Collected Works of Bill Morrison and ‘The Last of the Unjust’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Bill Morrison Box Set

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. 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 September 23, 2014:

1. Bill Morrison: Collected Works (1996–2013)

[New to Box Set via Icarus Films] — Bill Morrison is one of the great experimental nonfiction filmmakers working today where everything he does is necessary viewing. So, catch up or collect some of his best with a new five-disc box set that includes 16 features and shorts from the past 18 years. Of course, they include Decasia, as well as his latest, The Great Flood, plus The Miners’ Hymns, and Spark of Being. Shorts include Light is Calling, The Film of Her, The Mesmerist, Just Ancient Loops and more. Here’s Landon Palmer on Decasia at Film School Rejects: “Bill Morrison’s Decasia — an experimental, carefully manipulated assemblage of decayed film stock accompanied with a score by Michael Gordon that will haunt your dreams — was chosen for preservation this past week by the National Film Board. Beyond the clear irony of this selection, it’s also quite timely, as now is perhaps one of the most urgent of times to get acquainted with film as an object. With an industry moving exponentially to digital and with studios shutting down their libraries, Decasia (beyond its existence as an absolutely mesmerizing film) provides a vital meeting between the viewer and the increasingly foreign materiality of film itself.” (★★★★★)

2. The Last of the Unjust

[New to DVD, Blu-ray and HD Digital via Cohen Media Group] — The latest from Shoah director Claude Lanzmann is another postscript for that 1985 landmark documentary and more. It’s built around one interview shot for the film but not ultimately included, now at last available on its own. The subject is Benjamin Murmelstein, the only Nazi-appointed Jewish Elder (Judenälteste) of a concentration camp, in his case Theresienstadt, to survive the war. In his review, Daniel Walber calls it “a character study of a most significant nature. This controversial relic of history is the one man we have left who can help us understand how such horrors can happen in a world of human beings. In fact, we don’t even have him anymore. All we have is this week of interview footage from over thirty years ago, a voice from the past whose perception of an even further past is inevitably skewed by time. Lanzmann and others have already told us to ‘Never Forget.’ With this new film he is not changing that, but rather is extending our memory into the grayer, more confusing corners of this past.” (★★★★)

Digital outlets for the film include Amazon Instant Video, Vudu YouTube and iTunes.

3. The 50 Year Argument

[Premieres on HBO on Monday, September 29th] — Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi (Scorsese’s editor on previous docs including Shine a Light and Public Speaking) co-directed this film about the half-century of the New York Review of Books, and it’s notable for being one of the better-looking docs from Scorsese, definitely worth checking out on the big screen if you can. Here is part of my take from this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest: “What sounds like a total puff piece and one that’d be limited in reach given its highbrow subject matter is in fact a surprisingly accessible and appealing appreciation of the NYRB. Celebratory, yes, intellectual, yes, but The 50 Year Argument is neither too soft nor one bit snooty[…] The intellectual world is filtered enough to be digestible to a wider audience yet remains brainy enough for the true NYRB crowd, as well.” (★★★★)

Also available on HBO On Demand beginning on September 30th.

4. Town Bloody Hall (A Dialogue on Women’s Liberation)

[On DVD via Pennebaker Hegedus Films] — Tonight, NYC’s Stranger Than Fiction documentary series begins a new season at the IFC Center. Their program this fall is focused on D.A. Penebaker and Chris Hegedus and opens with this 1979 collaboration from the couple. If you can’t make it to that screening (and its Q&A with the filmmakers), you should seek it out elsewhere and feel a part of the crowd. The legal way to do that would be with the DVD via their site. If you need an extra nudge, Rian Johnson says it’s “unmissable.” Here’s a bit about the film from my list of great women’s history docs: “More record than history, but what a fascinating document it is. Direct Cinema masters Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker capture the riotous 1971 debate on sexual politics between Norman Mailer and representatives of the women’s movement, including Germaine Greer, Jill Johnston, Jacqueline Ceballos and Diana Trilling. Actually, it was Pennebaker who did the capturing, as Hegedus didn’t come into his life until a few years later, and it was really she who took the thought-worthless footage and turned it into this film. How perfect that one of the great women documentarians is responsible for such an exceptional work, though it’s somewhat unfortunate that her husband still gets much more credit.” (★★★★)

5. Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert

[New to Buy on Amazon Instant Video] — This listing previously appeared in some form on another Nonfics Home Picks: 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) is 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.

