Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Netflix Cue is So Random and Other Harsh Truths

What do the militant Philly group MOVE, tainted blood products, and a demented ambulance chaser have in common? Nothing, really, except that they are all subjects of documentaries I have viewed in the past month in my Netflix cue! While I eagerly await the release of new seasons of Netflix-sponsored offerings such as Orange Is the New Black, Derek, and The Killing, I’ve had to fill in my screen time with some fairly lame titles—Fatal Attractions, a series that details the eccentric and sometimes fatal relationships exotic pet owners have with their furry and scaly charges; Who the Bleep Did I Marry, which kind of speaks for itself; and a whole bunch of teenage soap operas from ABC Family, which are in fairness not that lame at all. However, I admit that my Netflix diet of late has been filled with not a little junk food. In an effort to bring you, my devoted readers, the very best, nutritious content, I present three excellent documentaries that should be in your cue, too.

Crazy Love (2007)

Directors Dan Klores and Fisher Stevens (who starred in Short Circuit, the Ally Sheedy vehicle some love to hate) present a love story, of sorts, with the woe-filled 1950s romance of Burt Pugach and Linda Riss. Pugach is a wealthy nebbish ambulance chaser who woos the beautiful, curvaceous Linda with rides in his private plane, outings in his flashy cars, and seductive picnics. The only problem, as Riss’ grandmother points out, is that he’s married to someone else. Linda promptly dumps Burt to move on with her life after she discovers the truth, but he is having none of that. Why? Because Burt is crazy. Not just “if I can’t have her, no one can” crazy, but certifiably mad.
Pugach becomes so violently obsessed with Linda that he actually pays someone to blind her by throwing acid in her face. And that’s when things start to get very, very strange. This documentary throws a curveball that you are not inclined to forget.

Bad Blood: A Cautionary Tale (2010)

What if you depended on blood products to maintain your quality of life? Where would these products come from, and how would their quality be monitored? What if a health crisis of epidemic proportions came along and threatened your already tenuous survival? This film attempts to explore these and other issues surrounding blood products tainted by the viruses hepatitis B, C and HIV in the 1970s and 1980s. It has been sadly observed that a whole generation of hemophiliacs, who depend on blood factors VIII and IX to survive, was decimated by AIDS after unknowingly receiving tainted factor in the early 1980s.
Part of the problem was that donors were paid to give plasma, from which the factors are derived. Donation centers thus attracted people who were in less than optimal health. The FDA and the rest of the scientific community were slow to acknowledge the AIDS epidemic, so hemophiliacs were not warned about the new risks they were incurring. Along the way, the viewer is introduced to many inspiring figures past and present in the hemophiliac community who fought hard to make sure that this tragedy never happens again. The film does delve into a few puffed up conspiracy theories regarding the drug companies that manufactured the blood factors and the FDA, which is a regrettably easy road for these documentaries to go down, but it is still worth watching.

Let the Fire Burn (2013)

If you lived in Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s, you probably know something about a group that called themselves MOVE. If you had the dubious distinction of being one of their neighbors in Powelton Village and later on Osage Avenue, you knew them all too well. Members blasted profanities all hours of the day and night using bullhorns to threaten residents, city government officials, and members of the police department. Having rejected modern conveniences, medicine, and technology, they built up compost piles in their backyards consisting of rotting vegetable matter and human feces. Adults were allowed to eat a balanced diet of cooked food, whereas children were restricted to eating only raw vegetables and were malnourished as a result.
Basically, the city wanted to get rid of MOVE. After repeated eviction attempts, on May 13, 1985, the fire department bombed the MOVE residence, killing all but two members in the ensuing conflagration and burning down several city blocks in the process. I remember the day very vividly. My ninth grade class was returning from a class trip to Baltimore. We could see the black, acrid smoke rising into the air from several miles away.
The film does not choose sides; using entirely found footage and on-site news reports, it is not sympathetic to either side, which renders it unique among documentaries.

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