80s Documentaries on Netflix

Hi Everybody! Today, we have an article from Robert about two documentaries that may be of interest to you. This year, I just started using Netflix. So I am excited to be able to check these out.
Please let us know if you have seen either of these docs that Robert discusses, and let us know what you think.



Things are busy. There are so many things to do that it has become extremely difficult for me to consistently watch a television series with any sort of regularity. Honestly, I have given up trying. If there is a television program that I am interested in and I cannot catch the first episode, I am forced to find other means. Fortunately, there are other means. I could DVR these shows, but I save that space for movies, sports, and cable series like The Leftovers and Game of Thrones. I have not yet subscribed to Hulu – no reason, just haven’t. So I am heavily reliant upon Netflix to save me. I admit that patience is a must, but I am just fine with that. I have found it preferable to watch a series straight through – consecutive seasons at a time – as opposed to week by week on television. I have thoroughly enjoyed binge watching How I Met Your Mother, The Inbetweeners (British series), Mad Men, and New Girl (although I must exude real patience waiting for final or new seasons to be available). I sincerely hope that The Goldbergs will be added soon.

My family considers me a bit weird, but I really love watching documentaries on Netflix nearly as much as movies and television series. Documentaries do not come to movie theaters in my smallish town in Nebraska. I am anxiously waiting to see if the new version of Macbeth will be able to get a screening with Star Wars: The Force Awakens being released at the same time. I also do not go and see many movies like I used to. There needs to be something pretty special for me to go to the theater instead of just waiting for the Blu Ray or iTunes to release a movie. Also, I cannot see myself paying for a ticket to see a documentary – no matter how good. So I am very excited when Netflix adds new documentary films. Occasionally, a new one is added that also speaks to my 80s conscious – and it has happened twice this month!

Anyone with any memories of growing up in the ‘80s needs to run to their television/iPad/tablet – whatever you stream Netflix through – and check out two excellent documentaries that have the 80s flowing through them. The titles you need are All American High Revisited and Back in Time.

All American High School Revisited

In 1984 (released in 1986) Keva Rosenfeld directed this film that followed a group of seniors attending Torrance High School in California. The dominant narrator of the film is Rikki, an exchange student from Finland, and the film depicts typical high school scenes – Homecoming, football games, classes, lunch – exactly what you would expect. BUT IT IS ALL IN 1984!!! As I have mentioned in previous articles, I attended high school in Frankfurt, Germany. We had to wait a few months for movies to make it to the American theaters and movies like All American High were never shown. I never heard about this movie until I stumbled across an advance article talking about a re-release with updates on the main characters, hence the Revisited. The film did not run in my town, so when Netflix added it, I jumped off my seat and watched it immediately (full disclosure: four times in a week).

I cannot call this a great film, but it will strike a purely nostalgic chord with any viewer who went to high school in the ‘80s (I graduated in 1987 so I was a sophomore in the fall of ‘84). While it may not be a perfect film, it did receive, among many other awards, the Distinguished Documentary Award from the International Documentary Association. The film presently has an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a 100% audience approval rating.

The film begins with a montage of a typical high school with the following words in between short clips:

Back in 1984
things were a little different
technology was simpler
fashion was so awesome
high school was fun
especially to a foreigner

Check out the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpKcn9i4Hgo

The film does not really turn into a tell all expose on what real American teens were doing when their parents weren’t looking. Yes, it does contain a few party scenes with some very ambitious young men making a few bucks, but it never turns negative. Rosenfeld keeps the focus on Rikki and how different the American high school experience is compared to the experiences she had in Finland. Rikki makes some keen observations that most of us take for granted. She is amazed at the number of items available to buy at the local mall and, in the same breath she expounds on the social nature of American education. She says that at times she feels like an outsider, but the school and many of the students do an excellent job in including her in daily school life.

Rosenfeld includes an array of scenes that capture high school life. There is the Homecoming court being revealed, there is a discussion on the threat of nuclear war in a political science class, and there is a student explaining the social groups at Torrance High: the punkers, the metalers, and the preppies.

The Revisited section of the film arrives during the final thirty minutes. Rosenfeld was able to catch up to several of the students who were featured in 1984. He is even able to go to Finland and interview Rikki. The documentary is viewed by her family with Rikki watching along – laughs and tears dominate this scene. The updates are given in a Fast Times at Ridgemont High style and the film comes to a much too early close.

