Imagine if a documentary crew tracked your every move. Scary, right?
Even upstanding citizens might fear a scene that casts them in an unflattering light. Those with skeletons clacking in their closets have even more to dread.
Enter the self-driven documentary.
It’s the same process, on paper, but you or someone you love gets to call the shots. Voila! The finished product leaves out your worst moments and, in theory, puts your best face forward.
Netflix’s “Pamela, A Love Story” debuted this week on the streaming channel. The film follows the actress’s colorful career, from starring in the smash hit “Baywatch” to her tabloid-friendly love life. The spin couldn’t be more obvious.
“I wanna take control of the narrative, for the first time,” she says in the film’s trailer.
Nothing wrong with that, on paper, but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a reason Anderson agreed to star in the project. Neither is it accidental that her son, Brandon Thomas Lee, is a producer on the film.
Reviews, so far, are laudatory while some critics can’t help but share their skepticism, like Roger Moore.
Unguarded? No. Deep? Not really, but somewhat self-aware. Unfiltered, warts and all? Only the ones she wants us to see, kids.
Anderson isn’t alone here.
Michelle Obama is the main attraction in “Becoming,” a 2020 documentary covering her book tour and cultural impact.
Reviews were mostly kind, but some critics noted the tone of the project. The Detroit News called it, “as polished and smoothed out as a campaign ad.”
And no wonder.
The production company behind “Becoming” is Higher Ground. if that name rings a bell, it’s because it’s the cinematic shingle founded by the Obamas following their White House exit.
Did anyone think “Becoming” would show anything but the former First Lady’s very best side?
Actor Val Kilmer belongs to a small subset of actors renowned for their behind-the-scenes difficulties. The 2014 documentary “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” did the actor’s reputation few favors.
The 2021 documentary “Val” rebranded the star as both dedicated to a fault and a brave cancer survivor. Both are true, but seeing him share his creative process changed the narrative on his career, possibly for good.
Kilmer co-produced the documentary along with two of his grown children, Jack and Mercedes Kilmer.
Not to be outdone, the Netflix documentary “Halftime,” a look into the life and career of Jennifer Lopez, has a curious producer credit attached. Yes, that’s Lopez’s manager, Benny Medina, listed on the film’s IMDB page.
The oddest example of this new sub-genre hit HBO late last year. “Pelosi in the House” recalls the political career of former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Few would argue she’s not a consequential figure in American politics, but the choice of film directors proved wildly inappropriate.
Pelosi’s daughter, Alexandra Pelosi, is calling the shots behind the camera.
That’s not to say these productions don’t reveal fascinating nuggets. Stars often have a need to share almost everything about them, and that can be both factual and illuminating.
Sometimes the star’s input can yield a truly warts-and-all story. “Rocket Man,” made with Elton John’s blessing, included some of the tawdrier aspects of his colorful life. John co-produced the movie with his husband, David Furnish, but he insisted the film not sugarcoat his past.
That film, while successful, never presented itself as being rooted in the truth. The film’s fantasy sequences alone scream that truth.
Documentaries, on paper, are another matter. We’re meant to believe their narratives, accept their truths as gospel.
It’s hardly earth-shattering that “Pamela, A Love Story” puts a positive spin on an actor’s life and career. It’s more complicated when folks like Pelosi and Obama, figures who intersect with the nation’s political present (and future), get the hagiography treatment.
Either way, viewers still should know why these projects exist, and the reasons they reach the public in the first place.