DID YOU READ

Stranger than Fiction

12 Bizarre True Stories that Became Must See Documentaries

Grizzly Man

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By Bruce Cherry

Documentaries chronicle the entire gamut of human experience, from the stirringly inspirational to the heartbreaking, the tragic, and the hauntingly beautiful. And just like life, some of the best documentaries are just downright weird. To get you ready for the uniquely hilarious documentaries that the 50th season of Documentary Now! has to offer, here are 12 docs that put the “strange” in “stranger than fiction.” If you’d like to experience the oddness first hand, head over to the SundanceNow Doc Club and check out some great documentary filmmaking.

12. Crazy Love

It’s the same old story — guy meets girl, they fall in love, complications ensue, guy has lye thrown in girl’s face permanently blinding her, does 14 years for the crime, gets out, and then they get married and live happily ever after. And you thought you had some dysfunctional relationships! Burt Pugach and Linda Riss give new meaning to the phrase “You crazy kids deserve each other.” It’s the perfect film for a truly weird date night.


11. In the Realms of the Unreal

The longest work of fiction ever written in human history is a 15,000-plus page work by a reclusive janitor in Chicago without friends or family. Henry Darger typed his work on an old manual typewriter alone in his apartment over the course of 60 years. Filmmaker Jessica Yu’s documentary tells the story of Darger, a man so socially isolated that only a handful of photos of him exist. The documentary focuses on Darger’s work, which was found by his landlord after his death. It was titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion…and the title is the least odd thing about Darger’s sprawling and bizarre opus. But this doc uses its haunting strangeness to make people think about the human urge to create.


10. Cat Dancers

If this doc were a work of fiction, the pitch would be “Deadly jungle cats being trained by people engaged in a threesome” or simply “Menagerie and Menage-a-trois!” Husband and wife entertainers Ron and Joy Holiday worked exotic jungle cats into their act, and then worked fellow cat-trainer Chuck Lizza into their relationship, and their bedroom. With those kinds of complicated dynamics at work, you know that somebody is going to end up getting hurt—and we’re not just talking heartbreak.


9. Crumb

You have to figure that the underground cartoonist who gave the world Fritz the Cat would have a few quirky kinks in him. And yes, we learn in this brilliant documentary that as a child, Robert Crumb felt a sexual attraction to Bugs Bunny. What you don’t expect is that he seems to be by far the most normal member of his family. Crumb’s two brothers, who appear extensively in the film, are even more tormented than he is. Artists in their own right, their respective issues kept them from achieving the sort of fame that their brother Robert did. Filmmaker Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World) spent the nine years it took to make this film in poverty and suffering back pain that left him suicidal. What he got for all that suffering is a finished product that is one of the greatest documentaries ever made.


8. Air Guitar Nation

Yes, there is a world championship of Air Guitar. And yes, somebody made a documentary about it. And yes, yes, yes, it ROCKS! Director Alexandra Lipsitz’s feature-length doc focuses on the rivalry between aspiring air guitar greats C-Diddy and Bjorn Turoque (say it out loud). They battle it out for the first-ever title of US Air Guitar Champion before heading to the world championships which are held every year in Oulu, Finland. This doc is more funny-strange than disturbing-strange, though that depends on just how disturbing you find the thought of grown people playing air guitar on stage is.


7. Grizzly Man

If there is a sub-genre of weird documentaries, then it’s documentaries about people being eaten by things they should really leave alone (see Cat Dancing). That genre was pioneered by Werner Herzog’s brilliant Grizzly Man. It’s about bear aficionado Timothy Treadwell who spent years filming grizzlies in Alaska—way, way too closely. Much of the footage is Treadwell’s own, including an audio recording of the bear attack that killed him and his girlfriend. The concept is so harrowing that the film just shows us a shot of someone watching Werner Herzog listening to the recording on headphones—and even that is spine-chilling!


6. I Think We’re Alone Now

This is the story of not one, but two individuals who have an obsession with ’80s teen-pop singer Tiffany. Jeff is a 50-year-old man diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome who has never been in a relationship. Kelly is a 38-year-old “intersex” person from Colorado who claims to have seen a vision of Tiffany while in a coma and now believes that they have a special relationship. Director Sean Donnelly takes us inside the lives of these two people on a journey that is at times amusing, sad, and oddly hopeful. In the end we see them as human beings. Oh, and Tiffany comes off pretty well too.


5. Married to the Eiffel Tower

Here we have a documentary about women with a sexual fetish that sounds more like an idea for a digital short on SNL— they form intimate attachments to large objects like the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t know if you’ve seen the lines for getting onto the Golden Gate Bridge or going up the Eiffel Tower, but if you’re going to have a relationship with them, it’s sure not going to be exclusive. People with the condition are called Objectum Sexuals, or OS people. Kudos to the women in the documentary for going public with their condition…though it’s kind of hard to hide it when you’re fondling the Golden Gate Bridge in front of confused tourists.


