Last week, I did something I’d never done before. I sat on my couch and watched a documentary on television. Big whoop, you say? Well, as a POV blogger and a guy who’s always going on about how special and wonderful theatrical docs and doc film festivals are, I thought it was about time I tried to give the television-airing of a documentary similar treatment.
OK, so it wasn’t a POV doc, but I’ll get to that in a minute. And of course it wasn’t the first time I’ve ever seen a documentary on television — but it was the first time I planned out my evening around one, making a point of sitting down for the premiere of a highly-anticipated film. Last Monday, I saw Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired on HBO. I was 16 minutes late, because I was reading a book for my kid before she fell asleep, but that was all a part of the test for myself: could I appreciate a doc on TV the same way I do in the theater?
Luckily, Roman Polanski is a great test subject because, boy, it was good. It’s expertly told, well-paced, with great archival footage and strong music. But more than anything else: great access to interview subjects who are treated fairly. Director Marina Zenovich interviews the woman with whom Polanski had sex when she was 13. Although I am not sure what everyone has been saying about how objective Zenovich has been — to me, she clearly is advocating a reassessment of the public perception of Polanski (just as, I think it’s fair to say, is the woman who was the victim of the crime). Sure, Zenovich does so without being dogmatic about it, but that’s just because she had handled the subject matter with intelligence and just the right dose of showmanship.
Would I have appreciated the film differently in the theater? My living room was a little too hot, and I had this constant desire to find a snack in the kitchen, but I have to admit I was riveted. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It would have been better, sure, if I had seen it with my wife or some friends, and we could have talked about our new opinions of Polanski (or not; but, for me, I’m finally able to embrace Polanski and all his demons and look forward to appreciating his films without that nagging sense of ambivalence). But saving the $11.50 was nice. Still, the film isn’t cinematically dazzling, nor does it have any special sound design. So, really, I felt that it was best served on the small screen.
Roman Polanski made some waves a few months back because it was dumped in a theater in L.A. and an uptown Manhattan theater for a short run so that it could be considered for an Oscar, as well as to preserve the sanctity of HBO’s television premiere. But I missed it at Sundance and I missed it during its theatrical run, because there’s just too much to see.
And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? There’s too much to see. Too many books to read to our children. Too many episodes of Top Chef to catch up on. And so we have to see what we can, when and where we can. Which is why all the various outlets: theatrical, television, DVD, Internet can serve the same complementary process of getting more eyeballs in front of docs. And so, yeah, thanks HBO and Zenovich: You’ve got me stoked to catch some docs that’ll be premiering soon on TV. And what comes first to mind? POV’s 2008 slate of new documentaries, premiering June 24th. Every Tuesday, a new doc! I’ll be writing more about the POV slate as the weeks progress. I’ll also be checking out the HBO doc slate, which airs on Mondays. So much to see…