Many of the best documentaries reach their compelling heights purely by accident. That is, like most in the genre the filmmaker starts out with a somewhat vague story arc he or she expects to orchestrate, only to have events occur in real time during filming that completely change the intended trajectory of the film. One example of this is in 1991’s Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, which trailed the heavily troubled production of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Legend has it, Coppola asked his wife Eleanor to document the behind the scenes production of his 1979 classic with the intention of later using this footage as a marketing tool for a production company the couple was trying to get off the ground. Well, needless to say, things did not go as planned. Coppola failed to foresee civil unrest in the Philippines where they were shooting, a raging monsoon destroying key set pieces, a decision to recast the lead days in, that replacement star (Martin Sheen) later suffering from a legit heart attack on set, and rampant drug use by the cast and crew (well…that last one may have been a given in those days). Coppola pretty much descends into insanity due to these developments, and Eleanor candidly captures everything on film. It’s a great watch if you enjoyed Apocalypse Now.
Anyways, I couldn’t help but think of Hearts of Darkness as I watched Weiner, a documentary about Anthony Weiner’s shit-show of a NYC mayoral run in 2013. Much like Hearts, the circumstances surrounding the subject are completely upended in the middle of the project. Over the course of this captivating inside look at a political campaign, Weiner goes from optimistic underdog comeback story (which I have to assume was the original inspiration for the doc), to front runner for the Democratic nomination, until it all comes crashing down as more and more details of his salacious online “habits” come to the forefront. It’s especially fascinating to see the subsequent closed doors interactions between Weiner, his wife Huma Abedin, and his campaign team as the scandal is unfolding. I swear, some of the scenes are straight out of HBO’s Veep. One would wonder why Weiner would allow the cameras to keep rolling through all the chaos, however one would wonder about a lot of the choices he makes. Ironically, I received this Netflix DVD in the mail this past Monday (yes, I am one of probably 12 people that still subscribes to their DVD service), aka the day Huma Abedin announced the split with her husband. This recent development adds even another layer to the must see documentary of the year. Tier 1 – RATED GREG