Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The Case for a Trio of Docos
It has been a fortnight of movie documentaries, with two of them part of the Edge Documentary Film Festival and the last a general release documentary, released generally due to its general appeal.
Work Hard, Play Hard was a German documentary about the role of Human Resources in that working environment (yes, this is one related to my profession). It started off examining the design of workspaces, moved to some team building exercises (bizarre as some of them seemed), then on to assessments of performance and career aspirations.
I am not sure if it was the German styling or if it was an amateurish documentary, but whatever the cause of its coldness and lack of insight, it was very disappointing. The most interesting one, the design of buildings and workspaces to make people want to come to work but, in the end, work was lacking one vital component - the reactions of the people who actually worked in those places. The "star" of workplace design was the Unilever building, and when the design became a reality, the documentary took us on a trip through its shopping mall-like layout and offered almost no insight as to whether anyone liked it at all. Perhaps this was meant to be a "damning with silence", as I found the new building appalling, but there was no conversation with anyone besides the designers.
And basically, the human touch, or the results focus, was completely absent. Considering the number of assessments that were featured, the fact there was no assessment of the interventions themselves was a major oversight, and ultimately made the value of the documentary close to worthless.
Not that there weren't some amusing bits: one woman who, after her performance she was assessed, was described as a cold woman with an inappropriate sense of humour, and her expression on receiving this news indicated she may also have had homicidal tendencies, though any murderous intent she may have put into action were, sadly, not shown.
Verdict 1: Work Hard, Play Hard was an attempt to shed light on what HR does, but ultimately, didn't work or play hard enough with the subject to make it worthwhile. 3 hotelling workspaces out of 10.
The Captains was Edge documentary number two, following William Shatner boldly visiting Captains of the Star Trek universe. My favourite Patrick Stewart (Picard), Avery Brooks (Sisko), Kate Mulgrew (Janeway), Scott Bakula (Archer) and Chris Pine (Kirk again) were all sat down next to the Shat himself, and on occasion, even allowed to speak.
That's a bit mean - Shatner did give everyone their chance to talk. But as writer, producer, director and every other sort of executive on the documentary, Shatner was calling the shots. Questions followed his unique style of questioning (sometimes badgering; poor Mulgrew); irritating music provided an overly emotional cue to every scene; and there was far too much singing despite the fact Shatner admitted that he was not much of one.
As expected, all the Captains seemed very nice people: Stewart was sincere (especially around his failed marriages); Mulgrew a tough cookie (though we got to see some cracks when she discussed the toll of her career on her family); Bakula was very laid back; and Pine was the most earnest in a "start of career" way. However, while Brooks was undoubtedly the coolest, all jazz music and mystical utterances, it seems only his body ever returned from his encounter with the Prophets/Wormhole Aliens of Deep Space Nine as he seemed completely off his rocker. Shatner failed to prise the man from his cold, dead piano, which was a mistake in getting anything sensible out of him.
Meanwhile, the Shat showed that he is every inch the Quincy Taggart at conventions, providing a show the audience would never forget, and also is a shameless sponsor plugger (who provided his private jet again?).
Verdict 2: The Captains was a hit and miss then miss again affair. There were some very interesting revelations in there, but the way the documentary was put together reminded me why no one went to see Star Trek V: the Final Frontier and the music was overwhelming, and Shatner loomed large over everything, his ego only occasionally allowing the others some time in the sun. 4 red shirts out of 10.
Finally, Shihad: Beautiful Machine followed the career of Wellington rock band Shihad, from humble beginnings to their chance to break into the US market, and their return to New Zealand following that disappointment.
I saw Shihad a while ago, and while I am not the biggest fan of their music, I do enjoy it. The film I enjoyed more. Funny, insightful, amusing, well put together, with appropriate use of music - the other documentaries could learn a lot about how to make an interesting documentary from this New Zealand offering.
The Shihad movie was a general release, playing to a packed mini-cinema at the Embassy. While one of the audience laughed like a man either unhinged (could it have been Avery Brooks?) or very familiar with the band, the rest of us laughed at the more obvious references and amusements, and the whole thing made me respect and enjoy the band even more.
Verdict 3: A short review of the film, but then, the film Shihad: Beautiful Machine can be summed up in one word: choice. 9 pacifiers out of 10.