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Tonight: Don't Stop Believin' on PBS

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Ferdie Arquero and Nomota LLC

Tonight (Monday, September 30) on PBS stations in the US: Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey, the story of the rock band Journey and its latest frontman, Arnel Pineda. The documentary airs in most markets at 10pm/9c, but check your local listings to be sure.

Here's a treat -- the PBS documentary series Independent Lens starts its new season with Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey a film about Arnel Pineda, the Filipino singer who joined Journey in 2007. The documentary, directed by Ramona Diaz, explores the band's process in finding Pineda on YouTube (!), integrating him into the band, and proceeding on a massive arena tour. The film is primarily about Pineda, showing an intimate view of his childhood in poverty, a glimpse of his struggles with addiction, and his transformation into the lead singer of a hugely popular rock band. Throughout it, Pineda is a joy to watch, and he carries the film. You just want the guy to win.

Although Don't Stop Believin' is basically a feel-good documentary (it artfully avoids discussion of the complex web of former band members, for one thing), it's a ton of fun to watch. For Journey fans, this is a must-see. As even a minor Journey fan myself (I only know the hits), it was a joy to watch, including a well-paced mix of live performance, behind-the-scenes shots of the tour, and interviews with Pineda and many others (including the entire current Journey lineup, Pineda's family and friends, and so on). If you've never been backstage at an arena, you'll see how unglamorous it really is, and get just a taste of how exhausting it is to put on a massive show day after day.

My main complaint is that the film mentions some of Pineda's dark history with drugs and alcohol, but fails to meaningfully discuss it. Instead, it spends a lot of energy on concert footage and showing the stress of a major tour. On the bright side, the entire film is one long exploration of an issue Pineda raises late in the film: that he never wanted to be a "cover band singer," but that's what most people seemed to want from him, and it's where he has found the most success -- though he has recorded original material, it wasn't particularly successful. Every time we see Pineda onstage in Journey, we see a strange combination of "cover band singer" (the man sounds a lot like Steve Perry to me), and "lead singer of Journey" (who has performed and recorded new material with the band -- and who is a full member of the band, both artistically and financially).

This is a concert film for rock fans, featuring an uplifting story. It's not a breakthrough documentary in technical or artistic terms, but boy, you'll have fun watching it. Here are some clips:

Here's the performance Neal Schon refers to at the end of that clip (song begins around 0:45, and the "holy crap, this guy can sing!" shivers begin seconds later):

And some more clips from the documentary:

If that catches your eye, set your DVR to record Independent Lens. The documentary airs in most markets at 10pm/9c, but check your local listings. Alternately, the documentary is streaming on Netflix now -- and the Netflix version is slightly longer. (I'm not sure what the difference is, having only seen the POV cut.)

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Watch: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
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In 1996, author/documentarian Jon Ronson received a phone call from someone representing Stanley Kubrick, requesting a copy of Ronson's Holocaust documentary. Ronson figured that was a bit weird, but it was Kubrick, so he'd go along with it.

After Kubrick's death in 1999, Ronson gained access to Kubrick's legendary boxes, the more than 1,000 vessels of ephemera hoarded by the master. So, uh, what's in the boxes? Lots of photographs, memos, letters, you name it.

Ronson made a 45-minute documentary about the boxes, including a tour of Kubrick's estate and the various box storage locations. He even interviews the writer of one of the "crank letters" sent to (and kept by) Kubrick. Kubrick had simply written "crank" on it and filed it away.

This is a terrific watch for anyone interested in filmmaking, Kubrick, or—let's face it—storing stuff in boxes. There's even a segment about half an hour in about how Kubrick worked out the optimal size for a box and its lid, then had them custom-made. Enjoy:

If you're not into the whole video thing, check out Ronson's feature for The Guardian on the same subject.

[h/t: Kottke.]

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YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS
Tuesday on American Experience: Tesla
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YouTube // AmericanExperiencePBS

Airing Tuesday night (October, 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S., American Experience presents Tesla, a documentary following Nikola Tesla's life and work. Check your local listings for times, though in most markets the show airs at 9pm. (It will also be on PBS's streaming channels starting October 19.) Here's a 30-second preview:

In American Experience's new hour-long documentary Tesla, we see a portrait of Nikola Tesla, the visionary inventor who is now known as "the patron saint of geeks."

As a lifelong geek, I went into this documentary with a sudden realization: I don't actually know much about Tesla as a person. Sure, I've seen Tesla Coils and I've read about all the wireless energy stuff, but who was this guy? Where did he come from? An hour with this PBS special answers those questions and many more. Here's the first seven minutes of the documentary, just to get you started:

The first thing that jumped out at me while watching this film is that I've been pronouncing Nikola Tesla's first name incorrectly. Watch the clip above—it's properly pronounced "nih-COLE-uh," though some of the experts in the film use the more typical American pronunciation stressing the first syllable.

Aside from learning the man's name, I was surprised to learn that his first invention was a hook designed to catch frogs (and an invention soon after was a "motor" powered by June bugs). But his first breakthrough invention was of course the AC (Alternating Current) motor, and much of the AC-related infrastructure to go with it.

The documentary paints Tesla as a man of great talent and vision, but with fundamentally flawed business sense. Time after time, he makes bad business deals or wastes money, then finds his technical progress stymied by lack of funding. Perhaps as a consequence of this frustration, he goes off the rails mentally from time to time, as in his later years claiming to have received communications from Mars, or falling in love with a pigeon. It also seems clear that he suffered from psychiatric disorders that today could probably be treated, but in the 1800s and early 1900s forced him to engage in repetitive behavior and avoid much human contact.

In any case, Tesla is a fantastic exploration of the human story behind the legend. My only complaint is that I wish it were longer. (Okay, one more complaint: I would've loved to learn why he often posed for pictures with his right hand to his face.)

HOW TO WATCH THE FILM

Tesla premieres Tuesday night (October 18, 2016) on PBS stations around the U.S. It will then begin streaming on October 19 on the PBS streaming apps.

WHAT TO DO WHILE YOU WAIT FOR TUESDAY NIGHT

You should really watch Edison online (for free, legally!) for a counterpoint. Edison and Tesla were contemporaries, and Tesla actually worked for Edison early on, both in Paris and the U.S. These two films together give us a view of the importance of an inventor's vision paired with his ability to run a business. The two men are fundamentally different both in their approach to invention and business, and it's worthwhile to compare and contrast. (Incidentally, Open Culture has a roundup of the 23 American Experience documentaries you can currently stream online—that's one way to fill up your lunch breaks for the next month!)

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