Thanks to the rise of digital video and the increase in box office, documentaries have become far more plentiful in recent years. In some ways that's a good thing; it means more worldly, educated moviegoers walking around. But it's also a bad thing for anyone who has to see more than a half dozen over a year's time. You start to notice the exact same techniques employed: talking heads, archival clips, filmed photographs, perhaps a narrator, and perhaps -- if we're lucky -- some actual new motion picture footage exposed just for the project.
Public television (not to mention Humphrey Jennings and his World War II-era industrials) years ago defined the format and rhythms for documentaries, and most filmmakers slavishly follow them, even if it flies in the face of their subject matter. I've seen documentaries on groundbreaking, and even indefinable artists such as John Cage and Syd Barrett filmed in exactly this same format. You'd think that the filmmakers would get inspired by their subjects and break out of the routine. Even more frustrating was the recent doc An Unreasonable Man, which told the story of Ralph Nader, and used Ralph Nader as one of a series of talking heads -- in his own movie. If the filmmakers had access to Nader, why not actually utilize him?