown men who secretly hoard small plastic, multi-colored, equine figurines gather at conventions to sing the chirpy theme song in unison. Each subject of one of the more fascinating of the Netflix documentaries touts the beauty and profundity of a cartoon about six female horse friends with different colored manes and tails, and how it has changed his life.
9. The Captains – William Shatner has heart to heart chats with all the other actors who have played starship captains in the Star Trek universe, including the most recent inductee, Chris Pine. Funny, insightful, and sometimes moving, Shatner compares his personal experience as Kirk, “the man who started it all”, with those who succeeded him in his increasingly popular legacy.
10. The Lady in Number 6 – Alice Sommer lived well past the age of 100 despite having experienced the Holocaust. Her reason for living – and keeping the will to live – was “the music” which kept her going, kept her believing in something, and kept her dreaming. Hear her extraordinary story and let yourself be inspired by her to see beauty in the world no matter how dark things get.
These Netflix documentaries will not only keep you entertained from start to finish, but you’ll also end up learning something!