by Robbie Imes, 7 min read
In recent years, documentaries have become more popular than ever. Whether it’s true crime or stories of social outliers, racial injustice, abuses of power or travels in space, there is no shortage of topics covered by these films. The viewing choices are seemingly endless.
One of the networks that consistency showcases some of the best and most award-winning documentaries is HBO Max. With dedication to the genre, the media powerhouse has partnered to produce hundreds of amazing real-life narratives over the years, which makes it the perfect place to start your new documentary obsession. With so many to choose from, though, it can be daunting when considering where to begin.
There's no better place to start than with the best. A great documentary seeks truth, or at least the subjects’ version of the truth. It can reveal the obscured and shed light on the small details that are not always obvious, which, once exposed, become much larger than life. The experience for all parties involved, those on camera, those behind the camera, and the audience, can be explosive. The shocking, joyful nature of the best of these stories are the stuff of legend.
While some of HBO Max's offerings are not as outrageous or bizarre as others, choosing rather to chronicle the life of legends such as Tina Turner in TINA, others can leave you gasping for air, such as I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, based on the book that actually helped capture the infamous Golden State Killer.
For fans of both the unusual and the unique, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the wildest, coolest and most entertaining docs you can find on HBO Max.
Q: Into the Storm
Jim and Ron Watkins, the father and son behind the controversial web message board 8chan, are the subject of this riveting documentary. 8chan is where the anonymous political leaker and conspiracy theory purveyor “Q”, the mysterious figure(s) behind the QAnon movement, posts their alleged inside information, said to be from the White House and other political insiders. Each post reveals, in coded language, the right-leaning supposed political events of the coming days.
Rather than focusing on the endless theories, and those that believe them, this three-year investigation follows the evolution of "Q" itself as it unfolds, with unrestricted access to those most closely involved in helping perpetuate its voice. Full of mystery, red herrings, and one great escape, this is an entertaining experience from beginning to end.
What starts as the important question of whether or not hate speech is free speech quickly becomes tangled in lies and manufactured goose chases, where the truth slowly, and inadvertently, reveals itself and ultimately becomes the undoing of this strange and unprecedented phenomenon. It’s a frightening and fascinating look into the fragility of western democracy.
The Lady and the Dale
"The Dale" was a conceptual automobile dreamed up in 1970 by entrepreneur and automobile innovator, Elizabeth Carmichael. The creation skyrocketed her to instant fame for The Dale’s unique design – a three-wheeled two-seater – and fuel efficiency that revolutionized the idea of what a car could be.
Carmichael’s manufacturing company, Twentieth Century Motor Car Corporation, was also pushed into the spotlight, and with it a high level of scrutiny from the media about the legitimacy of the car's technology, and then even Carmichael’s own past – both of which were veiled in dishonesty. Candid interviews with Carmichael's children and grandchild, and journalists such as Pete Noyes, reveal so much more than is on the surface. This is an in-depth look at a brilliant American con artist, but also about what it means to be a transgendered pioneer at the time of her crimes. Produced by the Duplass Brothers, this story is nothing short of incredible.
As writer Jen Chaney so perfectly quoted in a Vulture piece, “One of the most notable things about The Lady and the Dale is its ability to reckon with the illegal and unethical behavior Carmichael engaged in while simultaneously chronicling her journey as a member of the trans community with respect.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Pentecostal preacher Glenn Summerford was accused of committing a heinous crime in the dark of night in 1991. It was reported that he forced his wife, Darlene, to place her hand into a box filled with poisonous rattlesnakes – something in line with an unusual Pentecostal tradition dating back to the early 1900s. The accusation, however, centers not on his suspected desire to engage in religious acts, but rather his desire to actually poison her to death with the snake bites.
The documentary takes viewers inside the small church where Summerford led his congregation of believers, who also practiced in ritualistic snake handling, and the purported night of the crime, as well as Summerford himself. An ill-tempered boozer and former godless rabble rouser, he plays up his turn to God as his defense on why he would never attempt murder, let alone the murder of his wife
However, there’s something much more sinister and intriguing at play here, and the documentary pulls no punches when it comes to illuminating facts. Both a crime narrative and an exploitative peek into a little seen religious world, Alabama Snake is a wild ride from beginning to end.
Thought Crimes: The Case of the Cannibal Cop
In 2013, New York City Police Officer Gilberto Valle was convicted of conspiring to kidnap and eat women. Valle, however, only expressed his desires, and never committed any actual criminal acts.
The documentary, which expertly details the case, simply asks: can you be criminalized for your own thoughts and desires, if they remain merely that, no matter how heinous they are?
The movie engages with the main players, including Valle himself, to piece together the tale. With the possibility of a life sentence placed before him, Valle argued that his fantasy had no real-life threat, and that he never actually intended to harm anyone.
In a stunning reversal, the convictions were overturned, and the conversation of fetish, thought and intent quickly became morbidly philosophical. Both a moral and ethical conundrum for the courts and the public at large, this notorious case became a defining moment for law in the United States. A riveting examination of morality, reality, personality and persecution.
There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane
Aunt Diane caused a fatal car accident that took the lives of not only herself, but her 2-year-old daughter, her three young nieces and the three men in the vehicle that she hit head-on. Was she distracted? Was she drunk? What happened in the hours and moments before this gruesome crash?
The accident, and the circumstance surrounding it, became a media sensation when the toxicology report revealed high levels of alcohol and THC in Diane Schuler's blood. Occurring in the suburbs just north of New York City on the Taconic State Parkway, the media painted Schuler as a senseless, out of control drunk that recklessly took innocent lives. Her family, on the other hand, told a different story.
Putting together Schuler's actions on the day of the accident, her husband, Daniel, and sister-in-law, Jay, try to dismantle the toxicology report as inaccurate. And if not inaccurate, then they believe Diane did not knowingly take the intoxicants on the report.
The mystery behind that fateful day is told through police and familial interviews and testimony. The documentary pits scientific facts against the story of a kind and responsible woman that would never place her loved ones in harm’s way
What actually happened that day, whatever Aunt Diane did or did not willingly do, will never be known, but this utterly tragic tale is one of the darkest singular narratives about a regular American family, the heart of truth and the loyalty of legacy that you will likely find.
How can a wig define a person in drag? Let us count the ways. This fun and outrageous documentary is a celebration of the world of drag and the queer counterculture that nurtured it into the mainstream sensation it is today
Capturing some of the most notable voices and faces in the community, Wig takes us from present-day, queer-led art worlds in Brooklyn, all the way back to the 1980s through archival footage featuring legends Lady Bunny and RuPaul as they made a name for themselves at the Pyramid Club in New York City.
Focusing largely on the Wigstock festival, an annual summer drag extravaganza, and the Pyramid Club in the East Village from which it was born, as well as the adjacent Tompkins Square Park where it continued on as it grew, the historic festival shines as a legend both in and of itself. Led by Lady Bunny year after year, the festival was once the end-all be-all of the art of drag, and now a fabled tale the world over.
The film also highlights the necessity of drag in the LGBTQ+ community, and how those who love and are part of it shape mainstream culture, art, music and beyond in surprising ways.
Featuring Lady Bunny, Flotilla DeBarge, Kevin Aviance, Neil Patrick Harris, Willam, Linda Simpson, Naomi Smalls and so many more, it is a loving look at how sometimes the misunderstood, and the absolutely fabulous, can elevate the masses to betterment through art and joy.
Watch all these and more on HBO Max, now!
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The information included within this article is AT&T sponsored content written by Currently Media editorial contributor Robbie Imes. The statements in this article are his own and don’t reflect the positions, strategies, or opinions of AT&T.