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The Flashback Documentary

I don’t know about you but during this pandemic I’ve been watching a lot of TV. You can’t really go anywhere. Things are either closed via edict of the government or the infection rate is just too high. Can’t go sit down and have a nice meal at a restaurant. Closed. Can’t go have a drink (or three) at a bar. Closed. Can’t travel. No country will let people from other countries in without (at least) a long quarantine period. Can’t go to the gym as they are either closed or they are touted as having a very high infection rate. Etc, etc… Luckily, I have my own workout space but I don’t feel comfortable opening the doors to others as I don’t want it to be a vector for the transmission of the disease as the infection rate is so high here in California. Thus, a lot of unrequited free time equaling a lot of TV.

Me, I have always enjoyed watching documentaries. Just like I enjoy reading autobiographies; you can really learn a lot about a specific individual. One of the things I have noticed that has been recently taking place, in the production of documentaries, is that what a filmmaker will do is sit the person of focus down in front of the camera, interview them, and then intermix the interview with stock footage. Though this may provide a nice opportunity for the subject to tell their side of the story, this style of documentary filmmaking just seems so lethargic. I mean, aside from going to stock film houses, film vaults, and film libraries, there is very little work that is put into the project.

You might expect this style of documentary filmmaking to be done by a film student or even a network where an actor or news anchor has worked for many years. But, what I find, more times than not, is that this style of flashback documentary creation is being made by experienced, and in some cases, celebrated filmmakers. Now, I am not saying I do not watch these documentaries and in some circumstances enjoy them and learn from them but it just all seems so indolent.

Remember when documentaries presented new, unseen, undiscovered, self-created footage? That’s what I am speaking about; documentaries that cut new ground, that pushed the envelope of knowledge, understanding, and cinema as a whole.

So… This is not a criticism, this is just a conclusion; a depiction of an era where things have changed as I suppose they always do. A time when things that are not done with a creatively high level of excellence are accepted as everyone (like myself) has just been watching way too much TV.