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10 Docos To Help You Understand Art

Categories Lifestyle

Watch these 10 documentaries and you’ll at least be able to fake it a bit, writes Michael Adams.

Spoken word
AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE
Think spoken word’s all about beret-wearers declaiming about tortured, violent patriarchs? American memoirist Spalding Gray turned that on its head with his brilliantly funny confessional monologues. Steven Soderbergh’s film utilises only Gray’s own words – culled from home movies and films like Swimming To Cambodia – to tell his heartbreaking story against the backdrop of experimental theatre.

Art forgery
F FOR FAKE
Despite his decline, Orson Welles’ last film was brilliant. F For Fake is ostensibly about legendary art forger Elmyr de Hory but it uses the man as a prism to skew our ideas about creators and creativity. With its laugh-out-loud twist, Welles proves he lost none of the moxie that led to him to stage his 1938 War of The Worlds radio hoax.

Street art
EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP
Banksy’s documentary is supposedly about a French oddball named Thierry Guetta who becomes obsessed with street art before becoming a commercial success with mass produced painting under the moniker “Mr Brainwash”. Hugely entertaining, Exit questions authenticity and the value of art so much that we don’t know if Guetta actually exists – or whether he’s one of Banksy’s guerrilla installations.

Bill Cunningham

Photography
BILL CUNNINGHAM NEW YORK
Cunningham is an octogenarian photographer who has chronicled the clothes worn on Manhattan’s streets and catwalks for over 50 years. Cycling around the city, he’s as comfortable at fashion week as he is with ordinary folk. Utterly unaffected by money or pretence, the man’s incorruptible and unconcerned with what anyone thinks.

Cartooning
CRUMB
Long before Watchmen and Walking Dead turned comics into “graphic novels”, Robert Crumb made cartooning a savage satirical art with creations like Fritz The Cat and Mr Natural. Terry Zwigoff’s no-holds-barred doco lays R. Crumb and his crazy brothers bare with such verve that this is often cited as the best non-fiction film ever.

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Cinematography
SIDE BY SIDE
Follow Keanu Reeves as he talks to the biggies – David Lynch! Martin Scorsese! James Cameron! Christopher Nolan! – about the pluses and minuses of shooting their masterpieces on digital or film. Side By Side’s side effect: you’ll learn a helluva lot about the history of film.

Typography
HELVETICA
If you wanna stand your ground with your graphic designer friends, soak up this obsessive look at the font developed in 1957 and used on just about everything from the New York subway to American Apparel ads. Sleek and abstract, or lowest common denominator? Find some pro and anti-serif mates and discuss.

 

Painting
CHUCK CLOSE
Everything you need to know about the creative process might be found in this look at the American photorealist painter who’s as surprised as anyone that applying pigment to a flat surface actually results in his monumental paintings. Bonus: with musings from Philip Glass.

Chuck Close

Architecture
MY ARCHITECT
Nathaniel Kahn didn’t really know his dad, American architect Louis Kahn, who died in 1973. So he set out to see all of his buildings, made this film, and interviewed other architectural geniuses like I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry. Go on this journey and your Lego creations will improve out of sight.

Fashion
VALENTINO: THE LAST EMPEROR
“I love beauty – it’s not my fault,” is how the Italian designer explains his motivation in a documentary every bit as gorgeous as his frocks. But there’s much more to him and his work, ranging from his lifelong love affair with business partner Giancarlo Giammetti to the hard-headed business of the rag trade that saw his empire bought out while the film was being made.

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