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10 Facts About the Films That Inspired Documentary Now!

Catch up on Season One of Documentary Now! this month on IFC and streaming on Netflix.

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Documentary Now! combines the brilliant character work of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader while paying tribute to some of the best documentaries of all time. As you rewatch the first season of Documentary Now! on IFC this month before season 51 premieres on September 14th at 10P, check out some facts about the real documentaries that inspired this hilarious series.

1. Grey Gardens Inspired Film, TV, Broadway, Music and This Fierce Finger Wag:

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As you probably know, the “Sandy Passage” episode is based on the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens. The Maysles Brothers groundbreaking film has also been adapted into a 2009 HBO film with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore. It also became the first documentary to be adapted into a Broadway musical, where Mary Louise Wilson and Christine Ebersol won Tonys for their roles as Big and Little Edie, respectively.

If that wasn’t enough, the film inspired a song on Rufus Wainwright’s album Poses, and Jinkx Monsoon won a challenge on Rupaul’s Drag Race with her impersonation of Little Edie. And we’re pretty sure it’s the only documentary to kick off a trend of wearing sweatpants on your head.


2. Grey Gardens Happened By Accident. Just like Little Vivvy’s fall.

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Albert and David Maysles initially intended to make a film about Lee Radziwill, the younger sister of Jackie Onassis. During their research, they met Jackie’s other family members, Big and Little Edie. When they decided to halt the Radziwill project, it made perfect sense to switch over to the most eccentric family in the Hamptons. If someone comes out in a turban and a dress made of curtains, you can’t let that go unfilmed.


3. Nanook of the North was Groundbreaking…

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The episode “Kunuk Uncovered” is based on the silent 1922 film Nanook of the North, which is considered one of the first documentaries ever made. Sure there were the big hits of Train Leaving a Station, but Nanook was a full-length feature that took the audience to a completely foreign world. Following the travails of an Inuk man and his family in the Canadian Arctic, Nanook of the North is considered a significant achievement and was one of the first films ever selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.


4. …But Just Like “Kunuk,” Far from Factual.

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After Nanook of the North was released, director Robert J. Flaherty (whom John Slattery played a version of in Kunuk Uncovered) was accused of staging moments of the film, preventing it from being a true documentary. In the film, Nanook is shown hunting with spears, having two wive, and confusing a phonograph for food. (See Doc Now!‘s take on that moment above.)

In reality, Nanook’s real name was Allakariallak, the Inuits had hunted with guns for years and Nanook’s wives in the film were actually Flaherty’s real life common law spouses. (Flaherty’s wives and Allakariallak also knew that a record is not a cookie.) Though these changes seem egregious for a documentary today, in a way Nanook laid the groundwork of the constructed “reality” behind reality TV.


5. Vice Reporters Really Do Get Into Dangerous Situations.

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In “Dronez: The Hunt for El Chignon,” hipster reporters keep getting into deadly situations on their hunt for a major drug lord. Then they do a bunch of cocaine with said drug lord.

In the Vice drugs series, which the episode was loosely based on, the reporters really do delve deep into a variety of deadly situations. In fact, they talked to a real life Walter White. Literally — his name is Walter White and he deals meth in Alabama. In one episode, the team befriends a gang during a heroin epidemic in Swansea. But the most shocking moments are in Vice’s “Krokodil Tears” expose. The reporters explore an decrepit border town of Siberia where the addicts have turned to using Krokodil, a mixture of eye drops, caffeine, and gasoline that’s injected. It’s called Krokodil because the users skin gets scaly and they begin to rot from the inside. Good things the Dronez reporters never tried the stuff.


6. The Thin Blue Line was Almost About Dr. Death.

The Eye Doesn't Lie

The Thin Blue Line, Errol Morris’ acclaimed documentary about a man sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit, is another case of a documentary finding its subject in an unexpected place. The film (which Documentary Now! paid tribute to as “The Eye Doesn’t Lie“) began as an exploration of Dr. James Grigson, the psychiatrist who earned the name Dr. Death from his testimony in over 100 death penalty cases. But when Morris came across the Randall Adams case that featured damning testimony from Dr. Grigson, something didn’t seem right. Morris then shifted the film to Adams and created the fascinating documentary that’s considered one of the most influential of all time.


7. The Thin Blue Line Basically Created the True Crime Genre.

The Eye Doesn't Lie

A former private investigator, Errol Morris was an early pioneer of using reenactments to unravel a real life criminal case and having his subjects directly address the camera. Without his work, we wouldn’t have Serial, The Jinx, Making a Murderer and pretty much the entire true crime documentary genre.  Plus, there would never have been Rescue 911, which is the saddest idea of all.


8. Randall Adams Sued Morris, Though the Film Saved His Life.

The Eye Doesn't Lie

Because of The Thin Blue Line, Randall Adams eventually had his death sentence overturned and was released after 12 years in jail. So, did Randall send Morris a card or a nice stuffed animal as a thank you? No. He sued Morris over his life rights. Apparently, he didn’t care about the money, he just didn’t like the idea of someone having the rights to his entire life story. Perhaps he didn’t consider that he had a life only because of Morris’ use of his story.


9. The Eagles Break Up Was Just as Dramatic as the Blue Jean Committee’s Split.

Blue Jean Committee

The Chicago meat lovers in Blue Jean Committee broke up due to inadvertently playing a vegetarian benefit, but the Eagles real life break up was just as dramatic. In the 2013 documentary History of the Eagles, on which “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee” is based, the “Take It Easy” band launch into an onstage spat at a benefit for Senator Alan Cranston.

During a meet-and-greet before the show, guitarist Don Felder shook Cranston’s hand and said “You’re welcome, Senator… I guess.” This enraged his fellow Eagles member, the late Glenn Frey, who had words with Felder backstage and they both continued threats during the concert. Frey said “We’re out there singing ‘Best of My Love,’ but inside both of us are thinking, ‘As soon as this is over, I’m gonna kill him.'” Who knew that “I guess” would be the fighting words that tore a legendary band apart.


10. Don Felder Wasn’t Entirely Pleased by The History of the Eagles.

Blue Jean Committee

Though Felder enjoyed some of the Eagles documentary, especially the parts where everyone had the most ’70s hair possible, he felt it wasn’t entirely accurate. He claims that the film focuses mostly on Frey and Don Henley and discounts the contributions from himself and other members of the band. Since the doc was partially funded by Frey and Henley, Felder is probably right. He is definitely right about the hairstyles being a highlight of the film, though. Clearly Bill, Fred and the rest of the Documentary Now! team also appreciated the Eagles’ awesome hairstyles and ‘staches.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

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

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The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.