3 eye-opening documentaries: NPR

From the HBO documentary Brandy Hellville and the cult of fast fashion.

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From the HBO documentary Brandy Hellville and the cult of fast fashion.

HBO

True crime documentaries, con artist docs, serious docs… one of the most notable developments in the streaming age of television is the release of new documentaries and series continual. The trouble for someone wanting to check out some of them is that they go by in a blur, and many of them have similar titles and promotions. There are still big entries: On April 21, HBO will premiere a follow-up series to the massive crime hit The Jinx – but there are also a lot of lower profile projects flying by, so let's take a moment to look at a few current projects.

What Jennifer did

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A feature film about a home invasion in 2010 that left a woman dead and her husband in a coma. What Jennifer did is mainly told from the point of view of the police who gradually focused on the couple's daughter, who was home at the time. Crime documentaries on the police side are usually the least interesting to me, and in this case it feels like there's a huge amount of context missing about the family, in favor of a fairly simple “she wanted to be with her boyfriend” story. But I say that partly because I've read it Karen Ho's 2015 piece in Toronto life which examines more broadly what led to this bizarre act. Netflix, available now.

Brandy Hellville and the cult of fast fashion

YouTube

I can honestly tell you that I wasn't all that familiar with the Brandy Melville brand before watching this film, which tells the story of how social media helped turn a bunch of nondescript little shirts into a juggernaut. (It's more complicated than that, and… not.) The story of the gross retail culture (which reminded me of a lot of parts of the Netflix film White Hot, about Abercrombie & Fitch) is interesting and quite lively, but I would have preferred to spend a little more time on the fast-fashion element, which I think is ripe for more documentary work. Max, available now.

The Synanon fix

YouTube

Sometimes it feels like documentaries are their own extended universe. I was just watching a completely different spectacle about the “troubled teen” industry and its dark history, and it mentioned how Synanon, which started in California as an addiction treatment program, influenced much of what became the “we'll grab your poorly behaved teen out of bed, bring 'em to a remote location, don't let them interact with anyone and turn them around' model. And now Synanon has its own docuseries, which explores if and when Synanon turned into what you would call a cult. (Was it the head shaving? The mass weddings? The dictates about reproduction?) But what's most striking is the consideration of how a program and a community can change shape, and it takes a while for people inside and outside the program to do so. record these changes. HBO, airing now.

We're just scratching the surface of what's out there: Netflix's #1 show as I write this is theirs Unlocked: A Prison Experiment, about a “program” that gives incarcerated men more freedom. And I'm 100% committed to finding time before it ends on April 20 to watch Menus-Plaisirs — Les Troisgrosthe latest from the great documentarian Frederick Wiseman, available on PBS.

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