4. Marwencol

After a brutal beating outside of a bar left him with severe brain damage and very little memory of his prior life, Mark Hogancamp began his recovery in a highly unusual way: He built a 1/6-scale World War II-era Belgian town in his backyard and named it Marwencol. Then he populated it with dolls that represented the people in his life—family, friends, and even the men who attacked him—and he created scenarios to help him try and regain his memory and basic motor skills. He took photos to document his stories, and when they were published, Mark found his self-made therapy being celebrated as art. Like In the Realms of the Unreal, this documentary from Jeff Malmberg explores the intersection of fantasy and reality in art.


3. Zoo

OK, there is a second sub-genre of strange documentaries— the ones that deal with things that people have sex with that they probably shouldn’t (see Married to the Eiffel Tower). Zoo in this case refers to “zoophile,” or someone who likes to have sex with animals. Wait…it gets worse. This particular doc deals with a man who died of peritonitis after his colon was perforated during an, uh, “encounter” with a horse. Try taking that in—the concept, I mean. OK, even though I find it impossible to describe this doc with anything remotely resembling taste, the film itself was praised by reviewers. So it seems that filmmaker Robin Devore made some wise decisions, even if that’s more than you can say for the guy the documentary is about.


2. Vernon, Florida

An early (1981) film from master documentarian Errol Morris, Vernon, Florida proves that the search for strangeness doesn’t have to take you to the wilds of Alaska or the Realms of the Unreal. You can find weirdness in any old town, though it sure doesn’t hurt if the town is in Florida. Morris originally went to Vernon because the town had an extremely high rate of people cutting off their own limbs for insurance payouts. Vernon, Florida doesn’t even get to that, as Morris allows the oddball characters of the town to ramble on freely, resulting in an affectionate ode to small town eccentricity.


1. Grey Gardens

The mother of all strange documentaries, or more accurately, the eccentric mother and kooky daughter of all strange documentaries. Albert and David Maysles landmark 1975 doc tells the story of an elderly mother and grown daughter (relatives of Jackie Kennedy) who are now down and out, living in the decaying family mansion in the Hamptons along with various vermin and raccoons. Big Edie and Little Edie are the iconic strange documentary subjects— nutty, but full of personality and often animated and joyful. That goes a long way toward making a viewer feel better about peeking into an oddball private world like theirs. If there is a Goddess of Strange Documentaries, she looks just like Little Edie in the scene where she does her flag dance to the brass band music.

Missed the premiere of Documentary Now! and suffering from serious FOMO? Catch the first episode at any of the times below or check it out on demand.

8/22/2015 @ 12:30PM

8/23/2015 @ 11:00PM

8/23/2015 @ 05:30AM

8/30/2015 @ 11:30PM

8/26/15 @ 01:00PM

8/27/15 @ 04:30PM

8/28/15 @ 05:00AM

8/29/15 @ 11:45AM

See how Documentary Now‘s “Sandy Passages” compares to Grey Gardens below.

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Grow TFU

Adulting Like You Mean It

Commuters makes its debut on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Jared Warner, Nick Ciavarella, and Tim Dean were once a part of Murderfist, a group of comedy writers, actors, producers, parents, and reluctant adults. Together with InstaMiniSeries’s Nikki Borges, they’re making their IFC Comedy Crib debut with the refreshingly-honest and joyfully-hilarious Commuters. The webseries follows thirtysomethings Harris and Olivia as they brave the waters of true adulthood, and it’s right on point.

Jared, Nick, Nikki and Tim were kind enough to answer a few questions about Commuters for us. Here’s a snippet of that conversation…

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IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Nick: Two 30-somethings leave the Brooklyn life behind, and move to the New Jersey suburbs in a forced attempt to “grow up.” But they soon find out they’ve got a long way to go to get to where they want to be.

IFC: How would you describe Commuters to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jared: It’s a show about how f*cking stupid people who think they are smart can be.

IFC: What’s your origin story? When did you all meet and how long have you been working together?

Jared: Nick, Tim, and I were all in the sketch group Murderfist since, what, like 2004? God. Anyway, Tim and Nick left the group to pursue other frivolous things, like children and careers, but we all enjoyed writing together and kept at it. We were always more interested in storytelling than sketch comedy lends itself to, which led to our webseries Jared Posts A Personal. That was a show about being in your 20s and embracing the chaos of being young in the city. Commuters is the counterpoint, i guess. Our director Adam worked at Borders (~THE PAST!!~) with Tim, came out to a Murderfist show once, and we’ve kept him imprisoned ever since.

IFC: What was the genesis of Commuters?

