Heat is bearing down on us here in Shanghai, and the long days at the LP Films office are spent alternating between sat icy under air conditioning, and glowing red around monitor screens and processors in the edit suites. The city tipped 40 Celsius this week, with a feel factor of 50 degrees thanks to the humidity, humidity which sees our assistant editor Apple flop in each morning like a wilting flower, reviving only after some intense sitting down and a good bout of, “Oh my gosh it’s soooooo hot outside.”
Point being, it’s maybe best to stay indoors these days. So why not kick back under some cool air with an ice tea (or something a little stronger, to your taste) and enjoy our pick of 5 great documentaries about summer and blistering heat.
Music festivals are a staple of the summer, and we’ve been enjoying a wave of them in Shanghai over the past couple of months. The music festival documentary is a true classic genre, and the best ones catapult beyond being simple concert footage to capture the heart of what it means to stand in the middle of a crowded field, covered in mud and glitter with thousands of party people.
The undisputed daddy of the genre is Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, 1970), but for sheer audacity we have to pick James Marcus Haney’s No Cameras Allowed as our favorite. With no money for tickets, Haney does what many have done before and jumps the fence. Or digs under the fence. Or pretends to be security. Or pretends he’s in a band. From Coachella to Glastonbury, Haney sneaks his way into 50 festivals around the world, filming himself as he goes and capturing some of the best festival footage seen in cinema. There’s a pure joy to his endeavor which goes right to the heart of the festival experience.
Fata Morgana, 1971
No documentary list is complete without Werner Herzog, and no Herzog doc is complete without death, disease and casual acts of anarchic hubris. Fata Morgana was no different. The crew were beaten by police following a coup in Cameroon, the director contracted some nasty parasites and a cameraman was mistaken for a mercenary and sentenced to death (but later released).
And yet the film itself is one of his most peaceful. Herzog spent weeks driving through the Sahara desert capturing Fata Morgana, mirages which appear on the horizon. Along the way we take in wrecked planes and lost objects in the strangeness of the dunes, to the music of Leonard Cohen.
The Back of Beyond, 1954
Back to the desert and this time the Outback. John Hayer was commissioned by oil giant Shell to make a film that would associate their brand more closely with Australia. Instead, he crafted this love letter to his homeland, one of the greatest examples of Australian cinema to date. Like Soy Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964) The Back of Beyond transcends mere propaganda, becoming a lyric poem to the landscape and the people. The story essentially follows a mailman delivering packages to remote Outback ranchers, but takes in the millennia of scorched landscape and life along the way.
From The Sea To The Land Beyond, 2012
No one understands summer like the British. UK is a country where the sun notoriously rears its head for all of 5 minutes each year, and Brits make the most of every second. Penny Woolcock’s tribute to the UK coastline is formed from 100 years of archive footage, from small fishing communities to ship building industry. But it’s the sections on seaside holidays which really capture the essence of this small island nation…building sandcastles, rockpooling, arcades and dads with trousers rolled up to their knees in chilly northern seas. Top marks too for a soundtrack by post-rock band British Sea Power.
Bombay Beach, 2011
A young bipolar boy, an African American teen escaping gang violence and an elderly oil field worker are at the heart of Alma Har’el’s mythic and musical portrait of life on the edge of the Salton Sea. Bombay Beach is a town on the shores of this vast lake in southern California, a town built as a tourist resort which is being swallowed up by mud, water and salt. A quirky and poetic slice of Americana in the same vein as Gummo (Harmony Korine, 1997) but with more love, and with another killer score, this time from Zach Condon (Beirut).