‘A Brief History of Time’ and ‘Paycheck to Paycheck’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

A Brief History of Time Criterion

Most people don’t get to see documentaries until they arrive on a home video platform of some kind, whether it’s DVD, Blu-ray, VOD, iTunes, TV, Netflix streaming, etc. So, this may be the most important post of the week for fans of nonfics. Join us every Tuesday for a look at what documentaries and reality programming is recommended by myself and other contributors to the site. As always, if you know of something we missed or should be aware of, drop us an email or a note down below.

Here are our ordered picks for March 18, 2014:

1. A Brief History of Time

[New to Criterion DVD and Blu-ray] — It’s a great time for science documentary, what with Particle Fever out in theaters and the new Cosmos series on television and now finally, after so many years of being unavailable, this Errol Morris film about Stephen Hawking (partly based on his best-selling science book) arrives on video. I was fortunate enough to see it on the big screen at DOC NYC a few years ago, but I’m looking forward to checking out this special edition release, which has digitally restored the film with a 4K transfer supervised by cinematographer John Bailey. Here’s a bit from Landon’s essay/review here on Nonfics: “As a documentary about complex ideas, A Brief History of Time is remarkably accessible. It’s easy for the uninitiated to understand Hawking’s sizable impact in the world of science, especially when accompanied by detailed illustrations and a Philip Glass score. But this film is as much a biography as it is a journey through scientific theory. Morris sees these two aspects as one in the same: it’s impossible to separate the ideas from the person who produced them. As such, A Brief History of Timeportrays the person as event.”

Bonus features: new interviews with Morris and Bailey; an essay by critic David Sterritt; excerpts from Hawking’s books A Brief History of Time and My Brief History

2. Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert

[Streaming Free on HBO.com and on YouTube] — This new doc from directors Shari Cookson (Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen) and Nick Doob (Al Franken: God Spoke) and producer Maria Shriver (who previously worked with the filmmakers on The Alzheimer’s Project) has been deemed such an important, necessary work that HBO is streaming it free on its website and its HBO Documentary Film YouTube channel all this week. It’s a portrait of poverty in America through the story of a single mom struggling to get by let alone move up. Here’s what Kate Erbland had to say of the doc at Film School Rejects: “Cookson and Noob’s documentary spent a year with Gilbert as she and her children — Brooklyn, Lydia, and Trent — attempted to keep their heads above water and rise above the poverty line. Gilbert’s story is not a unique one, and Paycheck to Paycheck seeks to both shed light on her individual story and the greater problem of women and children teetering on the brink of poverty…Paycheck to Paycheck serves as a compelling conversational jumpstart to get more and more people talking — and doing something — about America’s problem with poverty.”

Also available on HBO GO and airing on HBO channels beyond the free offer.

3. For the Bible Tells Me So

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — At seven years old, Daniel G. Karslake’s film is no less important and relevant today, even while there have been advances in the form of marriage equality and seemingly greater cultural tolerance of homosexuality. The focus is on people using the Bible as a means to condemn those in the LGBT community and on religious families that have adapted or not to one among them — child or spouse — coming out as gay. If you’ve seen the more recent doc Love Free or Die, this is a sort of predecessor in that it also features the story of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop. One part of the doc that I find especially powerful is a section showing graphic images of people who’ve committed suicide or been beaten to death. As we’ve seen previously in Battleship Potempkin and the story of Emmett Till, displaying brutally battered bodies can be very instrumental in moving people to action.

Also available to rent on Google Play and YouTube.

4. The Loving Story

[New on Netflix Watch Instantly] — Another great film about the struggle for tolerance and civil rights, Nancy Buirski’s 2011 doc chronicles the landmark Supreme Court case of interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving in the 1960s. Without it being directly noted, it’s has obvious parallel relevance to the issue of marriage equality today. And it all works well for its mix of past and new footage, much of it playing out with just the archival stuff, making it another piece of “historical verite.” Here’s part of my review at Film School Rejects: “Buirski [fills] her documentary with an extraordinary amount of real-time material of the subjects courtesy of never-before-seen verite film shot from 1965 on by Hope Ryden, one of the direct cinema pioneers (she was then a member of Drew Associates, along with such legends as Robert Drew, D.A. Pennebaker, Ricky Leacock, James Lipscomb and Albert Maysles), and cinematographer Abbot Mills. In exceptionally preserved, absolutely beautiful black and white and color footage, we watch the everyday lives of the Lovings and get to hear from them (mostly from the more candid Mildred) while their story plays out. Photographs taken by Grey Villet for a LIFE magazine story on the couple also contribute remarkably towards the transportation of the audience to the era, while audio from the Supreme Court proceedings fill out to fully engross us in the narrative.”

Also available to rent on Amazon and Vudu.

5. People of a Feather

[New to iTunes, Vudu and Google Play via Cinedigm] — This listing previously appeared in another Nonfics Home Picks entry. Daniel Walber, who wrote our ★★★ review, has now also seen the DVD and offers the following addendum: “The dominant characteristic of Joel Heath‘s People of a Feather is its diversity, the variety of approaches the director takes to his central topic, which is the plight of the eider duck in the changing environment of Canada’s Hudson Bay and the impact the birds have on the local community. And just as the film itself divides its time between scientific detail, historical reenactment and contemporary social portraiture, so do the special features on the DVD.

There are some very helpful supplementary videos, additional material for anyone who wants to learn more about any one aspect of the film. This includes an overview of the history of the islands, a behind the scenes look at Heath’s reenactments of Robert Flaherty‘s lost footage and some additional information on the scientific study of the eider duck. There’s also an “Arctic Rap” music video that Heath made with the local kids featured in the film. It’s pretty fantastic.

