A couple of weeks ago while at the office, a colleague and I were discussing the latest events happening in the USA since the presidential election, commenting on anything from the electoral system to the international implications. Along the way, they mentioned something about a documentary called “The Presidential Grudge Match.”
As someone with boundless curiosity for most things, I decided to give documentary a watch and found it fascinating. I’m not usually into politics but this documentary, hosted by comedian Rich Hall, delved into the nature of the American electoral system as well as its history, all with a fantastic dose of humour, sarcasm and cynicism.
As it tends to happen when I discover a new comedian, or new series or music, I decided to find everything I could about Rich Hall, his comedy and whether he had made other documentaries in the past. To my surprise and joy, this wasn’t the first of his documentaries for the BBC and most of them are available for consumption on YouTube.
Rich Hall is an American comedian and a giant movie buff, so his earlier documentaries focus American history, culture and society mostly through the medium of film, using Hollywood and independent film examples to convey the ideologies of the country during the time of the film’s release.
If you’re wondering what they’re about, here’s a little summary for you of Rich Hall’s documentaries:
The Dirty South: In this documentary, Rich Hall explores how cinema represents southern USA, from the northern stereotypes to the self-delusions from the region itself and how some of the most prominent works from the south have backfired, creating world-known images of retardation (cue banjo sounds) in the South.
In addition to this it also explores the politics, history, religion, music and society of the South from the early 20th onwards.
It’s my favourite of his documentaries.
You can go to Hell, I’m going to Texas: This colourful titled documentary explores, as you might guess, the state of Texas and what it’s like living there, the culture in particular and what it means to be Texan. It’s an attitude, there are bragging rights and certain things you can only do and get away with if you’re Texan.
As with the previous documentary on this list, Rich Hall uses many film references to convey the history, culture and arts from the earliest history of the state to our modern day.
Inventing the Indian: This is a fascinating one, focusing on the public image, the common perception of what being a Native American aka Indian is, and how much of that is just fabrication by the media.
With Rich Hall’s copious film references, particularly on the adaptations of Geronimo’s life and the book The Last Mohican, and with Indian hosts and interviewees, you get a real sense of what life is like in the reservations and what Indians think of the United States and its people.
Continental Drifters: This is the only Rich Hall documentary you can’t easily find on YouTube with good quality, but I managed to get my hands on it anyway, so if you can, I do recommend it.
Unlike the other documentaries on this list, this film doesn’t look at a state or culture through the film lens but is instead an exploration of a film genre, using many examples to explain its themes, tropes and of course, history, including its parallels with human history and how their times influenced the spirt of the genre.
The genre in question is the Road Movie, from the adaptations of The Grapes of Wrath to Thelma & Louise
Bonus: Hell No, I Ain’t Happy: This is not a documentary but a 2009 Stand Up Comedy show by Rich Hall, and it’s absolutely hilarious.
Midway through the presentation he switches to his other “persona,” Otis Lee Crenshaw, and along with his band, they play some really funny tunes!
I can’t recommend these documentaries enough. They’re interesting, well-researched and presented. Rich Hall’s humour has tremendous bite and help offset some of the dour themes explored during the documentaries.
As I mentioned, you can find them all on YouTube.