Freelance writer Amanda Hirsch, former editorial director of PBS Interactive, blogs about documentaries and the Web in her weekly column, Outside the Frame.
I recently watched Helvetica, a documentary about a font. Well, that’s a bit reductionist — it’s a doc about a font, and the people who love and hate it. Because, lest you think, “Who would have strong feelings about a font?” — let me reassure you that many, many people have strong feelings about this font, and about typefaces in general. To wit:
“I can’t explain it, I just like looking at type…other people look
at bottles of wine, or…girls’ bottoms, I get kicks out of looking
— Erik Spiekermann, a German typographer and designer
I found this very inspiring — that there are people who are so passionate about something I barely notice in my daily routine. What a great reminder to pay attention, to notice details that my mind is conditioned, at this point, to glaze right past.
Cut to me, this morning, checking in on Twitter — part of my daily routine. There, amidst the references to early morning coffee and the day’s news, Louis Abelman (remember him?) offered a link to the Bosch and Bruegel Society (bear with me, this is going somewhere):
“The Bosch and Bruegel Society was founded on a common
fondness for the work of the painters Hieronymus Bosch
(c.1450 – 1516) and Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525 – 1569).
We are dedicated to the joyous, focused exploration of the worlds bequeathed us in their paintings.”
— Bosch and Bruegel Society website
Do you see it? Where I’m going with this? In exploring the intersections between documentary filmmaking and the Web, I’ve been so focused on the nature of the storytelling that, until now, I’ve overlooked the importance of subject. In other words: Something that the Web and documentaries have in common is that they provide space to celebrate our passions and obsessions. Don’t see your interests reflected in the mainstream culture? No worries: just search the Web and you’re bound to find a community of fellow devotees. Or turn to Netflix, and voila — a doc about your hobby is likely to emerge.
It’s easy to take this for granted — to take the Web for granted, since it is, at this point, so enmeshed in our daily routines — but this access to quirk is really quite a wondrous thing, not only for those celebrating a particular interest area, but also for those of us who need reminders, from time to time, that there is beauty and interest in our daily existence. In other words: the Web — and documentaries — remind us that mundane is truly subjective, and that the world is a fascinating place worthy of exploration.
Let’s conduct our own homage to idiosyncrasy. Send in your favorite documentaries and websites that celebrate quirk using the comments feature below.