I don’t watch documentaries often, but I do love when I see a good one.  Netflix has some amazing documentaries on their “instant” list, and I’d like to recommend a few here:

1. Note by Note follows one Steinway piano from its birth as lumber to its use at a concert hall.  It is beautifully filmed, and I so enjoyed watching the craftsmanship and pride that goes into each Steinway piano.  As a pianist, albeit a frustrated one, hearing famous pianists tell about their preferences in a piano brought back memories of playing more regularly.  It is a truly enjoyable documentary!  Watch it!

2. Cropsey – I have an obsession with Kirkbride buildings.  They are architectural wonders, stemming from Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride’s theory that the environment created by the Kirkbride plan would, in part, treat patients with mental illness.  As such, the buildings are huge, with lots of light.  I imagine myself finding a close one someday and taking loads of photos there.  They are somewhat apocalyptic, because most of them are no longer functioning and are in decay, as is the setting for Cropsey.  I chose Cropsey from a list of recommendations on Netflix because it was in the “horror” section.  Cropsey is much more than horror.  It is based upon child disappearances on Staten Island near the abandoned Willowbrook State School, a Kirkbride-style building and a home for children with either mental illness or mental handicaps.  However, the disappearances, while tragic, did not impact me as much as the story of Willowbrook itself.  From the 1930s to 1987, it functioned as a place for children who were neglected and thrown away by their families.  In the early 70s, Geraldo Rivera did an exposé of the institution and brought to light the horrible conditions for the children there.  Mental institutions are often underfunded and the stigma attached to mental illness or developmental challenges both contribute to the poor conditions in institutions such as Willowbrook.  People, either in the government or elsewhere, conveniently “forget” the existence of places like the Willowbrook State School when it comes to funding or even caring.  It took until 1987 for the institution to close – 15 years after Geraldo’s story.

“What comforts me a little is that I am beginning to consider madness as a disease like any other and accept the thing as such…” ~ Vincent Van Gogh

3. Whole Hog – Whole Hog is a short film, viewable in its entirety on Vimeo, by Joe York, a friend and documentarian at the University of Mississippi.  Whole Hog is set in West Tennessee, where I am from.  In fact, Scott’s Barbecue in Lexington, Tennessee, is where we always get barbecue.  We used to go to Beech Lake during the summers and have Scott’s Barbecue for dinner (if they didn’t sell out at lunch).

Bonus!  The music was recorded at my husband’s recording studio.


Heima, a documentary about Sigur Ros

Last night I had the good fortune to visit a friend’s house for dinner.  He and his father (and his entire family for that matter) are musical people – they play, record, and listen to great music.  We were watching a Pink Martini concert for public television, and it was great!  Lots of instrumentation and a beautiful voice.  After we finished watching it, and oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the singer who sings in several different languages with a super sultry voice, my friend’s father mentioned that he had Heima, a documentary about several concerts performed by Sigur Ros in their native Iceland.  Heima, in Icelandic, means “at home.”

Over the past few years, I’ve become really interested in Iceland.  I love the landscape, the animals, the ever-changing weather, and even the Icelandic sweaters.  I would absolutely love to visit some day (hopefully sooner rather than later).  And, I plan to knit an Icelandic sweater, as soon as I find a great pattern and buy some lopi, which is fine wool from Icelandic sheep.  Hopefully it will get cold enough in Mississippi to wear it!

The documentary follows the band as they play in several different spots in Iceland, including small towns and interesting locations.  The photography is breathtaking, and the band is soft spoken and humble, both qualities that are hard to find in many musicians.  My favorite by far was the show in an old fish processing factory.  Interspersed with old film of the factory in its heyday, the show was ambient and magical.  It gave life back into this old factory, which had been part of so many people’s lives, and the entire scene just made me ache for places in my own life that had decayed.  Places that hold so many beautiful memories, but haunt my heart.  Watch it.  I can still hear the violins.

Sigur Ros in the factory, photo from