Have the great doc titans lost their oomph? And if so, is that such a bad thing?
I got to ruminating over these questions when I began considering how, this September, we saw the two most popular documentary filmmakers release new works practically right on top of each other: Ken Burns‘ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea on PBS, and Michael Moore‘s Capitalism: A Love Story, in close to a thousand theaters. Both were released to good amounts of fanfare and then, well, they became yesterday’s news.
Burns’ series is truly beautifully shot. It’s strong, effective, moving and important. And outside of my mother and brother, I haven’t heard anyone talk about it once. Even Burns’ World War II series a couple years back created more ripples in the cultural water cooler.
As for Moore’s film — eek, I still haven’t seen it. Have you? There just wasn’t anything that made me run to the theater the way I ran on the opening weekends of his previous docs. It’s been 20 years since Moore came out with Roger & Me and 5 years since Fahrenheit 9/11, and although I saw him on news channels doing his shtick in September for Capitalism, it almost seemed like the volume was turned down. Maybe it was the Rutgers hat he was wearing, but he just didn’t come across as ferociously as he has in the past. So it’s not surprising that Capitalism will end up making around $15 million, which is less than any of his previous films made by a long shot, dating back ten years to his big failure, The Big One.
Why the lack of enthusiasm? Is it just me? I think it’s because these guys are not breaking through any more, and that’s been true for quite some time. They have, god forbid, become part of the mainstream.
Something needs to break against the currents to really shake up the culture. Or somebody. I wonder who that will be.