Documentary Review: Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007)

Release Date: January 22nd, 2007 (Sundance)
Directed by: Lincoln Ruchti
Cast: various

Men At Work Pictures LLC, 90 Minutes

Review:

After revisiting The King of Kong for the first time in years, I wanted to also revisit this, as it’s a very similar documentary that came out just before that more famous one.

While this isn’t the near masterpiece that The King of Kong is, it ties directly to it and its story and frankly, this plays like a prelude or a setup to that movie.

This goes through the history of arcade gaming and also covers the legends that rose up in the early days, their records, their effect on pop culture, as well as the creation of Twin Galaxies, the organization that records and maintains world records in arcade gaming. I believe they also keep records for console and PC gaming but it’s the arcade side of things that inspired them to exist in the first place.

There is a lot in this documentary about Billy Mitchell, who was pretty much the villain in The King of Kong story. It also features nearly all of the key people and legends that played a part in that film.

While this isn’t as good as The King of Kong it does feel like a necessary companion piece to it, allowing the viewer to have a deeper, richer experience in getting to know these people and their interesting, competitive and sometimes cutthroat subculture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: The King of Kong, which this truly plays as a preface to.

Documentary Review: Circus of Books (2019)

Release Date: April 26th, 2019 (Tribeca Film Festival)
Directed by: Rachel Mason
Written by: Rachel Mason, Kathryn Robson
Cast: Karen Mason, Barry Mason, Rachel Mason, various

Netflix, 92 Minutes

Review:

I saw this pop up on Netflix, so I figured I’d check it out, as I generally enjoy the documentaries they distribute through their streaming service.

I wasn’t disappointed, as this is a really interesting story about a religious Jewish family who opened up a gay porn store, which also became a gay porn film studio and distributor. The store rose to prominence within the Los Angeles gay scene in the ’80s and would also reach far beyond its home city.

This kind of hit close to home, as I’ve been around gay culture since my teen years. The scene in southern Florida is big and even though I’m straight, I’ve always had gay friends and also lived with a pretty legit drag queen for a bit. The era that the bulk of this story took place in just brought a lot of those great memories back.

Beyond the nostalgia, this is an intriguing story about really interesting, good people. It’s hard not to love the family that started this store and it’s just as much a love letter to them, as it is the store itself.

I especially liked how interesting the father was with his backstory and the road that life took him on, leading up to becoming a straight, religious, family man that owned a gay book store.

This also examines the impact that owning the store had on the family as a whole in an age when it was considered really taboo. I liked meeting the kids, getting their take on all of it and how they grew up with this “moral” cloud over their religious upbringing.

It was also really cool seeing people from the L.A. gay community talking about the store and what it meant to them during really difficult times in their lives.

This really hits you in the feels and it’s unfortunate that the store, during the filming of this documentary, was falling on real hard times due to the world evolving away from the old mediums of pornography thanks to the Internet.

While this documentary was made by someone within the family, it’s not in any way inauthentic or dishonest because of that. In fact, it made the experience more intimate and meaningful.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries about LGBTQ cultural history, porn and small business.

Book Review: ‘Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, Vol. 2’ by Roy Thomas

The first volume of this book series covered issues 1-51 of the original Marvel Comics Conan the Barbarian series. This volume covers issues 52-100.

These two books are written by Roy Thomas, the legend that wrote the Conan comics. These basically serve as his commentary on his stories.

In fact, when I go back and read old issues, I’ve picked these books up to read his insight before revisiting them.

Thomas has always been one of my favorite comic book writers and the Conan franchise has always been one of my favorite IPs. So having these books is pretty damn cool and I’m actually pretty thankful that something like this was written, compiled and published.

I already reviewed the first one and all the positives I had to say about it also ring true for this volume.

All in all, these are great, resourceful books that allow you to understand Thomas’ inspiration, his stories and these characters on a level much deeper than just the comic book page.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Roy Thomas’ historic run on Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian.