The cliché that fact can be stranger than fiction rings true in the case of these documentaries. Unbelievable characters, unexpected twists and general weirdness make this list a little unsettling when you stop to consider it is all really life drama.
At times you feel like you are watching a Lynch, or Cronenberg film, but the fact that this all actually happened may leave you feeling a little unhinged.
10. Cane Toads: The Conquest (2010)
3D Cane Toads, Crazy Ozzies and a down the barrel interviewing style make this film one of the strangest natural history documentaries out there. A sequel, or arguably a remake, of the 1988 Australian cult documentary classic Cane Toads: An unnatural History (1988), “The Conquest” continues in the same vain as its’ predecessor.
The film tracks the history and subsequent proliferation of the cane toad in Northern Australia, after being introduced in 1935 to control sugar cane beetles, by recording the social and environmental consequences of the reptilian invasion.
Australians can be a strange bunch, but Northern Australian take the cake when it comes to quirkiness. They live among the 1.5 billion plus Toads in the region and have found many weird ways to deal with the infestation. These include organized executions of the reptiles, a traveling Toad Circus and even getting high off them. (Remember that time Homer licked that toads back to get off…it’s the same toad)
While shooting in 3D is a very effective way to show off these invasive pests, it does take away from the natural history aspects of the film, as many of the shoots needed to be set up and staged, rather than shooting vérité style. Mark Lewis also uses an interesting down the barrel interview technique which helps to add to the awkwardness of both of his films about Cane Toads.
9. Monster Road (2004)
Bruce Bickford is possibly the best stop motion clay artists on the planet you never heard of, he is also an eccentric semi recluse, who still lives with his Father in Seattle and has a true distain for the real world.
Whilst Bruce is a weird character in his own right, his claymation is a whole other level of strange. The documentary is worth watching for the animation alone, with huge clay battle scenes, exploding heads which regenerate into any number of strange creatures, grotesque torture and sex scenes, anything his crazy mind could imagine he is able to translate into moving clay.
Bruce’s animations were primarily used as video clips for Frank Zappa in the 1970’s, but after Zappa’s death his work went mostly under the radar. The film highlights the strange techniques and style Bruce uses to bring his visions to life almost single handedly. Bruce is like a god creating a world, although unlike his father, who is on the brink of Alzheimers, he does not believe in a higher being.
One could easily compare this film with other personality driven bio pic documentaries, like The Devil and Daniel Johnston or Crumb, but Bruce Bickford’s relative obscurity makes this more of a coming out film than a life time achievement documentary.
8. Tickled (2016)
This is a movie about the world of competitive endurance tickling, that already seems weird enough to make this list. However, as the film makers delve deeper into this world, they discover it has a seedy under belly.
New Zealand quirk journalist David Farrier’s directorial debut makes for some weird viewing and great story telling. Innocently discovering the sport that is tickling, he endeavors to pursue it as a news story. He quickly discovers there is more than meets the eye, as his advances are rebuffed with slander and abuse. Intrigued by the avoidance and aggression, he flies to LA to scope out the organization. What he uncovers is a strange and weird world of fetish and what can only be described as BDSM.
7. Trekkies (1997)
Today Cosplay is a regular old thing, Com Con events take place all over the world, but before all of that was The Star Trek Convention. Trekkies follows the true believers, the Star Trek nuts that base their lives around the TV phenomenon and their devotion to the intergalactic federation.
The film avoids in depth interviews with cast members or creators, choosing to follow the die hard fans. There is the lady who decided to turn up to jury duty in full Star Trek uniform, the gentleman who wins the auction for a half drunk glass of water in which a cast member may or may not have consumed while having a virus, not to mention the Star Trek consultant who travels the country in search of the next convention.
Overall, the ideology surrounding Star Trek is sound. It boasts equality and freedom of choice, but when you hold the mirror of reality to it, it simply becomes strange. Never the less, people are obsessed with the concept and this film exploits this to create laughs for the audience (unless you are a Trekkie, in that case you will probably be nodding in agreement, wondering how to get in touch with these people and are confused as to why everyone else is giggling.)
6. Crumb (1994)
Robert Crumb is seen as iconic Pop culture satirist to some and a misogynistic creep to others. His work is unique and unhinging, as is the documentary devoted to his life and work. So much so, that at its academy nomination screening the judges requested for it to be stopped after 25 minutes.
The film uncovers Crumbs abusive childhood and strange family ties. Turning his torment into art in the form of comics starting in the acid filled 1960’s. His claim to fame was the “Keep on Truckin” image and the art work for Janis Joplin’s Cheap Thrills album. His jolt to fame gave his graphic novels a platform, which were received with both praise and disgust due to their grilling social commentary and often sexual context.
The film goes somewhat beyond Crumb and touches on the relationship of the filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, who had actually played in a band with Crumb in the past, and begged him for years to be part of the film. At the end of the film you feel like no stone of Crumb’s life has been left unturned, you discover his fetishes, his up bringing and somewhat twisted family background and of course his artwork.