Before we get into this month's Doc Soup offering, I'd like to direct your attention to another documentary screening at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this week. That would be The Bitter Buddha, Steven Feinartz's intimate profile of the comedian Eddie Pepitone, playing just two shows Saturday and Sunday night. You should check them out.
If you follow American stand-up comedy, you can't not know Pepitone. He's been knocking around for decades (the doc digs up a clip of him in the 1986 Troma exploitation picture Combat Shock), beloved by the likes of Patton Oswalt and Marc Maron, but he's only just starting to break out now that he's in his 50s.
He's perfectly cast as the bellowing, misanthropic cubicle worker on the YouTube comedy series Puddin', and he maintains a delightfully twisted Twitter feed, but Pepitone truly excels at standup, where he's simultaneously vulnerable and terrifying. The Bitter Buddha follows him as he prepares for a big show at the Gotham nightclub in New York, close to the Staten Island neighbourhood where he grew up.
Feinartz's approach doesn't deviate too far from the standard doc profile; there's the usual host of interviews from adoring colleagues (including Oswalt, Maron, Todd Barry, James Adomian, Zach Galifianakis and Comedy Bang Bang ringmaster Scott Aukerman) and quasi-revelatory moments of Pepitone at home, working on bits or uncontrollably bursting into tears. And there's some great footage on the set of Puddin', allowing fans to marvel at how tightly controlled - and how totally unique - that series truly is, and how much of it depends on Pepitone.
It's a solid doc, though I wish Feinartz had pushed a little deeper into the uncontrollable-tears aspect of Pepitone's personality; sure, the notion of the comedian driven by hidden pain is practically a cliché at this point, but so much of Pepitone's act is built on confused, alienated suffering that the man bears further examination. Perhaps someone can ask him about that at Saturday night's screening, which Pepitone will attend in person. (He'll be out of town for Sunday's show, but he's promised to Skype in.)
And now to Doc Soup, and the extremely problematic Trouble In The Peace, playing three shows Wednesday and Thursday before rolling into a commercial run next week. And by "extremely problematic" I guess I mean "really quite bad," as director Julian T. Pinder tackles the pressing issue of EnCana's natural-gas pipeline mendacity in rural British Columbia - a topic the NFB previously explored in the affecting and complex Wiebo's War - and runs it through the Terrence Malick Instagram filter. (The distributor is asking that full reviews be held until the doc opens theatrically next week. I can't say I blame them.)
There's certainly nothing wrong with taking an artful approach to your subject matter, but Trouble In The Peace doesn't have a reason for any of its flourishes. Pinder's cinematography is often lovely to look at, but individual shots are allowed to linger far, far too long with no payoff. And the movie's grand finale is almost laughably naïve, taking an artist's intentionally simplistic gesture and playing it as though it's some sort of teachable moment for the audience.
TVO has created a videogame as part of the doc's online marketing push; I think that's where you're supposed to go for the facts and context that are sorely missing from Pinder's film. That seems like a problem to me.
Finally, I was going to close this week's column with a reminder that TIFF was offering a free screening of Ted Kotcheff's The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz on Saturday - in a new digital restoration produced in consultation with director Ted Kotcheff - as part of the weeklong build to Sunday night's Canadian Screen Awards.
Unfortunately, said screening has already sold out, but we'll have another chance to see it later this month, when it plays as part of the Open Vault series. I'll keep you posted.
Correction (3/3/13 4:27 PM): This article was corrected to state that TVO, and not the NFB has created a video game to tie-in with the film Trouble In The Peace.