Tim: Jared had an idea for a series about the more realistic, less romantic aspects of being in a serious relationship.  I moved out of the city to the suburbs and Nick got engaged out in LA.   We sort of combined all of those facets and Commuters was the end result.

IFC: How would Harris describe Olivia?

Jared: Olivia is the smartest, coolest, hottest person in the world, and Harris can’t believe he gets to be with her, even though she does overreact to everything and has no chill. Like seriously, ease up. It doesn’t always have to be ‘a thing.’

IFC: How would Olivia describe Harris?

Nikki:  Harris is smart, confident with a dry sense of humor but he’s also kind of a major chicken shit…. Kind of like if Han Solo and Barney Rubble had a baby.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Nikki:  I think this is the most accurate portrayal of what a modern relationship looks like. Expectations for what your life is ‘supposed to look like’ are confusing and often a let down but when you’re married to your best friend, it’s going to be ok because you will always find a way to make each other laugh.

IFC: Is the exciting life of NYC twentysomethings a sweet dream from which we all must awake, or is it a nightmare that we don’t realize is happening until it’s over?

Tim: Now that i’ve spent time living in the suburbs, helping to raise a two year old, y’all city folk have no fucking clue how great you’ve got it.

Nikki: I think of it similar to how I think about college. There’s a time and age for it to be glorious but no one wants to hang out with that 7th year senior. Luckily, NYC is so multifaceted that you can still have an exciting life here but it doesn’t have to be just what the twentysomethings are doing (thank god).

Jared: New York City is a garbage fire.

See the whole season of Commuters right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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C'mon Fellas

A Man Mansplains To Men

Why Baroness von Sketch Show is a must-see.

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Mansplaining is when a man takes it upon himself to explain something to a woman that she already knows. It happens a lot, but it’s not going to happen here. Ladies, go ahead and skip to the end of this post to watch a free episode of IFC’s latest addition, Baroness von Sketch Show.

However, if you’re a man, you might actually benefit from a good mansplanation. So take a knee, lean in, and absorb the following wisdom.

No Dicks

Baroness von Sketch Show is made entirely by women, therefore this show isn’t focused on men. Can you believe it? I know what you’re thinking: how will we know when to laugh if the jokes aren’t viewed through the dusty lens of the patriarchy? Where are the thinly veiled penis jokes? Am I a bad person? In order: you will, nowhere, and yes.

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Huge Balls

Did you know that there’s more to life than poop jokes, sex jokes, body part jokes? I mean, those things are all really good things, natch, and totally edgy. But Baroness von Sketch Show does something even edgier. It holds up a brutal funhouse mirror to our everyday life. This is a bulls**t world we made, fellas.

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Oh Canada

After you watch the Canadian powerhouses of Baroness von Sketch Show and think to yourself “Dear god, this is so real” and “I’ve gotta talk about this,” do yourself a favor and think a-boot your options: Refrain from sharing your sage wisdom with any woman anywhere (believe us, she gets it). Instead, tell a fellow bro and get the mansplaining out of your system while also spreading the word about a great show.

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Dudes, that’s the deal.
Women, start reading again here:


Check out the preview episode of Baroness von Sketch Show and watch the series premiere August 2 on IFC.

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Happy Tears

Binge Don’t Cringe

Catch up on episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia.

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Photo Credit: GIFs via GIPHY

A brain can only take so much.

Every five minutes, all day, every day, ludicrously stressful headlines push our mental limits as we struggle to adapt to a reality that seems increasingly less real. What’s a mind to do when simple denial just isn’t good enough anymore?

Radical suggestion: repeal and replace. And by that we mean take all the bad news that keeps you up at night, press pause, and substitute it with some genuine (not nervous, for a change) laughter. Here are some of the issues on our mind.

Gender Inequality

Feminist bookstore owners by day, still feminist bookstore owners by night, Toni and Candace show the male gaze who’s boss. Learn about their origin story (SPOILER: there’s an epic dance battle) and see what happens when their own brand of empowerment gets out of hand.

Healthcare

From Candace’s heart attack to the rise of the rawvolution, this Portlandia episode proves that healthcare is vital.

Peaceful Protests

Too many online petitions, too little time? Get WOKE with Fred and Carrie when they learn how to protest.

What Could Have Been

Can’t say the name “Clinton” without bursting into tears? Documentary Now!’s masterfully political “The Bunker” sheds a cozy new light on the house that Bill and Hill built. Just pretend you don’t know how the story really ends.

Fake News

A healthy way to break the high-drama news cycle is to switch over to “Dronez”, which has all the thrills of ubiquitous adventure journalism without any of the customary depression.

The more you watch, the better you feel. So get started on past episodes of Documentary Now! and Portlandia right now at IFC.com and the IFC app.

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