‘The Five Obstructions’ and ‘Her Master’s Voice’ Top This Week’s Nonfics Home Picks

Five Obstructions Remastered DVD

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 April 22, 2014:

1. The Five Obstructions

[Special Remastered Edition now on DVD from Kino Lorber] — I can’t say I know all the technical details of why this has been reissued with a remastered edition, but I’m glad that I have a reason to recommend Lars von Trier’s 2003 documentary with Jorgen Leth, in which the former tasks the latter with remaking his classic 1967 short The Perfect Human five times in five different ways. I included it in my list of the best docs of the 2000s, labeling it tops in the “participatory” genre and writing the following: It’s hard to call [this] a first-person film since there are two of them guiding us through their experiment, but it fits nicely and freshly within the doc genre known mostly for autobiographical works and subjectively political films […] this doc is pretty self-indulgent, but it’s also an amusingly fascinating look at artistic restraint. Makes me with Von Trier made more non-fiction films.” I’m still waiting and hoping for that last thing to happen.

DVD extras include the original The Perfect Human, director’s commentary by Leth and a copy of the theatrical trailer.

2. Her Master’s Voice

[New to Fandor] — Speaking of someone pulling another person’s strings, here’s a documentary about ventriloquists, which use puppets that don’t involve strings. Nina Conti, who hopefully gained a number of new fans through HBO’s recent short-lived series Family Tree, directed and stars in this personal doc about her trip to the Vent Haven convention following the death of her mentor and lover, Ken Campbell. Her main puppet, Monkey, who was also on Family Tree (which was created by Christopher Guest, who produced this doc), joins her and provides a hilarious means through which she can talk about herself from what seems like two different perspectives. Here’s a snippet of my review of the film from the 2012 SXSW Film Fest: “One of the fun, fresh things the filmmaker does is interview herself and others via this monkey puppet, which functions as a kind of surrogate […] it’s interesting to see Conti using the two levels here, and yet there is definitely no hiding. She is extremely open and candid in her film, and I think she also gets a good deal of honesty out of others by letting them talk to Monkey and the camera. For such a short, seemingly simple doc about ventriloquism, Her Master’s Voice is remarkably complex and important to the consideration of both art forms.”

Also available to stream on Netflix Watch Instantly.

3. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — This listing previously appeared in another form on another Nonfics Home Picks: This doc by Brad Bernstein is about children’s book and erotica illustrator Tomi Ungerer, who would make it worth watching even if it wasn’t that well made. As I’m quoted in the marketing materials as saying, he is “easily the most wildly fascinating artist profiled in a documentary since Crumb.” Note that’s not praise for the work he appears in. But it is a decent doc in its own right, focusing on Ungerer’s relationship to the dark absurdities of life since his birth, and it features some nice animations of his drawings. Also see Maurice Sendak in one of his final appearances and learn about Ungerer’s philosophy of “coping not hoping.” In my capsule review from the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, I write the following: “Filled with raunchy humor (‘a behind is like a smile you can hold in your hands’), sheer bursts of humanity and the wonderful drawings, both G- and X-rated, of a deeply imaginative and insightful soul.”

Also available on DVD and iTunes

4. Exit Through the Gift Shop

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — Nominated for an Oscar and winner of the top prize at the 2011 Cinema Eye Honors, Banksy’s amusing and subversive look at street art is even more significant than a lot of people gave it credit for then. It’s one of a a handful of docs that stick it to the art world establishment (the two latest of which are Finding Vivian Maier and Art and Craft) in a way that is still very necessary. We still don’t know how much of it is a construct and how much genuinely happened as we see it, but especially with four years behind us, it doesn’t matter. Not just because we’re so celebratory lately of the “art of the real” but because it’s always deserved recognition for being the “real of the art.”

Also available on DVD, Blu-ray, iTunes, Netflix Watch Instantly, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube

5. The Trials of Muhammad Ali

[Now on DVD via Kino Lorber] — This listing previously appeared on another Nonfics Home Picks: One of my top 20 docs of last year, this historical film by Bill Siegel (co-director of Oscar nominee The Weather Underground) looks at Muhammad Ali’s life following his conversion to Islam and his protest of the Vietnam War, which landed him a prison sentence for draft evasion and ruined his favor with many Americans for decades. From my ★★★★ review: “[Siegel] doesn’t waste space with the usual, cliche stock footage of Vietnam and undefined shots of random protests in the streets. Every bit of material appears to be directly relevant. It helps that there is much archival footage of Ali to use, but even with access to and allotment of tons of footage many filmmakers still include familiar filler. I don’t know for sure how much here is previously unseen content, but it all definitely feels fresh while also being entirely essential … It’s a look at a history by way of Ali, and it’s a look at Ali by way of history, and it’s one of the best docs I’d claim to have learned something from all year.”

DVD extras include The Mock Trials of Muhammad Ali, Extra Scenes, Educational Resources and Audio Commentaries

Also available on DVD, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and YouTube

6. My Best Fiend

[New to Fandor] — It’s Werner Herzog on his late leading man Klaus Kinski. How could you not want to see this? The 1999 documentary is part of Fandor’s ongoing exclusive programming of the filmmaker’s work, perfectly following their offerings of the two biggies starring the crazy actor, Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo.