Also available on DVD

6. Bhutto

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This doc looks at the life and leadership of former Pakastani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. Here’s part of Landon’s review for Film School Rejects: “Refreshingly, Bhutto avoids a voice-over narration to tell us what’s going on at any given moment. Instead, the film opts for an array of voices, including the volumes of print and moving image media available that allows the subjects of the documentary (living and dead) to tell their own stories alongside a variety of interviewed experts (journalists, politicians, and Bhutto family members; even Condoleeza Rice shows up unexpectedly to talk about, of all things, America’s abandonment of Pakistan).This strategy works in both the film’s favor and disfavor. On the one hand, we get a variety of voices and media to tell this story. On the other hand, as my lengthy synopsis shows, the subjects of this documentary are incredibly complex and the film covers them at a hurried pace, so the multitude of voices occasionally become a hodgepodge of ambiguous partners in narration, losing their individuality and unique perspectives in favor of soundbites that give just enough information to move the film along until contrasts in their perspectives later become evident.”

Also available on DVD.

7. Any of the Recommended Docs Airing on TV on March 20th

Thursday is a special day: my birthday. I wouldn’t have mentioned it except that I was amazed to see that, coincidentally, that day is filled with a ton of terrific docs programmed to show on various cable stations. The titles I’d love to invite you all to watch with me are, in order, West of Memphis, Foreign Parts, Chimpanzee, Make Believe, State 194, Last Days Here, Paycheck to Paycheck, 99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film, We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists and The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. You’ll either need multiple TVs or to DVR some of these to fit everything in, as they are overlapping in times (see below for info). Even if you watch one that’ll be enough of a gift for me this year.

New to DVD [and/or Blu-ray]:

Blood Moons: Decoding the Imminent Heaven Signs

A Brief History of Time (Criterion Collection) [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] [Also on Blu-ray]

Clayton Barbeau

Faith of Our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs

Lipstick & Liquor: Secrets of the Suburbs

Roman Catacomb Mystery (Nova)

The Siege of Cincinnati

Survivorman Ten Days

To Catch a Trader (Frontline)

Torture Made in USA

The Tundra Book: A Tale of Vukvukai, the Little Rock

Walking the Western Front Somme: The Dark Woods of Picardy, July-August 1916

Wyoming Triumph

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Bhutto

Breaking the Maya Code

Fidel

For the Bible Tells Me So [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Forgiving Dr. Mengele

A Girl and a Gun [Nonfics rating: ★★; Film School Rejects review]

Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral

Live Nude Girls Unite!

Living Downstream

The Loving Story [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review]

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

The Laughing Matter

Okie Noodling [Amazon]

People of a Feather [Nonfics rating: ★★★ ; Nonfics review] [iTunes, Playstation, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube & Xbox]

Romeo, Romeo

Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo [iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube & Xbox]

The Tundra Book: A Tale of Vukvukai, the Little Rock [Amazon]

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

Wednesday

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [3/19 on Link TV, 12am and 9pm ET]

Kumare [3/19 on Pivot, 11am ET]

Make Believe [3/19 on Showtime Next, 1:35pm ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/19 on HBO2 East, 8pm ET, and HBO2 West, 11pm ET]

Food, Inc. [3/19 on Pivot, 9pm ET]

Thursday

West of Memphis [3/20 on Starz Cinema, 2:30am ET]

Foreign Parts [3/20 on Pivot, 3:30am ET]

Chimpanzee [3/20 on Starz Edge, 5:10am ET]

Make Believe [3/20 on Showtime Next, 5:25am ET]

State 194 [3/20 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Last Days Here [3/20 on The Movie Channel, 1:45pm ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/20 on HBO East, 4:45pm ET, and HBO West, 7:45pm ET]

99 Percent: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film [3/20 on Pivot 5pm ET]

We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists [3/20 on Pivot, 7pm ET]

The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia [3/20 on Showtime Next, 11:15pm ET]

Friday

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/21 on HBO East, 12:30am ET, and HBO West, 3:30am ET]

Beware of Mr. Baker [3/21 on Showtime Next, 2:05pm ET]

Saturday

Mad Hot Ballroom [3/22 on The Movie Channel East, 5:55am ET, and The Movie Channel West, 8:55am ET]

Chimpanzee [3/22 on Encore Family, 8am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/22 on HBO2 East, 11:05am ET, and HBO2 West, 2:05pm ET]

Dogtown and Z-Boys [3/22 on El Rey, 5pm and 11:30pm ET]

Last Call at the Oasis [3/22 on Pivot, 6:30pm and 10:30pm ET]

Sunday

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/23 on HBO East, 10:30am ET, and HBO West, 1:30pm ET]

Stolen Seas [3/23 on Audience, 3pm ET]

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston [3/23 on Showcase, 11:45pm ET]

Monday

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [3/24 on Link TV, 4am ET]

Make Believe [3/24 on Showtime Next, 10:15am ET]

The Gatekeepers [3/24 on Starz Cinema, 12:35pm ET]

Dogtown and Z-Boys [3/24 on El Rey, 9:30pm ET]

Tuesday

Dogtown and Z-Boys [3/25 on El Rey, 2am ET]

A Place at the Table [3/25 on Pivot, 7am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck [3/25 on HBO2 East, 7:50am ET, and HBO2 West, 10:50am ET]

Food, Inc. [3/25 on Pivot, 9am ET]

Microcosmos [3/25 on HDNET, 11:05am ET]

El Bulli: Cooking in Progress [3/25 on Link TV, 3pm ET]

Gloria: In Her Own Words [3/25 on HBO2 East, 5:10pm ET, and on HBO2 West, 8:10pm ET]

More to Read:

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.