A Documentary Addict

Netflix is very seductive. One of the plus sides of being behind the media firewall of the CRTC, Netflix is very limited in what it can distribute in Canada. (I’ll get to why that’s a plus in a second.) I admit to drooling a little uncontrollably when I see screenshots of American Netflix users and what they have to choose from. A lot. Talking all the major network shows, relatively up to date, movies released in the last year or so, and so on. Canada just does not have the same selection, but sort of makes up for it with lots of BBC offerings. Still, if it did have the equivalent selection, it would make Netflix the same sort of Rabbit Hole that cable television is, and there is a reason I don’t have cable television.

While I don’t watch a lot of television, movies are something I find I’m more and more drawn to as I get older. Partly because they are self-contained narratives. (Very, very tired of endless, limping American network shows that can’t or won’t appreciate the creative boon of a fixed ending.) But I’ve also missed a lot of movies over the years, quiet, intellectual, challenging movies, and find them through Netflix. But along with movies, my new joy is documentaries, and whatever else can be said for Netflix in Canada, they’ve got the docs!

Beside being interesting, they’re terrific brain food to add to the creative mulch. It gets you exposed to something you’ve little knowledge of and gets you asking questions. They can break your heart, make you wonder, or make you feel proud or ashamed. Better, it connects you with people and with stories that don’t make the news and gives you the depth that regular media normally can’t deliver.

My latest documentary binge includes:

Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue — the history of the American Horror Movie and how what happened in the nation’s history affected the kinds of horror stories told.

Confederate States of America — an alternate history documentary where the Confederates won and slavery was never abolished.

Beer Wars — a mid-2000s documentary on the beer industry, told from the POV of struggling microbreweries battling corporate giants.


Listening to George Romero and John Carpenter was a treat. Romero talked about the social commentary he tries to work into his films (and the original Night of the Living Dead, when I saw it for the first time, gutted me a full forty years after its original release date). Carpenter talked about the two kinds of horror stories, going back to the campfire tales. He said you tell horror stories about what’s outside of the group, the Other, or you tell horror stories about the horror inside the group, that we are the enemy, and that’s the harder, and more compelling, story to tell.

The Confederate States came well-timed, as I am just dipping into alternate history right now in my self-directed Viable Paradise reading list. The Civil War outcome is a perennial alt-hist setting, and I found it as much unsettling as I did captivating. Creepiest part? The presentation was such that it faked being broadcast on a real station, so there are fake ads at regular station breaks — but all of them are based on real products that were marketed in the States, some until the mid-80s! On top of that, the strategies of the fictitious winning Confederates were all based on actual plans in place if they succeeded. *shudder* What’s scarier is that I believe it could have happened that way, and that the undercurrent remains. (Canada comes out well in this alternate universe, except with the US starts bombing us…)

As for Beer Wars, at turns funny, encouraging and demoralizing, the documentary looks at the plight of emerging micro brewers battling against corporations with all the money and all the law on their sides. After the big three manufacturers emerged from the ruins of prohibition, they took steps to keep their competition in the margins and continue to squeeze them out. Just listening to their three-tiered system of distribution, the complicated, multi-state laws involved makes it clear that the goal here isn’t capitalism, but domination. I can understand, a little, the American anti-government mentality, as the laws appear in place to stop these little guys. But it’s not solely government, it’s the corporations who have bought and paid for these privileges. A truly free market isn’t the end game here, and never has.

A side note: I detested beer for the longest time. No, that’s not hyperbole. If I was going to drink alcohol, it had damn well taste good. Hard liquor, mixed drinks, and wine, please. After years of being handed Bud Lights and Coors Lights, I assumed that beer was not for me. And then I got a microbrew in my hand, and my opinion did a 180. Shout out to Lawn Chair, a fabulous beer that I can only get in one or two pubs in my city. I wonder what Canada’s beer story is like? Hmm…


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