Top Docs: Sesame Street, Chuck Berry, and an Abandoned New Orleans Theme Park

LJ’s documentary film reviewer picks four stirring new works, now available on DVD/Blu-ray. 

Closed for Storm. 78+ min. Gravitas Ventures. DVD 810047236207. $16.98.
Unused since Hurricane Katrina wreaked its havoc on the area in 2005, New Orleans’s amusement park Jazzland is now a ghostly, desolate, overgrown remnant of its past. In Jake Williams’s bittersweet film, the history of Jazzland is traced through cheerful promotional material and firsthand accounts from enthusiasts and staff before the hurricane. Now the park exists almost frozen in time, accessed only by graffiti artists and curious explorers. VERDICT A slice of Americana that considers the ups and downs of an amusement park.
Chuck Berry: The Original King of Rock & Roll. 98+ min. MVD Visual. DVD 760137342595. $19.95.
Music icon Chuck Berry gets a lively tribute here. Focusing more on the music than the artist’s personal life, director Jon Brewer doesn’t shy away from pointed discussions about the inherent racism that kept Berry from becoming an even bigger star, though he did break through many racist boundaries of the time. The reenactments get a bit tiresome, but the discussion of his songs and the obstacles he overcame make this a great introduction to Berry’s legacy. VERDICT There can’t be a discussion of rock and roll history without trailblazer Chuck Berry, and this raucous bio-doc with a stellar soundtrack will undoubtedly please music fans.
Last Man Fishing. 64+ min. Hourglass Films. DVD UPC 7297589539. $24.95.
Fishing is not that different from other independent industries that try to compete with large-scale corporations: it’s not for the faint of heart. This film follows the struggles of coastal fishing communities facing long odds to survive while pursuing strategies that are more environmentally friendly than commercial fishing. The fishing industry as a whole is complex, and one of the most engrossing elements of director J. D. Schuyler’s film is the intimate portrayal of those who work extremely long hours and their relationships with the fish, the water, and their customers. VERDICT Recommended to anyone interested in food or the environment.
orange starred review symbolStreet Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street. 105+ min. Screen Media Films. DVD UPC1483801662. $29.95.
It’s impossible not to feel good while watching this documentary that pulls the curtain back on a legendary children’s television program. Born from the social idealism of the 1960s, Sesame Street was a progressive show whose goal was to use television to educate kids. We meet the puppeteers, the producers, the crew, and the creative team who blended innocence, comedy, wild imagination, music, intelligence, and, yes, puppets into a universally beloved mix that resulted in one of the most influential TV shows of all time. Director Marilyn Agrelo shifts between Sesame Street and the world around it and examines how each informed the other in fascinating ways. VERDICT A bighearted blast of positivity, this film is essential for all public libraries.
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