The Fantastic Mr. Feynman

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“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”
- Richard P. Feynman

This is my favorite documentary of one of my favorite people, Richard Feynman.

His lectures and books — such as Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) — have greatly inspired many of my best decisions in life. He also inspired me to teach.

I hope you enjoy the film as much as I did. Whether you like bongo drums, safe cracking, go-go dancers, or physics, there’s something for everyone.

###

Question of the day: If you had to pick your favorite documentary, which would it be and why? Let me know in the comments!

Posted on: June 30, 2013.

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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration)

184 comments on “The Fantastic Mr. Feynman

  1. Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” without a shadow of a doubt.

    If I had to pick a single episode, it would be the mind-blowing elegant conclusion, “Who Speaks for Earth?”

    Like

  2. Wow, talk about gret timing… I’ve looking for a good documentary to watch for the last hour or so and suddenly saw your tweet… with this!

    Last week I watched this one on Che Guevara and immediately became one of my all-time favorites: very well-balanced account of one of the most polarizing historical characters of all time…

    Like

  3. I have to say Buck. Inspiring to see someone take a childhood of abuse and turn it into a mesmerizing life’s work of training horses. The best part is the training of horses is actually training people (horse’s owners). Even if you know nothing about horses, it’s totally worth watching as Buck is one of the most authentic people (& philosophers) on the planet.

    The Fog of War is another one. Robert Mcnamara’s reflections on his life and the Vietnam War. A reflective piece that brings up all sorts of questions about power, control, and bias.

    Like

  4. Feynman is one of my favourite people, too. What a hero.

    I saw this great documentary on the BBC a few months ago, although I prefer the ‘Please of finding things out’ documentary Tim posted a year or two ago.

    Like

  5. Hey Tim,

    My favourite documentary is Craigslist Joe.

    Joe Garner lives off Craigslist for 31 days. It’s a compelling watch and offers many insights into the human condition.

    I had to rely on the Australian version of Craigslist to sell all of my personal possessions before I relocated to Australia and the cross-section of folks I met was fascinating – it made for some entertaining blog posts!

    There were 1 or 2 unsavoury characters, but on the most part it was a ton of fun and I made a few new friends.

    Thanks,
    Alex

    Like

  6. Thanks for the tip on this intriguing man
    And his memoir.

    “One has to be an open palm.
    As soon as it clenches into a fist
    the person loses the ability
    to learn and to enjoy new things
    and that is the onset of old age.”

    Quote I read by physicist in an
    amazon reader comment
    on his memoir

    Thanks to you!

    Like

  7. Great question, Tim. My favorite documentary would have to be “Gates of Heaven”, the first documentary made by Errol Morris. It’s a charming and deeply moving film about a Bay Area animal cemetery, interviewing the owners of their late pets.

    Interestingly, it gave rise to another wonderful Les Blank documentary, “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe”. Errol Morris, then a film school professor, had been friends with Herzog, and Herzog finally tired of Morris’s constant proclamations that he was going to make a documentary someday. Finally Herzog pointed at his foot and told Morris that Morris would NEVER make a documentary, and if he ever did, Herzog would eat his shoe.

    Whereupon Morris finally got off his ass and made the transcendent “gates of heaven”, resulting in the documentary by Les Blank, shot at Chez Panisse. (Alice Waters had simmered the shoe for five hours.)

    Morris, as you probably know, went on to become one of the greatest documentary filmmakers in history, and Blank himself made “Burden of Dreams” about Herzog (which itself is in the running for best documentary every ever made.)

    Like

  8. Who was it that said pick yourself?

    I pick me, my own documentary. I made a documentary about an Oscar nominated animator, Bill Plympton to inspire others that they could also be a full time artist and live the life of their dreams. It is called Adventures in Plymptoons! and it is available to view for free on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon or Yekra. I always encourage others to have their library buy it.

    So many great documentaries, a good second of the day is by D.A. Pennebaker about the french pastry competition.

    Enjoy the day!

    Like

  9. The part of Feynman’s work that sticks with me most is the paraphrase of his quote, “if we can’t teach it simply, then we don’t really understand it.” Well, that and his habit of safe cracking the file cabinets at Los Alamos during the Manhattan project.

    Thanks for posting this, Tim.

    Like

  10. Dogtown and Z-Boys, a nice trip down to memory lane

    Restrepo, very impressive war docu

    Cave of forgotten dreams, Werner Hertogenbosch goes cave exploring

    The powers of nightmare, disturbing yet enlightening

    The fog of War, McNamara tells it

    When we were Kings, Ali and Foreman in Zaire

    Sorry Tim, couldn’t pick one :)

    Like

  11. I found that Fynman is a perfect example of someone who lived his life by design, with purposeful intent, instead of letting his life unfold before him.

