Best Documentary Movies of 1981

1.

The Killing of America

4.0
7.6/10 IMDB

A documentary of the decline of America. Featuring footage (most exclusive to this film) from race riots to serial killers and much-much more.

Starring: Chuck Riley, Ed Dorris, Thomas Noguchi, Sirhan Sirhan, Wayne Henley, Ed Kemper, Ted Bundy ..
Directed by: Sheldon Renan, Leonard Schrader
Release date: 1981-09-05
2.

The Decline of Western Civilization

3.9
7.6/10 IMDB

The Los Angeles punk music scene circa 1980 is the focus of this film. With Alice Bag Band, Black Flag, Catholic Discipline, Circle Jerks, Fear, Germs, and X.

Starring: Alice Bag, Claude Bessy, Black Flag, Don Bolles, Dinah Cancer, Exene Cervenka, Circle Jerks, Philo Cramer, Darby Crash, John Doe ..
Directed by: Penelope Spheeris
Release date: 1981-07-01
3.

This Is Elvis

3.9
7.5/10 IMDB

Though several actors portray Elvis Presley at different stages of his life, this documentary is comprised mostly of actual performance footage and interviews with Elvis, his fans and those close to him. This biographical docu-drama features rare footage of Elvis and dramatically recreated scenes from Elvis' life.

Starring: Elvis Presley, David Scott, Paul Boensch III, Johnny Harra, Linda Thompson ..
Directed by: Malcolm Leo, Andrew Solt
Release date: 1981-04-04
Best Documentary Movies of 1981 : Kiss Me, Petruchio
4.

Kiss Me, Petruchio

3.8
7.9/10 IMDB

A documentary about the 1978 stage production of The Taming of the Shrew by the New York City Shakespeare company at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Includes scenes from the production, interviews with Meryl Streep (Kate) and Raul Julia (Petruchio) as well as an introduction by producer Joseph Papp and audience commentary.

Starring: Meryl Streep, Raúl Juliá, John Bottoms, Joel Brooks, Max Gulak, Joseph Papp, Larry Pine, Deborah Rush ..
Directed by: Christopher Dixon
Release date: 1981-01-07
Best Documentary Movies of 1981 : The man who could not see far enough
5.

The man who could not see far enough

3.7
7.7/10 IMDB

A film that uses literary, structural, autobiographical, and performance metaphors to construct a series of tableaux that evoke the act of vision, the limits of perception, and the rapture of space.

Directed by: Peter Rose
Release date: 1981-09-17
Best Documentary Movies of 1981 : Downtown '81
6.

Downtown '81

3.7
7.1/10 IMDB

The film is a day in the life of a young artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, who needs to raise money to reclaim the apartment from which he has been evicted. He wanders the downtown streets carrying a painting he hopes to sell, encountering friends, whose lives (and performances) we peek into.

Starring: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Debbie Harry, Vincent Gallo, Coati Mundi, Debi Mazar, George Quinones, Walter Steding, Steven Brown, Eszter Balint, Kid Creole ..
Directed by: Edo Bertoglio
Release date: 1981-01-01
7.

Vernon, Florida

3.7
7.1/10 IMDB

Early Errol Morris documentary intersplices random chatter he captured on film of the genuinely eccentric residents of Vernon, Florida. A few examples? The preacher giving a sermon on the definition of the word "Therefore," and the obsessive turkey hunter who speaks reverentially of the "gobblers" he likes to track down and kill.

Starring: Albert Bitterling, Roscoe Collins, George Harris ..
Directed by: Errol Morris
Release date: 1981-10-08
8.

Urgh! A Music War

3.3
8.0/10 IMDB

Urgh! A Music War is a British film released in 1982 featuring performances by punk rock, new wave, and post-punk acts, filmed in 1980. Among the artists featured in the movie are Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Magazine, The Go-Go's, Toyah Willcox, The Fleshtones, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, X, XTC, Devo, The Cramps, Oingo Boingo, Dead Kennedys, Gary Numan, Klaus Nomi, Wall of Voodoo, Pere Ubu, Steel Pulse, Surf Punks, 999, UB40, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Police. These were many of the most popular groups on the New Wave scene; in keeping with the spirit of the scene, the film also features several less famous acts, and one completely obscure group, Invisible Sex, in what appears to be their only public performance.

Starring: Sting, Stewart Copeland, Andy Summers, Devo, Gang of Four, Dead Kennedys, Jello Biafra, Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman, Toyah Willcox ..
Directed by: Derek Burbidge
Release date: 1981-11-07
Best Documentary Movies of 1981 : Brooklyn Bridge
9.

Brooklyn Bridge

3.1
7.5/10 IMDB

Today it's a symbol of strength and vitality. 135 years ago, it was a source of controversy. This documentary examines the great problems and ingenious solutions that marked the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. From conception to construction, it traces the bridge's transformation from a spectacular feat of heroic engineering to an honored symbol in American culture.

Starring: David McCullough, Paul Roebling, Julie Harris, Arthur Miller ..
Directed by: Ken Burns
Release date: 1981-11-08
Best Documentary Movies of 1981 : Theater in Trance
10.

Theater in Trance

3.0
7.1/10 IMDB

Rainer Werner Fassbinder visits for two weeks the "Theater der Welt" festival 1981 in Cologne. 30 companies showed in over 100 performances their own visions of a new theater. Framed by Fassbinder's reading of one of the famous essays on theater: Antonin Artaud's "The Theater and its double". The audience is left to wonder how much of Artaud's radical and beautiful vision is realized in contemporary theater.

Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Release date: 1981-08-20

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