10 Documentaries Tailor-Made for Nerds

By Ethan Kaye in Daily Lists, Movies
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 7:59 am
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It wasn't that long ago that Topless Robot ran a list of the best "making of" documentaries -- for nerds, of course. But what about things that aren't made? What about things that just happened? Like people? Fandoms? Hate? Should documentaries that aren't about how certain movies or TV shows got made get snubbed just because they aren't about the creation of things?

I hope not, because I've already written this list about 10 more nerd-friendly documentaries that aren't about how things got made, but about nerdy icons, fandoms, comic artists, comedians, and more, and it would be a damned shame if no one read it. Track these bad boys down!

10) The People Vs. George Lucas

Want to feel bad for George Lucas? Just watch some of the hate and vitriol for him in The People Vs. George Lucas. No matter how much you dislike the prequels or some of the special edition changes, it's hard not to watch some of the fans featured here and not feel a little sympathy for Lucas. But as this documentary rightly points out, it's because Lucas created such a wonderful universe in the beginning that people got so upset when Han Greedo suddenly (and senselessly) shot first, or when Jar Jar appeared. It's an even-keeled look at a subject most nerds are rarely that even-keeled about.

9) Indyfans and the Quest for Fortune and Glory

While not as in-your-face as Trekkies or Star Wars fans, Indiana Jones fans are just as rabid. They celebrate at Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride, wear the whip and fedora at conventions, and bid for movie props. And they have their own documentary too. Filmmaker Brandon Kleyla talks to fans and filmmakers to determine the answer to the greatest mystery ever... why?

8) Crumb

There's a lot about Robert Crumb to learn. His history with underground comics, his insane family and relationships, his hyper-sexual art style... luckily, Crumb covers it all. "Bizarre" doesn't even begin to cover it all, either, as Crumb shows a man, admired by many, but severely troubled and dysfunctional in his day-to-day existence. It gets a little dry at times, but it's definitely an eye-opener.

7) Ringers: Lord of the Fans

If I wanted to do a list of movies about fan groups for movies (We Are Wizards, Jedi Junkies, etc), I'm sure I could, but as it is, I just included four on this list. Ringers is special because it includes Leonard Nimoy singing "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins." You can't explain that. But it's a super-complete overview of the history of Lord of the Rings fandom, from the '60s hippie culture to the Bakshi film. The big names from the latest LOTR sit for the interviewers, as does David Carradine. Yup. David Carradine.

6) Monty Python: Almost the Truth

You may know every single word of every single sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus, but you probably don't know the whole story. Luckily the original Pythons (and archival footage of Graham Chapman) agree to sit for interviews about the history of the group, from the pre-Python work to the films we love so much. Introspective commentary is cut with footage (both behind-camera and in-front) and fan perspective from big names like Russell Brand and Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson. You'll never expect the Spanish inquisition the same again.

5) Look, Up in the Sky: The Amazing Story of Superman

Tied in with the release of Superman Returns (I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time), this documentary, narrated by Kevin Spacey and produced by Brian Singer covers the massive expanse of Superman's history, from the initial sketches of Siegel and Shuster through the abysmal Superman musical, all the way to Lois and Clark and Smallville. Sure, ending with Returns as the next great hope for the franchise may be unfortunate, but there isn't a better history of Superman on DVD.

4) The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

The glory associated with getting the highest score ever on Donkey Kong is tremendous... but often fleeting. And for two men, Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell, that glory turned into a badass documentary. Mitchell, the cocksure pro, holds the title for years, while Wiebe sets out to beat it. What could just be a story of two gamers with chips on their shoulders evolves to a massive clash of the cabinets. One thing is for certain: you will never beat their high scores.

3) Trekkies

No group of geeks is more universally associated with awkwardness than Star Trek fans. And Trekkies, hosted by Trek cast member Denise Crosby, delves into the bizarre world of that awkwardness. Klingons singing, high-priced auctions for a patch of make-up, and a dentist with his office decked-out as the Enterprise all pale in comparison to the real star, Gabriel Köerner, a 15-year-old rabid fanboy with a voice that could shatter glass. There's a sequel, too, that just shines more light into this dark, dark world.

2) Monster Camp

LARPers are... they're their own niche of nerd-dom. While all of us kind of dream of running after people in the woods with a sword, most of us don't act on it. But the Alliance LARP group from Seattle sure do. This fly-on-the-wall look at a massive role-playing battle treats all classes of elf and man with respect, while peeking into the weirdness that LARPing engenders. Also check out Darkon for some more LARPing fun. For my money? You can't make enough of these films.

1) In Search of Steve Ditko

Although he's not a household name in the U.S., trust me when I say that Jonathan Ross most certainly is in the U.K. And while his talk show popularity dwarfs Conan O'Brien's, his geekiness dwarfs that of Kevin Smith's. So when he set out to discover all he could about legendary artist Steve Ditko, it was like David Letterman searching for Bigfoot. Among tons of interviews with the top creators in comics, like Alan Moore and Stan Lee, Ross actually finds the reclusive creator at his midtown office, and attempts a tag-team interview with Ditko, himself, and Neil Gaiman. We won't spoil how it goes, but this documentary is absolutely riveting.

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