    How I strive to do the same.

    Great documentary Tim. Thanks for making me aware of it.

    Like

  12. Favorite documentary:

    “Cosmos” – by Carl Sagan.

    My understanding of the world is what I use to find my reason for life. The story of everything, as explained by physics today, details the remarkably beautiful interrelatedness of life to the cosmos itself.

    This is something Feynman understood better than most, and his excitement made him supremely qualified to share it with the world.

    Like

  13. It looks like I have to add another person to my “if you could talk to anyone living or dead” list! Very interesting documentary.

    One of my favourite documentaries (well, technically, it is an autobiography seeing as he filmed everything himself) is about Dick Proenneke. He decided to give up living a traditional life and definitely followed his muse – He built a cabin in the woods of Alaska with his own two hands and lived there very self sufficiently for 30 years. He filmed a great deal of how he built his cabin and how he lived using a windup mechanical film camera. He was definitely someone who marched to his own drum.

    Great post Tim.

    Like

  14. Bo Jackson. ESPN 30 for 30… Bo knows basketball. Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball. Bo knows hockey? Bo knows banking! LOL

    Like

    • James, i too was impacted by Zeitgeist on 911, religions and the banking industry…all things we have been fooled in some way…What is Thrive?…looking forward to finding it…:)

      Like

  15. Hands down my favorite documentary is Senna. I’ll give you the links:

    Netflix – http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Senna/70170051?trkid=2361637

    Amazon Instant Video – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006MGDVFM/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=B006MGDVFM&linkCode=as2&tag=jasfor-20

    Honorable Mentions

    Cave of Forgotten Dreams – http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Cave_of_Forgotten_Dreams/70145740?trkid=2361637

    Jiro Dreams of Sushi – http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Jiro_Dreams_of_Sushi/70181716?trkid=2361637

    Man on Wire – http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/Man_on_Wire/70084167?trkid=2361637

    So many more I could share. Message me if you want a more exhaustive list. I f*ing love documentaries.

    Like

  16. Food Matters would be probably be the one that I would like watch over and over again. It is directed by Carlo Ledesma. Food is the most important drug of our life that helps to be in optimum mental and physical health. Lack of proper knowledge on nutrition and you are below optimum. First and foremost – we need to be at our optimum level to perform our best . That’s it :). Food matters.

    Thanks and Regards,
    Rohit Goshai

    Like

    • Food Matters is one of my favorites as well. I’ve watched it several times and it has completely changed my relationship with food. I also like Food Inc. and have watched it many times. Very eye opening. Joel Salatin is my hero. :)

      Like

  17. He certainly did what he enjoyed doing and was led by curiosity, like you, Tim. That is a great lesson for all of us. Thanks Tim!

    BTW Tim, when did you “meet” Feynman for the first time? Or maybe you have really met him!!

    Like

  18. Thanks Tim.

    My favorite documentary is the “I am” by Tom Shadyac. It talks about human nature, connectedness, and touches on the scientific evidence behind it… which I found particularly fascinating.

    ~Rob

    Like

  19. My favourite documentary is “Children Full of Life” – about Toshiro Kanamori, a teacher at a middle school in Japan, and the way he raises his homeroom class throughout the school year. It’s entirely filmed in Japan but is narrated and subtitled in English. Kanamori has also penned numerous books on the subject of children growing up, and his approach is something to be marvelled at.

    Like

  20. Craigslist Joe is fantastic! Joe lives off Craigslist for a full 31 days with no money, food or shelter and he meets all types of people. A great insight into the human condition.

    Like

    • Hey Alex, check out Mark boyle, he s from the uk and has lived with no money for a few years. There is no documentary about,, prob just a ted talk and a book, but definitely worth some attention!
      Have a nice day,
      Stefano

      Like

  21. I follow your blog for about six years now. It gave me a lot of bad headaches.

    In the Netherlands I support a footballclub called Feyenoord Rotterdam. This club gave me a lot of headaches as well.

    Still, this club keeps attracting me, just like you do with your blog.

    It’s a way of living to support this club. Recently a group of supporters made a documentary about this club. It’s about the history of the club, the Rotterdam connection and the solidarity between all kinds of different people who support this club. About childeren who visit their first game with their dad who visit his first game with the little boys granddad. About players who started playing for this club when they were six and left the pitch with lots of tears after another negative result. And so on.

    Why is this documentary so important to me? It shows in what way different kind of people enjoy life, support each other when needed and fall in love. Their connection? Feyenoord Rotterdam.

