A friend of mine put up a post on Facebook this week asking for suggestions for good documentaries, and although I have some major issues with this particular platform and the way people use it, this one post reaffirmed my belief that social media platforms can, either directly or indirectly, be a force for good in this crazy world.
After adding a couple of suggestions of my own in the comments, I found myself returning to this one post many times during the week to mine for new titles which may have slipped through my normally very tight net. I like to think that my finger is typically very close to the pulse when it comes to films in general, but it must be said that we have come a very, very long way since I saw my first documentary.
It was the summer of 1996. I was sleeping over at my best friend's house for the weekend. We piled up cushions from the sofa on the floor of his living room and watched in awe as Paul Gascoigne scored one of the most memorable goals in England's footballing history against Scotland. We had a tea of Chicken Dippers and Diet Coke, then escaped the dinner table to play basketball until the sun went down. Settling back down in our den we gorged on Galaxy chocolate and episodes of Bottom and Red Dwarf, and as the credits rolled on the latter we were informed that next up on BBC 2 was a ground-breaking basketball documentary called Hoop Dreams.
If you haven't seen it, then do. It doesn't matter if you have no interest in sports of any kind. As my favourite film critic often remarks, Jaws isn't about a shark, E.T. isn't about aliens, and similarly Hoop Dreams isn't actually about basketball. Although basketball is the stage upon which our two protagonists act, the story itself is about family and sacrifice and is one of the most powerful reflections of American life you will ever see.
And so my obsession with documentaries began. Back then, however, the only place you would see them was on TV and normally at a time which your parents would far prefer you were in bed. However as the twentieth century made way for its successor, documentaries reclaimed their place on the big screen. Kevin MacDonald's Touching the Void and Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine paved the way for a new future which allowed documentaries to take a far less objective approach, instead leading with a specific agenda and armed with some enthralling arguments.
Fast forward in time, through Morgan Spurlock's attempt to liquefy his own liver in Super Size Me and the dulcet tones of Morgan Freeman as penguins march across the frozen tundra, to the modern day where even the most avid filmgoer can be flicking through Netflix (other on-demand media streaming services are available) and come across gem after gem of incredible documentaries and think to themselves "how have I not seen or heard of this?". Picking up a previously undiscovered treasure like this is akin to finding a twenty pound note in the back pocket of your jeans or waking up on Saturday morning and thinking it is Sunday.
That is why I returned to my friend's Facebook post on multiple occasions and so far I have collected a number of fine additions, but the one which stands out the most is Mike Myer's Supermensch - The Legend of Shep Gordon. It documents the astonishing career of the loveable Hollywood insider Shep Gordon. The name will not be instantly recognisable to most of you, but the list of his clients will be. Michael Douglas, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd, Blondie, Sylvester Stallone - the list is equally long as it is impressive, however the most impressive thing about Shep isn't the number of beautiful women he has slept with, nor the amount of money he has amassed over the years.
The most impressive thing is the way in which he is described by his friends. The film's title Supermensch refers to the Yiddish word meaning "a person of integrity and honour" and by the time the credits rolled it could not have been clearer to me that here was an individual to whom the title not only applied, but warranted the "Super" prefix. Mike Myers himself calls Gordon “the nicest person I’ve ever met, hands down” and Michael Douglas adds, “I have told Shep things I haven’t told anybody, not even my wife.”
The main thing which I took away from this documentary was that although Shep Gordon had achieved some monumental things throughout his career, the real message was not what he did but how he did it. It wasn't what he communicated, but how he communicated. He did it through building friendships, rather than business partnerships. He talked to people as if they were people, not pawns on Hollywood's chessboard. He would do anything for anybody at any time, never expecting anything in return. At the heart of everything he did and every interaction he ever had were some very simple principles.
Compassion. Integrity. Empathy. Warmth. Tolerance. Humanity.
The world of commerce and business is perhaps not the first place one would look to find examples of these qualities, but it should be. Being successful depends on your own definition of success, however if you can leave the world a better place than when you entered it, then in my eyes you should deem that as a win!