Great documentaries on Netflix Streaming

At the end of the day, neither my husband nor I have the patience for a movie or the stamina for a drama. Sometimes we feel good enough to watch a nice documentary, though, and we’re finding lots of excellent ones on Netflix. Some of our favorites:

Being Elmo: about Kevin Clash, the creator of Elmo, who apparently is Sesame Street these days. Brought tears to my eyes and made me stop profaning my toddler daughter’s idol behind her back.

Helvetica: I don’t have the energy to be a typeface geek, though I genuinly wish I did. This documentary about the font Helvetica made me really love it, and is full of quirky people being quirky and geeky about fonts. I get all warm and squishy inside when I see a nice spread of Helvetica Bold now.

The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: if you’ve never understood the mechanics behind urban decay and the failure of public housing, and how the plight of the urban poor developed in mid-20th century America, watch this documentary. It will lay out the basics for you and make you feel smarter.

ETA, The Thin Blue Line: a classic that I first watched in a film aesthetics class in college. It lays out an at-the-time controversial murder case. The convicted murderer was eventually exonerated and freed, largely due to the popularity of this documentary. Bonus points for having Philip Glass music.

Any more good 'uns?

Man on Wire - A look at tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s daring, but illegal, high-wire routine performed between New York City’s World Trade Center’s twin towers in 1974, what some consider, “the artistic crime of the century.”

It’s not on there yet, but I have to plug Riding Giants. I didn’t care about surfing at all, but this movie is just so well made, and the personalities they capture - these old badasses all the way back to the 50s. It must be seen.

Food Inc.

If this doesn’t get a re-mention or a “this” I’ll chop off and eat my left foot. It’s organic anyways. :wink:

Seriously, I think it should be required viewing, just to see how agri-business works, and to see what goes on behind the labels, and in the farms. There’s some really creepy business involved in what your kids eat.

I’ll come back with more, and maybe pie, but this is the one people need to see IMHO.

Exit Through The Gift Shop - starts off as a documentary about street art, but then becomes… something different. Very entertaining and thought provoking.

The documentary about the Eames - designers of the ubiquitous Eames chair and many films including The Power of Ten, is very good. Cool 1950s futuristic themes, and the Eames themselves had quite an interesting relationship.

I watched one called: Zeitgeist the movie’ I wasn’t really sure what it was supposed to be about. It started off really interesting. Talking about the similarities between many religions and then they gradually go bat shit insane talking about: “The powers that be are out there man, and they want us all to be there slaves man…”

I’m thinking WTF? How the hell do you go from an interesting topic like various religions and somehow morph that into a big conspiracy theory that evil rich guys want to enslave us?
Another one is: “What the (bleep) do we know?” I recommend this one, not because I believe any of it but because the level of bat shit crazy goes beyond the pale.

I’m particularly fond of: Ramtha the 35,000 year-old spirit-warrior from the lost city of Atlantis. Who is really just a middle aged housewife.

I’ve seen & liked all the ones mentioned in the OP, so I’d add:

[li]Confessions of a Superhero: Docu about the people who dress as film characters and hang out on Hollywood Blvd essentially panhandling for money from tourists to take pictures with them. Sad, kinda creepy, and amusing all at the same time.[/li][li]The People vs George Lucas: A bit on the fanboy side, but still an effective report on Lucas’ film making history that isn’t just for Star Wars geeks. Really shows the incredible irony of Lucas himself having been ‘seduced’ by the darkside of money vs art. Don’t know how they got clearance for all the film clips![/li][li]Dark Days: A little tough to watch, very low-key and shot mostly in near total darkness, chronicles a group of homeless people living in abandoned subway tunnels in NYC. No preaching or judgements, just documents their lives.[/li][li]Deep Water: An unsettling, amazing, and heartbreaking story of a British family man who entered an around-the-world sailing race in the late 1960s hopelessly unprepared in his boat, equipment, and especially himself. Amazing the life-choices he ultimately makes rather than face failure & shame. Shows how much the world has changed compared to today’s anything-goes reality TV mindset.[/li]

I just watched Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World. I found it very interesting, but not precisely what I had been expecting. Antarctica, and the scientific studies done there, has been a fascination for me for decades. Normally, one watches these to have a single study, or region illuminated. Instead, this seems to have been a very personal documentary for Herzog. While there are plenty of scientists and studies being showcased, the real focus is on the people whom Herzog meets.