Also available on DVD

7. The Last Gladiators

[New to Netflix Watch Instantly] — One of the many documentaries by Oscar winner Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side) released last year, it got a bit lost between his more topical features We Steal Secrets and The Armstrong Lie. Technically from 2011 (that’s when it premiered at Toronto), the film looks at hockey players in the enforcer position in the NHL, specifically Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, who is another in a long line of great talking heads in Gibney’s docs. Here’s part of my review at Film School Rejects: “What really allows this doc to transcend the sports fan demo is its correlation to a number of war veteran films we’ve seen in the past decade. Nilan’s rise and fall is one thing, but more interesting is the psychological cultivation that came with his position and the expectations put on him to be a fighter out on the ice. Like the soldier who comes home and has trouble reintegrating into society, Nilan and other enforcers from the toughest era of the NHL seem too prone to violence off the ice, especially post-retirement. As Nilan notes at the beginning of the film, watching fighting in hockey for many fans is a way of vicariously letting out aggression. Now, imagine those who regularly literally performed this aggressive outlet no longer having it.”

Also available on SnagFilms, Google Play and Vudu.

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

The Address

Austen Country: The Life & Times of Jane Austen

Baby Boom Years: 1953

Baby Boom Years: 1960

Baby Boom Years: 1967

Bettie Page Reveals All [Also on Blu-ray]

Billie Jean King (American Masters)

Evel Knievel: The Last American Daredevil

The Five Obstructions — Special Remastered Edition [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★]

Freedom Riders

Ghosts at Sea: Paranormal Shipwrecks and Curses

Killer Typhoon: The Aftermath of Cyclone Haiyan (Nova)

La Maison de la Radio

The Mormon Wars: Early Persecutions, Hawn’s Mill, Nauvoo War, Johnston’s Army, War on Polygamy

Moulin Rouge: The Cabaret Of Life

Pit №8

Swiss Rails

Through the Lens

To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter

The Trials of Muhammad Ali [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review]

New to Netflix Watch Instantly:

16 Acres

Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement

Exit Through the Gift Shop [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story [Nonfics rating: ★★★★]

From One Second to the Next

Kings of Pastry [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

La Maison de la Radio

The Last Gladiators [Nonfics rating: ★★★]

Rising From Ashes

New to iTunes/Amazon Instant/VOD:

The 3 Rooms of Melancholia [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

Acadia Acadia?!? [Nonfics rating: ★★★★; Nonfics review] — Fandor

The Anonymous People — Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Vimeo

Bettie Page Reveals All — Amazon, iTunes

Billie Jean King (American Masters) — Amazon

The Case of the Grinning Cat — Fandor

A Cow’s Life— iTunes

The Dog and His Various Merits — Fandor

Great Irish Drinks: The History of Irish Breweries & Distilleries— Amazon

Her Master’s Voice [Nonfics rating: ★★★★] — Fandor

The Hooping Life — Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, VOD, Vudu and Xbox

Lenny Bruce Without Tears — Fandor

Love and Other Anxieties — Fandor

Making Light in Terezin — Amazon

My Best Fiend— Fandor

My Name is Faith — Amazon

Nanook of the North [Nonfics rating: ★★★★★] — Fandor

Round About Hollywood — Nonfics

The Skin I’m In — Fandor

Stolen Art — Fandor

To Chris Marker, An Unsent Letter — Amazon

Watermelon Contest — Fandor

Way of Life — Amazon

Must-See Nonfiction TV:


Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [4/23 on Free Speech TV, 1pm ET]

The Flaw [4/23 on Link TV, 1pm ET]


Magnificent Desolation: Walking On the Moon 3D [4/24 on 3net, 3am ET]

West of Memphis [4/24 on Starz Cinema, 3:50am ET]

Kumare [4/24 on Pivot, 9am ET]

The Other F Word [4/24 on Showtime East, 11:20am ET, and on Showtime West , 2:20pm ET]

Valentine Road [4/24 on HBO Signature, 12:35pm ET]

Chimpanzee [4/24 on Starz Kids & Family, 4:25pm ET]

Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest [4/24 on Palladia, 7pm ET]

Queen of the Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? [4/24 on Free Speech TV, 9pm ET]


The Garden [4/25 on Free Speech TV, 3am ET]

Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life & Times of Katrina Gilbert [4/25 on HBO2 East, 2pm ET, and on HBO2 West, 5pm ET]

Paris is Burning [4/25 on Flix, 8pm ET]

Grizzly Man [4/25 on Starz Cinema, 10pm ET]


Dragonslayer [4/26 on Showtime Next, 12:30pm ET]


Pearl Jam Twenty [4/27 on Palladia, 2:30pm ET]

Magnificent Desolation: Walking On the Moon 3D [4/27 on 3net, 4pm ET


Mondays at Racine [4/28 on HBO East, 8am ET, and on HBO West, 11am ET]]

Gloria: In Her Own Words [4/28 on HBO Signature, 12:55pm ET]


Paris is Burning [4/29 on Flix, 12am ET]

Unraveled [4/29 on The Movie Channel, 6:30am ET]

(Editor in Chief)

Christopher Campbell is the founding editor of Nonfics.