I mention Fast Times at Ridgemont High because this film reminds me of it in many ways. I know that Cameron Crowe, the author of Fast Times, did his undercover research posing as a student in a California high school (not Torrance). So, technically, the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High is fictional and based on people Crowe met doing his research. All American High Revisited is different. It is the documented life of high school teens in 1984. Do yourself a favor, you ‘80s lovers, and “stroll down amnesia lane” (Robin WIlliams in Dead Poet’s Society). Everyone who went to high school in the ‘80s needs to see this fun, yet compelling documentary.

Back in Time

Netflix’s timing could not be more perfect. They added this documentary on October 21, 2015 – Back to the Future Day. As the title suggests, director Jason Aron has created, not only an homage to the ‘80s classic films Back to the Future, Back to the Future II, and Back to the Future III, he has examined the cultural impact that this film has had on, not only the ‘80s, but today as well.

Check out the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAUEgDfkKbg

This documentary has garnered no fewer than eight awards at various film festivals around the country. This is a testament to both this film and people’s long existing fascination with this film. Back in Time is packed clips from all three films, as well as compelling interviews with stars from the film including Lea Thompson, Christopher Lloyd, and Michael J. Fox.

This documentary starts by reviewing the scope of each three films’ plot. The balance of clips and interviews is masterful. Beginning this way reminds the viewer (as if they needed it) of the timeline encompassing the three films. The clips from the films give this documentary a great pace, while the interviews offer excellent insights from the performers, director, and writer. The fact that Eric Stoltz was originally cast as Marty McFly and began filming, but was later replaced by Michael J. Fox, is handled honestly and not avoided. The rotating interviews are nothing short of wonderful and insightful. It is wonderful to see the stars today – aged, more experienced – discuss their experiences filming the Back to the Future trilogy with reverence and a true sense of respect and nostalgia. It is clear that the films hold a special place in their hearts and they let it show. While the casts changes from Back to the Future and Back to the Future II are discussed, it is clear that these changes had no ill effects. There was no original plan to make two sequels, so inevitable cast changes were bound to happen.

The second part of Back in Time delves into audience reaction to the films, as well as how fans are trying to keep the memory of these great movies alive. Director Aron tracks the buying, selling, and modifications of DeLoreans. He includes footage of an original DeLorean at Universal studios theme park; this is expected. He also interviews and shows collectors who have purchased a remaining DeLorean or a non film DeLorean and modified it to look like the ones in the film. There are Back to the Future car shows (and even a marriage proposal at one) where people come together to celebrate the film. Many of these shows feature an actor from the films, costumes, DeLoreans- everything.

One touching aspect of fandom is a husband and wife who modified a Delorean and travel around the country raising money to eradicate Parkinson’s disease. Clearly this is being done in direct connection to this horrible condition that Michael J. Fox suffers from. He even shows his appreciation of their work by recognizing their efforts and occasionally making appearances at their events.

At times, fans dedication to Back to the Future seems a bit excessive, but it becomes more understandable and a true reflection of the impact that these films and characters have had on contemporary American pop culture. Back in Time has its own website that is full of information about the documentary: http://backintimefilm.com/

One thing that this documentary did to me was take me back. I watched this film with my eighteen year old son. He has seen and loves the Back to the Future films; in fact he was watching Back to the Future when I suggested (demanded?) we watch the documentary. While we were watching, he asked me questions about when I first saw the movie – and I relished telling him all about it. I happily told him that my two best friends (whom he has met) and I went to the Idle Hour movie theater that was on the same military base as our high school. I told him how much the movie captured us; we were riveted the entire time – enjoying every second of the movie. In a strange sort of way, I think that we knew that we watching something special. Back in Time validates our feelings. I texted my buddy the next day (the brothers both live in Louisville- nowhere near Nebraska) and he immediately asked my what my son thought about it. If an eighteen year old boy who seems more concerned about his Xbox, sports, and his girlfriend can sit and watch a documentary, then it must be pretty good.

My purpose here is not to review all of the contents of these films, rather I come to convince. Convince you that any person that lived through the ‘80s – any part of the ‘80s – needs to watch these two titles. Both of these documentaries that Netflix recently added, All American High Revisited and Back in Time are must see films. They will take you back to high school, teach you more about one of your favorite movies, and leave you with a true sense of what you loved about being young in the ‘80s. The sense of wonder, discovery, fleeting innocence, and, well, joy, will hit you hard. Both will make you miss high school and the first time you watched a classic film of the decade. For myself, I cannot stop watching either of these two films – I love them. Both leave me with a sense of melancholy for days passed, and a renewed sense of happiness and appreciation for the decade I grew up in. No time is without its problems, but I definitely look back at the ‘80s with a sense of longing – so be it, I am not going to change. These are great documentaries and need to be watched by everyone reading this.

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