Category Archives: Documentary

Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch

hutto1A few minutes into watching the documentary “Touching the Wild: Living with the Mule Deer of Deadman Gulch,” the story of wildlife researcher Joe Hutto and his study of mule deer, I became aware that I was meeting an extraordinary person.

Joe, who lives on a ranch near the Wind River Mountains, of Wyoming, had dedicated himself to patiently earning the trust of the deer, and after two years the deer finally began to respond. Once he won full acceptance from their matriarch, a doe he called Raggedy Anne, he could move among the individuals in the herd: He had become part of the family. He was to spend the next years of his life with the deer, who are keenly intelligent animals.

muleThe mule deer live in families, and each deer has its own personality. There are family bonds, and the deer will stay with and mourn for a dying member. The deer themselves are, well, dear. With big soft ears and gentle, intelligent faces, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Joe guards against anthropomorphizing the animals, but notes their “human” qualities, and wonders if loyalty, love, and the ability to grieve and mourn aren’t actually common to many animals, and aren’t really solely human at all.

The hardest scenes in the documentary are taken during hunting season, when hunters  “hunt the region hard.” Joe has hunted all his life, but with mule deer populations falling, feels that they should be protected. When a hunter kills a mule deer Hutto has known since the deer was a fawn, named Buck, he asked Hutto how old the deer might be. Hutto responded, “I know exactly how old he is. I’ve known him since he was a speckled fawn. I have all his shed antlers.”

Hutto feels that a hunter should know what he is hunting. Instead he sees hunters with high-powered rifles and high tech devices shooting from great distances, never truly entering into a contest with their prey. The moment when old Buck is loaded into a pickup truck like a sack of potatoes is a really hard one to watch.

touchingAfter watching this documentary, you may wish to read the companion book to it, also called Touching the Wild.

Hutto is the author of Illumination in the Flatwoods, which was made into the celebrated PBS Nature documentary, My Life as a Turkey, chronicling his exhaustive study of wild turkeys. He is also the author of The Light in High Places, an account of living alone in the high country of Wyoming observing the life of the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.

Tim’s Vermeer


The Music Lesson

The documentary Tim’s Vermeer is the story of Texas inventor Tim Jenison’s obsessive quest to recreate a Vermeer. Vermeer, a seventeenth-century Dutch painter, is often mentioned as one of the greatest of all artists, with his paintings of domestic life glowing with an inner light. They are also startlingly realistic—some would say photorealistic.

Jenison believes that
Vermeer used a device called a camera obscura, an optical device that projects an image of its surroundings on a screen. The image is projected upside down, and Jenison believes that Vermeer used a mirror to correct this.

camera obscura

camera obscura

verneer5Tim’s Vermeer is as much the story of Tim, as it is of Vermeer. His nature is obsessive, and the viewer is repeatedly astonished to see the lengths Tim will go to accurately reproduce a Vermeer called “The Music Lesson.” As well as using a camera obscura, he recreates the setting, including making a virginal, the keyboard instrument shown in the painting. He makes his own lens to seventeenth-century specifications, and grinds his own pigments for paint.

secretknowledge He also traveled to Delft, Holland, where Vermeer painted, and to Yorkshire to meet artist (and Vermeer fan) David Hockney, and to Buckingham Palace to see the Queen’s Vermeer. Hockney had written his own book on the use of optical devices by artists, called Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters.

vermeer2Then we watch Jenison, who labors for hour after hour, reproducing each brushstroke as he re-creates the Vermeer. He completed the painting in six months, and brought it to David Hockney to see. Is Tim’s Vermeer as good as Vermeer’s Vermeer? It’s really not clear that Jenison’s painting is that good—we don’t get a close enough look. And there is a telling moment when Jenison unveils the painting before Hockney, who remains silent, and then comments on the realistic carpet.

My guess is that Vermeer did use such a device, or something similar, but that his artist’s eye came into play, as well, and this explains Hockney’s silence—perhaps Jenison’s painting has everything but that mysterious something that is the soul of the artist.

girlYou might want to watch the movie Girl with Pearl Earring after seeing this. You get to see some of the process by which Vermeer painted, including the grinding of his paints, though there is no sign of a camera obscura.




Flicks for Fabulous Fashionistas

For the fashionistas among us, here are four documentaries about fashion greats Halston, Diana Vreeland, Carine Roitfeld and Yves Saint Laurent to slurp up while indolently leafing through the latest Vogue and painting your toenails.

vreeThe first is Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel 2012 (746.92 DIA). Diana (pronounced dee-ahna) worked as editor-in-chief at Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, singlehandedly bringing fashion into the modern world and out of the hands of a privileged, stuffy elite. She was known for her eccentric, but amusing, pronouncements, such as “Why don’t you wash your blond child’s hair in dead champagne, as they do in France?” and “Why don’t you wear violet velvet mittens with everything?” Really, why not? She discovered major models such as Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and the fabulous Veruschka. She was also known for her tremendous sense of personal style—her lacquered hair, her rouge, even for polishing the bottoms of her high heels every day.

vree1Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston 2010 (746.92 ULT), was, for me, the most enjoyable of these documentaries. Halston began as a milliner and created the famous pill box hat worn by Jackie Kennedy. He went on to revolutionize women’s clothing, simplifying and bringing fashion into the future. His ultrasuede shirt dress became an instant classic. He had a coterie of women followers, including Elizabeth Taylor, Bianca Jagger and Liza Minnelli, and they often partied the night away at Studio 54.

The seventies, with its avocado refrigerators and shag carpets, is sometimes remembered as an era of nightmare design, but seeing Ultrasuede reminds us of that era’s elegance. By the early eighties, though, fashion times had changed, and his empire crumbled and then collapsed. The party was over.

madcMademoiselle C 2014 (746.92 MAD) is about Carine Roitfeld, the least known of this group, at least to me. Mademoiselle C is for the hard-core fashionista, as it’s a  detailed documentary about Carine as she starts up her fashion book/magazine, called CR Fashion Book, in 2012. She doesn’t come across as warm and fuzzy, but if you are interested in the creative process behind magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s, it’s enlightening, and she does hobnob with fashion luminaries such as Karl Lagerfeld. Her hair, though, remains a mystery (meow!).

lamourL’Amour Fou  2011 (746.92 AMO) details the life of Yves Saint Laurent and his business partner and lover Pierre Berge. There are wonderful vintage clips of fashion shows, along with glimpses into their fabulously decorated homes. After Saint Laurent’s death in 2008, these belongings were sold in an auction at Christie’s for $483.8 million.

In some ways, this documentary is a meditation on having it all–is it ever enough? Saint Laurent suffered from depression, and the ups and downs of the creative process in the hot house atmosphere of the Paris fashion world ultimately destroyed him.

You might also be interested in the documentary September Issue 2009 (746.92 SEP) which details the creation of a September issue of Vogue magazine, always the biggest of the year.