In recent years I've stopped watching documentaries. On the whole, the task has become futile. In the past the purpose of a documentary was to investigate a subject and present the findings to the audience in an interesting, and preferably balanced fashion. Unfortunately, all that has changed in recent years and I predominantly blame one man for that.
Now don't misunderstand me, this is not about my political persuasion or anybody else's for that matter, but Michael Moore is responsible for making documentaries unwatchable for me. I may agree with a lot of the points he made in Bowling for Columbine, Sicko etc and I may disagree with others. However, at no point did he ever try to present all of the facts on a topic. His style is to ram his personal agenda down the throat of the audience and ignore or even ridicule any attempt to disagree. This does not encourage debate, it destroys it. It's also quite a good example of how American politics is becoming increasingly combative and antagonistic.
If it were just Michael Moore doing this then it wouldn't be a problem. The problem is that, probably because Moore's films became commercially successful, everyone else has began to follow his lead. There was Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth that, while making some fascinating points, refused to engage with differing opinions and even included some 'key scientific errors' according to a high court judge. Then there was the guy that ate nothing but McDonalds for a few weeks and expected us to be shocked when he got ill. Hey buddy, try eating nothing but bananas for a month and see what happens to you.
It's not just films either. Regular documentary series in the UK like Panorama and Dispatches are copying the 'Moore Method' as I like to call it and are therefore pointless viewing in my opinion.
I realise I have spent a lot of time getting round to the subject matter of this post, but I want to make it absolutely clear how much I hate documentaries before I talk about out how much I loved Senna. It was the best thing I've seen in the cinema this year and probably the best documentary I've ever seen.
I'm sure that it helps that I am a motor racing fan and I remember watching Senna and Prost go to war with each other when I was young. I also vividly recall watching the San Marino Grand Prix in 1994 and seeing the crash that killed him. At the time Seena seemed like an old man to me. I was only 13 myself and he'd been at the top of Formula 1 almost my whole life. Watching the film this weekend reminded me of just how young he was, which made his success even more incredible.
Almost surprisingly the film doesn't show as much racing footage of Senna as you might expect. It certainly shows enough to remind you of the phenomenal skill he had and how reckless he could be, but there is much more behind the scenes footage and excellent storytelling that help to bring everything together without relying on replaying races.
His battles with Prost and the management of F1 at the time are obviously a big focus and I will confess that Senna is very much painted as the good guy, despite a few indiscretions. However, it is important to remember that despite the animosity between them, Prost was pall bearer at Senna's funeral, is a patron of the remarkable Senna foundation and was involved in the making of the documentary.
Do you need to be an F1 fan to love Senna? It helps, but I don't think it's essential. Racing may be the fulcrum around which the documentary is made, but this is a remarkably moving story about a very interesting human being. It's compelling viewing from start to finish and made me feel like there is hope yet for the genre.
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