6. Koch

[Available Free to Stream on] — As someone who grew up with the New York City of the 1980s (more so on TV and in movies than on site) who saw Ed Koch as a celebrity, maybe the first politician I knew of after the President, this doc appeals to my interests tremendously. I think that it’s worth seeing even if you’re not me, though, because that place and that time and that man are so individually and so collectively complex that it’s hard not to make a great history out of the material. Yet some of the most vital content director Neil Barsky weaves in is the modern day stuff, which offers a profile of a figure who continues to be controversial, on the street, at events and during family get-togethers. He’s not the most likable character, but I can’t help like that he’s still very outspoken, even if that means providing further evidence of racism and opportunism. (★★★)

Also available on DVD, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, YouTube and Google Play.

7. The Amazing Race Season 25

[Season Premiere on CBS this Friday, September 26th] — Yeah, I’m highlighting a reality competition series on the Home Picks, because The Amazing Race is that much of a guilty pleasure — but it’s also one of the few shows of its kind that I don’t think is exploitative trash. Dumbed down, sure, but it’s a bit of an educational travelogue at it’s best. I’m particularly curious about the chances of famed surfer and shark attack victim Bethany Hamilton and the chances of this show now that it’s on Friday nights.

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

Bigfoot: Tracking a Legend (Extended Cut)

Bill Morrison: Collected Works (1996–2013)

Elementary Genocide

Hero of the Day

History’s Most Notorious (National Geographic Classics)

Hit and Stay

The Last of the Unjust [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] [Also on Blu-ray]

Michael Jordan: Air Time (NBA Hardwood Classics)

Michael Jordan: Come Fly With Me (NBA Hardwood Classics)

Michael Jordan: His Airness (NBA Hardwood Classics)

Michael Jordan’s Playground (NBA Hardwood Classics)

The Mystery of Agatha Christie with David Suchet

Rocky Mountains

Slaying the Badger (ESPN 30 for 30)

Unsung Heroes: The Story of America’s Female Patriots

Where’s the Fair?

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia


New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

Agnes Varda: From Here to There — Fandor

The Art of Observing Life — Fandor

Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater — Fandor

Erebus — Fandor

Everybody’s Child — Amazon

Free the Mind — Amazon

The Gay Agenda — Fandor

Good Fortune — Amazon

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia — Amazon

Investigation of a Flame — Fandor

Italy’s Mystery Mountains — Amazon

Jerry’s Deli — Fandor

Koch [Nonfics rating: ★★★] — PBS

The Last of the Unjust [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Manakamana [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Nonfics review]— Fandor

Memories of a Dreamer — Fandor

Pauline Trigere — Fandor

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert [Nonfics rating: ★★★; Film School Rejects review] — Amazon

Sara Gomez: An Afro-Cuban Filmmaker — Fandor

Sons of Benkos — Fandor

Sotigui Kouyate — Fandor

The Tattooed Lady of Riverview — Fandor

Truth in Numbers — Fandor

The Unanswered Question — Fandor

Vivian Maier: Photographer — Fandor

Young Filmmakers — Fandor

Your Day is My Might — Fandor

Must-See Nonfiction TV:

(All Times Eastern)

Wednesday — 9/24

9:10am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 East]

12:10pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 West]

11:35pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO Signature East]

Thursday — 9/25

3:00pm: Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve [Al Jazeera America]

Friday — 9/26

5:15am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

8:15am: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

9:00am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Next]

3:30pm: Rize [Showtime Next]

6:10pm: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Next]

8:00pm: The Amazing Race [CBS]

Saturday — 9/27

3:55am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of Texas [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

6:55am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of Texas [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

2:00pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 East]

5:00pm: A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY [HBO2 West]

Sunday — 9/28

4:05am: Rize [Showtime Showcase]

5:35am: Mad Hot Ballroom [Showtime Showcase]

8:00pm: I Am Divine [Showtime Showcase]

9:30pm: Paris is Burning [Showtime Showcase]

Monday — 9/29

9:00pm: The 50 Year Argument [HBO East]

9:35pm: The 12 O’Clock Boys [Showtime Next]

Tuesday — 9/30

12:00am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO West and HBO Latino East]

3:00am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO Latino West]

3:10am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature East]

3:45am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO East]

6:10am: All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State [HBO Signature West]

6:45am: The 50 Year Argument [HBO West]

7:30am: Casting By [HBO East and HBO Latino East]

10:30am: Casting By [HBO West and HBO Latino West]

4:00pm: Mad Hot Ballrom [Showtime Family Zone]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.