At one point one of the people being interviewed mentions that when they got to McMurdo Station and started meeting people their reaction had been one of coming home - that at last they’d found “my people.”

Perhaps most interesting to me is that by the subjects and commentary that he provides while Herzog almost never comes in front of the camera, the documentary is at least as much about Herzog, as it is about anyone in front of the camera.

I did a recent thread (that generated almost no discussion) about Pianomania.

An I have to vehemently disagree about Zeitgiest, which I watched just a few days ago. I really looked forward to it, as I believe religion is a major negative influence on society. But I found it to be possibly the worst, most undocumented documentary ever. Well, maybe it gets better – I turned it off in disgust after about 20 minutes. I considered making a thread about how bad it was, but I would have felt bound to watch it to the end and I wasn’t willing to do that.

Ahhh, I remember my first encounter with Zeitgeist! A (now former) friend who is a real sucker for conspiracy theories sent me a copy of it on DVD. After watching for about 20 minutes, I ejected the disc and called a fumigator to treat my DVD player.

Here’s the Wikipedia article about the movie: Be sure to read the section, Critical Reaction.

And a plea to any 'Doper with Wikipedia-editing privileges. The article on the creator of the Zeitgeist movie franchise and media movement needs to have its neutrality checked. It is basically an advert for his “oeuvre”.

I really liked “The Parking Lot Movie”. A friend recommended it and I found it humorous, fascinating and just well done.

First, I need to apologize for my disagreeing with Shakes, who I thought was praising Zeitgeist by including it in this thread. Because of my experiencing the horror of it so recently, reaction was visceral and too quick.

Also, if you look that the Wiki link above, someone has taken an axe to the page and apparently deleted almost all of the content. Clearly there is a conspiracy to hide the truth.

I don’t think they count as documentaries, as they are brief (less than 20 minute) lectures on arts, science, and culture called TEDtalks. Netfflix has several groups of related lectures as series, and they are outstanding. You can watch more than a thousand of these lectures at, all given by the people atually doing the exploring and making the discoveries.

I haven’t seen this yet, but a few weeks ago I was reading the summary and thought to myself “Oh, that’s why everyone suddenly likes Bansky” I don’t claim to know that much about him, but I know I had heard of him (here) years earlier. It just struck me as odd that whenever I see a list of interests, how often Bansky would come up…now I know why. It reminded me of the episode where someone asks Chandler how long he’s liked swing music for and he said “like forever…okay, since the Gap commercial game out”

Anyways…I’ve give a hardy ‘this’ to Helvetica and Dark Days.

I see The Endless Summer is on Instant. I caught it on a regular channel a few weeks ago. I had it on sort of in the background, but over the course of a half hour or so the narrators calm voice, the music, cinematography and more just sort of pulled me in and as I kept rewinding parts to rewatching things because I was only half paying attention, eventually I just surrendered and watched it.

You have to click on the topic headings (Synopsis, Awards, etc.) to reveal the content.

BoyoJim may have been referring to a second link I posted which I subsequently deleted. I’ll have to wait for him to clarify that for me. Sorry for any confusion!

Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. Interviews with four people whose passions are large wild carnivore training, extreme topiary, animal-like robot construction, and the lifestyle of the Giant Naked African Mole Rat. Yes, they are connected . . . obliquely.

Unidentified White Male

Despite the controversy over whether the subject actually had complete retrograde amnesia or whether it was an elaborate hoax, the film brings up a lot of difficult and interesting thoughts about identity. There are fascinating side issues about family, friends, intrinsic nature, categorical knowledge, etc. Enough to think about afterwards, and often.

On a whim I just checked, and I see two seasons of Taboo are streaming. I always enjoyed watching those. I think they’re only an hour each with commercials, so probably under 50 minutes on Netflix.
There’s 26 episodes, so you should be able to cherry pick the ones that pique your interest.

I wonder why they spelled “tapu” like that…