Normally I don't pay much attention to newswire critics, but Tuesday's article by Christy Lemire (Associated Press & Canadian Press) put me in a defensive mood. Lemire has written a piece in which she reflects on the movies she's seen in the first half of 2006, and realizes that her current top ten list is made up primarily of documentaries. I don't reject the declaration that we're experiencing another good year for docs, but since critics have been making this same observation for the pasts several years, it makes you wonder if it's the docs that are getting better or simply the fiction films that are getting worse. Or is it a little of both?
I say that it's neither. Documentaries just always seem universally better than narratives. Because they typically lack artificial elements like acting, plot and dialogue, on which viewers most easily judge the qualities of fiction films, docs are more difficult to analyze. Despite the fact that some docs are misleading and may distort or completely fabricate facts, they always have the perception of reality, and for most people, reality means truth and truth means good.
With most documentaries, the audience is given more than mere entertainment, whether it is taught something, is convinced of something, or prompted to think about something further. In this way, docs are rarely a waste of time, and therefore critics may find it difficult to give them bad reviews. But what about when a doc isn't intent on being educational or insightful? How is it that Dave Chappelle's Block Party is a great film for someone (me) who doesn't necessarily favor the comedy of Chappelle of the music of the film's featured artists?