Blackfish (Film Review)

Blackfish (Film Review)

Blackfish is one of those documentaries that comes out every couple of years that actually gets people buzzing about the message of the film, and quickly becomes something that everybody needs to see. There are plenty of examples of this, including famous docs like 20 Feet From Stardom, Bowling for Columbine, or The Cove

The film is straight forward in its message: the capture and keeping of orcas (killer whales) is wrong, as it leads the majestic animals to feel trapped, causing them to occasionally lash out at their trainers, which often leads to their deaths.There really isn’t both sides to this story, especially because SeaWorld decided not to be a part of the documentary to defend their actions or provide viewers with their side of the story. Due to this, SeaWorld comes across as a monster corporation that does horrible things to the animals they have in captivity. 

Blackfish_2.jpgThere are plenty of interesting things in this film. Some shocking stories, and a lot of good interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, orca experts, and occupational health and safety people. There are some details from the numerous court cases against SeaWorld over the years, and there are the terrible stories of trainers that lost their lives by being attacked by killer whales. 

But most interesting, is the stories of the killer whales themselves. 

Impressive animals, it is heartbreaking to see footage of them being hunted and torn away from their families, for the entertainment of the paying public. The lies spread by the company have been heard by anybody who has ever visited animals in captivity. Sure, they live longer in captivity. Except, this isn’t true. They are with their families. Not true either. In fact, the whales are taken from different parts of the world, and have difficulty adapting to one another, often leaving them brutalized and bleeding from the abuse they put on one another. The trainers are highly trained individuals who go through years of practice before working with the animals. Also a lie.

Blackfish makes us feel sorry for the animals, before we feel sorry for the humans. It is sad when human life is lost, but by the end of the film, we really can’t blame the whales for lashing out. They live in pools, too small for their massive size, and go through grueling training and performances every day. They are wild animals, and they have been pent up, and we are surprised whenever their instincts take over. 

Seeing the sagging dorsal fin is another of the sad moments of the film.
Seeing the sagging dorsal fin is another of the sad moments of the film.

Perhaps most offensive is the gross negligence of SeaWorld, when they purchased a male whale for breeding purposes, who already had a history of violence against people (and would only increase his list of fatalities as the years wore on). Not only were they breeding his behaviors into new generations of killer whales, but they were keeping the massive whale, the largest in captivity, in conditions that were not suitable for his size. It is sad to watch. Even though the animals often seem like they are having fun, and enjoy performing the tricks, there has to be a point where they want to be free. The researchers interviewed in the film discuss the idea that orcas have the ability to feel emotions in a similar way to humans, and this is demonstrated by their cries when their calves are taken away, or when they seem depressed and won’t move for hours at a time. We, as regular viewers, can plainly see that these creatures have emotions, especially where their own families are concerned, and yet we still support places like SeaWorld, paying to watching them to funny tricks. It was interesting to hear from the trainers, who were always shocked yet not entirely shocked when a whale would attack a human. Once they got past the fun of their jobs, they realized that what they were doing was wrong, and they too, began to feel sorry for the animals, one trainer admitting that he only kept the job because he cared so much for the orca he was working with, and wasn’t sure who would take care of him if he left. 

Destroying nature for our entertainment is nothing new. We have been doing it forever, and will probably continue to do so until awareness by films such as Blackfish turn enough people off the idea of keeping free animals locked away, and keeps them away from the parks that support this behavior.

This is very much a one-sided documentary, making it more of an opinion film than a true documentary. Regardless, the message is clear, and it would be difficult to support a company like SeaWorld after seeing something like this. It is terrible what is done to the creatures. Sure, they are not abused or beaten by the trainers. But some of the techniques are harsh, and the conditions are in no way ideal places for the black and white creatures to exist. They need the oceans to live. Not pools. 

Blackfish is highly interesting, and worth the buzz that it has generated. It is worth watching on Netflix.

20 Feet From Stardom (Film Review)

20 Feet From Stardom (Film Review)

The best documentary of the past year, according to the Oscars, is 20 Feet From Stardom, the story of the men and women behind the greatest musical artists of our time: the backup singers.

Living in relative obscurity, these (primarily) women are the voices that we all know and love from our favorite records, but know nothing about them, and too often, never give them a second thought. The most poignant and true line of the film is when someone states that the backup singers are so important, to the point that when people hear their songs on the radio, it is the backing vocals they often sing along with, not the lead singer. And this couldn’t be more true. The backup singers sing the hooks, the parts of the song that we love and remember better than anything.

201In 20 Feet From Stardom, we are given the stories of some of the most famous singers of all time, if we only knew who they were. It is absolutely incredible to see and hear the lists of songs that these women sang on, and helped to make great. The film does an incredible job of letting us know how important they were to the great days of soul, R&B, and rock n’ roll music, and giving us their resumes of what they have accomplished over the years. It is also incredible to find out how only a small handful of people were the same ones on hit after hit, songs that we have sung along with on the radio for years.

These women were blessed with some incredible vocal talents, and the innate ability to listen to a song, and figure out what their parts should be, and how to harmonize perfectly along with them. This has created some incredible music, as many of our favorite songs would be nothing without the backing vocals. It is very interesting to see why their careers were as backing singers, and it is for a number of reasons. Some prefer to remain in the background. Some tried to have solo careers, but were victims of timing, or the industry, or bad contracts. Some couldn’t dedicate the time or ego to being a solo artist. The reasons are all over the place, and it is kind of sad to know that some of the greatest talents of our time were stuck singing “Oooh”s behind some of our favorite artists.

One of the more interesting tales is that of the famous Rolling Stones song, “Gimme Shelter.” One of their better songs, it is so inspired due to the wailing female voice that delivers some of the more poignant lines in the song. The story of how it came to be is amazing, and simply gaining an understanding of how important the female voice is to that song is what makes the storytelling in this film so memorable. It does its best to put a name and a face to the voices we all really do know.

As expected, 20 Feet From Stardom is chock full of great music. From Motown, to David Bowie, the Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, it is all there.

This film is an excellent view into the lives of the backup singers. The hardships and the successes, the moments of glory on stage and the great tales of the recording studio. It is very humanizing, and makes us want to hear more from these great vocalists. It does a great job of letting us see behind the scenes in to the music industry, and why none of these women really “made it,” as we would typically describe making it. From the start, it is very interesting, and the movie never really lags in its story. We go from the origins of the backup vocals around the time of Motown hits, to the golden age of rock and roll, where they were given more freedom and leeway. We get to see their reactions to suddenly going from being singers, to being sexualized on stage, to forgotten and replaced by emerging recording technologies. It is a sad story, but one that allows us to see the strength and glory of these women and their accomplishments.

For fans of documentaries, and of music in general, 20 Feet From Stardom is a must-see. You may never listen to your favorite songs the same way again.