    Title: ”The other side of the heart is white”

    Ps: I still have to built a succesful start-up. I tried a few things during the last couple of years, but I failed every single time at implementing new habits. Can you imagine?

    Like

  22. Not much agenda. I recommend BEAUTIFUL TRUTH as a favorite but all the SF crowd would revel at FOOD WARS. What a fantastic life.

    Like

  23. I loved this documentary so much, thank you!!!! Feynman was such an incredible man, If you get a chance read “What do you care what other people think?” It’s a follow on to “Surely you must be joking Mr Feynman” and he writes about things such as the death of Arlene in such a heartbreaking and beautiful way you’d swear writing was his profession.

    My favourite documentary is “Pumping Iron” about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last Mr Olympia (before he came back a few years later), not interested in bodybuilding at all but the way it examines the what drives the obsession of the various characters is compelling. It also gives you a glimpse of Arnie as more than just a muscly actor, well worth checking out.

    Like

  24. I never heard of Richard Feynman and had no idea what I was getting into when I started this video. I have never been much of a mathematician and in fact barely made it through Algebra in college. When I was a teen I wanted to be an astronomer, until I found out how much math was involved, and the salary.

    When I started this video I was dismayed by the math aspects and its length. My first reaction was that do not have a free hour to watch any video. Then, I magically became engrossed in the story and immersed in Feynman’s life. When my wife called me to come to dinner I paused the video at about 30 minutes, went to eat, and ran right back to continue the rendition.

    This was a great production and very interesting. I am going to forward this link to several close friends who I think will, like me, find it impossible to stop watching.

    One of the questions asked here was what documentary impressed me and I would have to say, “Temple Grandin,” with Claire Danes. I saw this movie shortly after it came out on HBO and it was great. Both my wife and I are against hunting and do not eat beef, so while I liked the movie a lot and recommended it to my wife she could not watch it due to the cruelty to animals depicted.

    Like

  25. “Temple Grandin,” with Claire Danes. I saw this movie shortly after it came out on HBO and it was great. Both my wife and I are against hunting and do not eat beef, so while I liked the movie a lot and recommended it to my wife she could not watch it due to the cruelty to animals depicted. In case anyone has not seen this movie, which had very limited release, I will not go into detail and spoil the plot. Needless to say, Claire Danes won an Emmy for her portrayal of Temple Grandin in this movie.

    Like

  26. The video,a must see for all, was fantastic, Mr Feynman was & always will be an eternal legend !
    So much truth & integrity in his quotes.

    Like

  27. Hi Tim,

    One of my favorite documentaries (I have quite a few that are my favorites) is:

    Brits Get Rich in China:

    I liked it simply because I found the stories in it inspiring and educational at the same time.

    Hope you get to watch it and enjoy it as I did.

    P.S. I’m not a Brit.

    Like

  28. Hearing about just how much a cheeky character he was during my A-Levels is what partly inspired me to get a Physics degree.

    Also Surely You’re Joking is the only book to make me laugh so hard causing me to attract several unwarranted stares.

    Probably didn’t help I was also the only single person in that ice cream cafe as well…

    Like

  29. Feynman is a huge influence on me. One of the main reasons I study electrical engineering and EM is due to him. Also, it was after reading “What do you care what other people think” that, most likely just coincidentally, I was able to beat the depression that had plagued me for over 20 years.

    Like

    • Stumbled upon accidentally….

      Holesinmyshoes.com

      Holes in my shoes, the story of Jack Beers!!!

      One of the greatest NYC city stories never told….

      Marc

      Like

  30. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

    Documentary about Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Very well made with personal introspections of someone who had a very direct hand in the direction of US world history!

    Thank you for introducing me to the Fantastic Mr. Feynmen!

    Like

  31. 180 DEGREES SOUTH. For those of you who value experiences above all else it’s a must watch. Just goes to show what you can achieve when you put your passions above all else. Follow your dreams, not the dollars!

    You can find it on Netflix

    Like

  32. Erm, the one about this guy learning how to do Yabusame in 5 days ;)

    I was already applying stuff out of 4hr cookbook but seeing it in action was helped me see where I could improve.

    The Great Dance* – It’s about the life and culture of Kalahari Bushmen…it includes footage of a persistence hunt. Mind-blowing stuff.

    Like

  33. Donor unknown. Saw it at a small film festival in Schull, Ireland. The main character split the room and sparked a good debate. He was called a freak by some people before being defended by others.

    Like

  34. Hi Tim,

    My favorite documentary is “The World’s Greatest Money Maker: Warren Buffett”, but anything that share a great man’s path to success and their story is an interesting piece for me!

