Thursday, December 28, 2006

What We're Watching

I've got a "what we're reading" widget in the sidebar, so I thought I should complement it with an entry about what we're watching. From October to April we subscribe to, an on-line DVD rental service based in Canada. With thousands of documentary titles and tens of thousands of mainstream and oddball videos of other types, we get the kind of selection we could otherwise only dream of in our town with no public library and only corner store video rentals. For a monthly fee we can have four or sometimes five DVDs out at a time. There are no due-dates. They arrive through the post with prepaid return envelopes and we simply send them back when we're done. The quicker we make a return, the sooner we get the next choice off our request list.

We've really enjoyed two recent sets of videos. The first is Michael Palin's travelogues. So far only the four episodes of "Sahara" and the six episodes of "Himalaya" have been released in Canada. We would love to see "Pole to Pole", "Full Circle" (around the Pacific Rim) and "80 Days" (around the world) someday too. The videography is amazing, and Palin comes across as a very real, likeable traveller. The out-of-the-way places he visits don't come across as romanticized, sensationalized or patronized. We have the last four Himalaya episodes to watch yet and can't wait. Noah and Sophie in particular enjoy these. In fact Noah's choice for a Christmas Night activity was to watch a "Sahara" episode rather than play with new toys or games.

The other series we have found very compelling is the "Up Series". This set of seven documentaries introduces a bunch of English schoolchildren from an extremely wide range of backgrounds and circumstances, beginning at age 7 and following them every 7 years with updates and interviews and peeks into their lives as they grow into adulthood. The series begins in 1964. We took immediate likes and dislikes to different children and were fascinated to watch them change (and not change!) as they grew up. At ages 14 and 21 it seemed many of them had changed a lot from age 7. Many were not nearly as likeable. But by age 28 (as far as we've watched so far) most had come home to themselves in large part ... though with many of the raw edges rubbed off and a pretty well-grounded sense of themselves and their places in the world. It's a fascinating sociological and psychological journey. Wikipedia has an excellent article on the series, though with spoilers.

Other recent hits have been "The Parrots of Telegraph Hill" (about a self-described 'dharma bum' in LA who has become the de facto naturalist / keeper of a flock of non-native but 'wild' parrots), "Into the West" (a fable about two gypsy boys and a horse in Ireland) and "Dragon's World: A Fantasy Made Real" (a 'Walking With Dinosaurs' style CGI documentary paired with a fantasy story line).

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