I’ve watched a lot of documentaries. A lot.
About every subject you can imagine…. Low budget film-making in Wisconsin. Incredibly dubious murder trials in West Memphis. Animal activists living at one with nature in amongst their grizzly friends in the wilderness.
You name it there’s a doc out there to fit your needs. And these are all movies brimming with memorable protagonists- people like Timothy Treadwell. Mark Borchardt. Damien Wayne Echols. Compelling, irascible humans with charisma and perhaps just a little touch of mania too.
You might well have heard of some of these.
The ones you might not have heard of however are on occasion… even more awesome…
Yes, I’m talking about the random folks who pop up momentarily in these incredible docs; friends, and neighbours of the main star who though they might not get much screen-time somehow wheedle their way into your heart nonetheless with their own particular brand of joyful craziness.
So this is just a small post saluting the great unnoticed heroes of these films, the ones that show up for just a moment but leave you with the urge to grab them by the shoulders, take them down the pub and hang the hell out with them for at least one night…
Welcome to my drinking mates of choice-
1. Mike Schank from American Movie (1999): I mean how could you not put him in, right? How could you not love the long-haired, permanently smiling small-town rocker whose blindfolded guitar playing is only bested by his amazing stories of drug-taking?! This guy is as sweet as he is out there and the fact that he’s treated as one of the family by Mark Borchardt’s clan basically says it all. Watch out for his therapy scenes in the director’s short film Coven too- the guy can’t act but he is an absolute legend! I’d totally pay money to go drinking with this dude.
2. Dan Stidham from Paradise Lost (1996): aka Jesse Misskelley’s defense attorney. Now I’ve got to admit that I don’t know much about practising law but the way Stidham went above and beyond for his client in this terrible case shows just what a committed and moral man he is. Even with the complete lack of resources at his disposal he fought and fought for the boys years after their conviction, spending his own money on the case and taking time out of his personal life to find forensic experts to help him in his quest…. And all because he believed, absolutely, that they boys were innocent. The guy deserves recognition for everything he did, everything he continues to do and I’d gladly buy him a pint down the pub.
3. Kermit Love from Being Elmo: A Puppeteers Journey (2011): aka The wild-bearded puppeteer who took a teenage Kevin Clash under his wing and showed him everything he ever wanted to know about puppetry (or muppetry depending on your opinion.) This guy might just make the list for the fact he would make the most realistic Mall Santa ever hired… But aside from that he was also generous, creative, in love with his job until he basically died and come on, he freaking made Big Bird and Snuffy for Sesame Street! He’s in. No question. He can even have the booth at the back if he wants.
4. Willy Fulton from Grizzly Man (2005): Once again props for the facial hair- that’s gotta take some work right there. But aside from being a fantastic helicopter pilot and a friend to Timothy Treadwell on his trips to Alaska, this cool dude also delivers fantastic interviews on camera- unsentimental but touching, hard but realistic at the same time. He’s a mans man flying over a harsh landscape and it seems kind of fitting that he’s one of the three people who scatter Timothy’s Ashes at the end of the doc. I imagine he’d take his whisky no-nonsense straight up in some local bar with sawdust covering the floor but that’s ok, I’d still buy him one!
5. Stephen Segerman from Searching for Sugarman(2012): And lastly we come to the good-humoured South-African record shop owner who loved the singer Sixto Rodriguez so much that he upped sticks and flew to America just to find out if he really had killed himself as legend told. This documentary contains a whole bunch of wonderful people who stick in the viewer’s mind (including Rodriguez himself and his daughters) but for me, Segerman represents everything that’s brilliant about real music fans. He’s passionate, brave, cheerful and willing to go anywhere in the world to answer the question that he’s been lost in his whole adult life. And when he finds out Rodriguez is still alive…well, just check it out for yourself. He gets my vote and a pint of whatever he fancies!
So there you have it- my pick of the lesser-spotted documentary star. Anyone want to add someone to the list- feel free to comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts…