Top Docs: Empowering 'Girls Can't Surf'; 'American Horses'; and More

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

American Horses. 55+ min. PBS. 2022. DVD UPC 4188704618. $24.99.

Horses have been intertwined with American history for centuries. Across over a hundred breeds, horses’ stories are unique to particular regions and what they were bred to do. Part of the PBS Nature series and narrated by Bill Pullman, this documentary looks at four of the most famous breeds of horse—Mustang, Morgan, Appaloosa, and Quarter—and traces their beginnings in the Americas, the breeds’ individual merits, and their important cultural links with humans. Viewers meet members of the Nez Perce Tribe, cowboys, and farmers who have deep, intimate connections with their horses. Watching these powerful, majestic animals run is truly a beautiful sight and if there is a fault in this short documentary, it is that it is just that—too short. VERDICT Without horses, the story of America would have been drastically altered. This film is the fascinating history of their importance.

Girls Can’t Surf. 108+ min. Gravitas Ventures. 2020 (prod.). 2022 (DVD release). DVD UPC 1009777032. $17.99.

After the initial craze in the 1960s, surfing again exploded in popularity in the early 1980s and became more professional, the pros were mostly men. That changed when a ground-breaking collection of women from around the world broke down social and economic barriers, forcing their way to the forefront and onto good waves. Battling stereotypes, lower pay, inability to find sponsors, and old-fashioned misogyny, the documentary’s subjects share their individual and collective struggles for acceptance and equality as both athletes and people. Featuring over two decades of terrific archival surfing footage and a cheeky sense of humor, the film effectively focuses on all the elements that made these women such forces in the surfing world despite the issues that needed changing. VERDICT Christopher Nelius has created an empowering and entertaining sports film that profiles a collection of pioneering athletes.

Herzog: The Collection, Volume 2. 657+ min. Shout Factory. 2022. Blu-ray UPC 2666322650. $79.99.

The German filmmaker Werner Herzog is one of cinema’s most important and visionary directors, known for both his fiction and nonfiction work. This collection comprises 11 of Herzog’s films ranging from 1968 to 2005 that will give viewers a vivid window into the varied interests of all things Herzog. Whether they depict auctioneers in the rural United States, dangerous ski-flying in Europe, or Tibetan Buddhism, all the films feature the idiocentric look at the world that is distinctly “Herzog.” VERDICT An essential collection of works by one of the most individualistic and beloved filmmakers in the history of the medium.

So Late So Soon. 71+ min. Oscilloscope. 2020 (prod.). 2022 (DVD release). DVD UPC 5001080453. $34.99.

In this bittersweet documentary, octogenarian Chicago artists Jackie and Don Seiden have been married for over 50 years and live in a large, pastel-hued Victorian that is falling apart. Shot over five years, Daniel Hymanson’s film includes frank talk between the couple about mortality and life apart from each other; Jackie, a one-time roller-skating aficionado and a self-described “whirling dervish,” laments that she is “disintegrating” before her own eyes. At its heart, the film is a tribute to the creative spirit and the sacrifices one makes for their art. VERDICT The artist’s urge to create is front and center as a married couple confront the ravages of aging.

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