Monday, April 5, 2010

Documentaries: Botany of Desire and Good Hair

I haven't seen a lot of documentaries in the last year. Usually I'll see one or two of the Oscar nominated documentaries, but this year I hadn't seen any. However, in the last couple of weeks, I've seen two. Good Hair is an exploration of all the lengths women, mostly black women, go to in order to have "good hair." Chris Rock decided to discover why his daughters might think they don't have good hair. He interviews famous black people about their own hair, including Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven-Symone, and Maya Angelou among others. He also travels to quite a few hair salons and talks to hair stylists about what it takes to have long, smooth hair, what it costs and where the hair comes from. As a blond, white woman I admit, I didn't really have any idea what it took to create different styles of hair. I saw Chris Rock interviewed on Oprah when he was initially promoting the movie and really wanted to see the whole thing. Rock builds the story around a competition between stylists at a huge "hair show" in Atlanta. As a documentary, it builds all the pieces to explain a story with which many people might not be familiar, without condescending to either the audience nor mocking the people he's interviewing. There are a few moments when he's in total disbelief that people will pay thousands of dollars for a weave that must be professionally maintained frequently. At least I'm a little more aware of how much I don't know now that I've seen Good Hair.

Botany of Desire is a documentary based on books and writings by Michael Pollan. Narrated by Frances McDormand, they examine 4 different plants that have been influenced by humans for very different reasons. Pollan wants to flip our perspective on these plants and look at them from the plant point of view and see how these plants, if they were able to have a thought process, were able to force humans to do their bidding. The four plants are apples, tulips, marijuana, and potatoes. Each section is told with a background about where the plant originated, how they developed to fulfill different desires in humans: sweetness, beauty, hallucinations, and nourishment. It's a really interesting documentary told from a unique perspective. I like Michael Pollan's writings so I was already intrigued by the topic, but the depth the documentary reaches is more detailed and easier to understand than some of his books. Also, it's told for a broader audience, without Pollan's strong politics involved. Both are great films that are entertaining, and interesting. 3 of 5 for both

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