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Coronavirus Break, Day Four: Documentary Recommendations

On day four, a little collection of recommended documentaries. Several of these are available to view for free. A few of them will set you back a few dollars, but I promise they’re worth it.

1. Tales from the Green Valley: Granted, the premise of this documentary series isn’t going to quicken your heart, but ten minutes in, you will find yourself confounded, humbled, and fascinated. A small team of historians attempt to live for an entire year on a British farm which is perfectly preserved from the Stuart era (the 1620s, to be precise). While modern men often boast to their ancestors of being “better educated,” you really won’t appreciate how incompetent you are at life until you watch grown men thatch a roof with twigs. This show is perfect for anyone who thinks the quarantine involves “roughing it.”

2. Italy Unpacked (Seasons 1 through 3): Just so we are clear, this show is what I think of when I think of “the good life.” An Italian chef and a British art critic tour out-of-the-way spots in Italy— during the day, the art critic lectures the chef on local paintings and sculpture, during the evening, the chef cooks local fare and lectures the art critic on traditional cuisine. The show is not so much educational as it is a refreshing dive into joie de vivre. Watch an episode and then order a pasta maker.

3. Art of the Western World: Not free, but worth fifteen dollars. This art history series for the BBC came at the tail end of the golden age of documentaries, which have (sadly) lately become overly-produced lifestyle ads for the Crate & Barrel set. Art in the Western World is a topical, chronological look at a dozen different eras of art history. Each episode is dignified, even a little austere, and host Michael Wood does not have a pushy secularist agenda by which to assault viewers with progressive slogans about self-expression and individuality. Rather, each episode is tastefully peppered with lessons on history, philosophy, ecclesiology, and aesthetics. Watch the series, then wait impatiently for museums to reopen.

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Netflix link): A remarkable portrait of Jiro, the Japanese Platonist who has worshipped the ideal form of sushi for the better part of a century now. Finish this one, then go to your local Asian supermarket to buy a sushi rolling mat and some short grain rice so you make your own at home.

5. For All Mankind: A sublime documentary of compiled footage taken on man’s first trip to the moon. Given the political significance of the American space program, one might be excused for raising a skeptical eye at the notion the Apollo 11 ascended to Luna herself “for all mankind.” However, director Al Reinert seems to have had little interest in politics after reviewing more than six million feet of film shot by astronauts and eighty hours of NASA interviews. In his 1989 documentary, the moon mission springs forward fully grown from the forehead of Zeus, without reference to mother mathematicians or physicists, scientists of any stripe, Copernicus, Galileo, or the defiled corpse of Ptolemy. What captured Reinert’s imagination is the three cowboys, Quixotes all, who rode a rocket to the nearest solid rock available. The rest of my review of this documentary is available on FilmFisher.

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