Our 12 Favourite Documentaries Of 2016

2016 was a year in which reality began to seem rather unreal, where real-world developments beat satirical shows like Veep and Saturday Night Live to the punch with some of the most bizarre turns of events in recent years, with a reality-TV star and general man-child (or as he called himself on Twitter this month, “ratings machine DJT”), now readying himself to become leader of the free world. Like The Donald, documentaries this year have turned their hard gaze to globalisation, with John Pilger, Werner Herzog, Fisher Stevens and Adam Curtis all flitting between dozens of outsider communities whose human stories represent global hope, and tragedy.

Conversely, others have turned to hard introspection: particularly American documentaries who face down their fractured nation by confronting the effects of climate change, foreign affairs and race relations. Meanwhile others pursued an entirely personal philosophy: capturing the people facing huge challenges – be it cult seduction, artistic integrity or personal loss. What follows are a list of the 12 documentaries released in the last 12 months which best represent our planet, the challenges which face it, and the people who live here, as they often instill great faith and optimism when we need it most.

12. Into The Inferno (Netflix)

One of two Netflix documentaries helmed by cinematic pioneer Werner Herzog this year, Into The Inferno takes a deep dive into volcanoes.  It’s this kind of seemingly obtuse subject matter which Herzog utilises to cast a light on the manner in which one breed of natural phenomenon can shape whole histories and cultures; as for certain island tribes and the people of North Korea, who have given them religious status, while their sediment has preserved fossils which could help us solve the key of our species’ evolution. Threaded between a plethora of cultures are extended sequences of footage from the fiery core of three volcanoes, with images of explorers dwarfed by fountains of molten lava providing some of the most striking images of the year.  Continue reading “Our 12 Favourite Documentaries Of 2016”

The Birth (and Death) of the Popular Music Counterculture

‘Counterculture’ may be a term only coined in the sixties, but its reach stretches back into the movement of 18th century Romanticism, and its foundation in the poetry of William Wordsworth. In truth, it’s always been about the poetry. From the writing of Bob Dylan in the folk revival of the sixties, flanked by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, to Patti Smith; laying down the groundwork of punk in the 1970’s. A lack of poetry then is perhaps to blame for the lack of an emergent counter-culture in recent decades; although it may be the most lyrical of musical mediums, rap music, which seeks to lay the path for a future resurgence.

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William S. Burroughs & Jack Kerouac

The point of a counter-culture is that exists on the fringes. When it becomes populist then naturally it becomes a culture to be countered: such is the ebb and flow of the music industry over the past sixty years. The beat generation was the first counter-culture to boast popular music as one of its facets, and the first to emerge since the Bohemian movement of mid-19th century Europe. Encompassing the likes of painter Jackson Pollock, author William S. Burroughs and poet Allen Ginsberg, the scene emerged in response to the clean-cut and wholesome, but tepid state of being eminent in post-war America, and folk-revivalism in the heart of Greenwich Village was an essential aspect of the movement. Continue reading “The Birth (and Death) of the Popular Music Counterculture”