    *I actually have a question that is not related to the subject but the ads on this blog, i wonder if it’s okay that i post my questions here, since i don’t have an email address to send to.

    I wonder what “alpha brain” does and how does it feel after you take it? and how you take it? I’ve seen them on your quarterly and in your random show, so i’m assuming that you’ve tried them as well.

    Like

  35. Tim, Congratulations.
    May I respectfully recommend that
    your off-shore library planting
    reports be shared with the US
    Department for Education and the
    privately funded associations that
    nurture Libraries in the US.

    It strikes me that your efforts seem
    more intentional and effective
    than here in the USofA? I hope I am
    wrong.

    You do not mention the death
    of printed books in the face of the
    digital tsunami and the theme
    or thread content for these dear
    beings?

    How will they view the
    west by the time of their age
    of reason? They will, I think,
    be faced with another tsunami…
    “The West and Capitalism Sucks!”

    Your advocate in the final trimester
    of my very blessed life.

    God speed to you and those
    you care about you.

    Continue to be relentless.
    sQs Delray Beach – Village By The Sea

    Like

  36. Zeitgeist: Addendum, Part 1. Totally changed the way I view money and is the film that has had the most direct effect on my life.

    Like

  37. My boyfriend and I watched this last night…what an amazing man! My favorite documentary is probably Food Inc. I’ll never forget the way I felt after watching it. The documentary opened my eyes to the world of processed food and helped me to make some decisions to lead a healthier life.

    Like

  38. oh this is very easy, KING OF KONG! If you have not seen this documentary, it will be one of them most entertaining hour of your life… Hollywood or the gods themselves could not create a better antagonist than Billy Mitchell!

    Like

  39. Visual Acoustics, 2008.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1233611/

    A documentary about architectural photographer Julius Shulman, the man behind the lens of many iconic photographs of 20th century architecture. It’s open, human, and revealing in both the processes and sensibilities of how Julius viewed the world.

    Like

  40. Appreciate the post on mr. Feynman. On researching him I came upon Jirayr Zorthian. Interesting very interesting. He maybe my summer project. Thank you for the tip.

    Like

  41. Looking forward to watching the Feynman documentary later..

    My favorite documentary? The first thing that comes to mind is SENNA

    It’s a documentary on Brazilian Formula One racing driver Ayrton Senna, who won the F1 world championship three times before his death at age 34.

    This is an absolute must-see, even if you’re not a Formula One fan. Consider this:

    -70% of the reviews on amazon.com have 5-star ratings, 15% have 4 stars

    -All of the 1, 2, and 3 star reviews are based on issues with the DVD/Blu-Ray (subtitles, format, etc.)… None of these lower ratings actually have anything to do with the documentary itself!

    Like

  42. My favorite has to be Dick Proenneke in “Alone in the Wilderness,” you can find it on the PBS website. The guy is a cross between you, Grizzly Adams, Les Stroud (Survivorman), and Neil Armstrong. Dude just takes off to Alaska, builds a house in the wilderness, and lives there for 30 years. Awesome!

    Thanks for the post, Did they base the show “Numbers” off of Feynman?

    Cheers,
    Steven

    Like

  43. Best documentary: I think Exit Through The Gift Shop as my brother is a painter and I grew up going to shows and seeing him and his friends paint so a lot of it is really familiar. Banksy is also really funny.

    Richard Feynman is very dear to me. I was intent on getting a physics PhD so when I was about 16 or 17 my mum who worked in Queens University (Belfast) asked as many physicists as she knew what was the best book to read. They practically all said “Anything about Richard Feynman”. Mum got me the James Gleick biography “Genius” and it opened my eyes. Physics was more than sums and theories. It was like the Wild West.

    My biggest takeaway from Feynman was “DISREGARD”. Don’t ever believe anything unless you can see that someone tested it. And even then be cautious. It’s an interesting rule to live by when it comes to doing science and to be honest sometimes it makes you that stubborn idiot in the face of “consensus” – again something that Feynman experienced.

    I’ve had a few occasions were myself or my team of colleagues has managed to produce a result that was “impossible”. Whereas really no-one had put the time into test it.

    So unless you test it you’re really just guessing. Add to that our ability as humans to jump to conclusions and then commit to them, it’s worth taking time and seeing just how many ideas and “movements” follow a “consensus” that when put through Feynman’s test end up failing. There are quite a few.

    Like

  44. I watched this really great documentary on A.J. Foyt, but can’t seem to find it again on YouTube. I think it was this episode of ESPN SportsCentury.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0568190/

    It really looks at what drove him, what caused him hang onto racing for too long. Sad that all he really wanted was for his dad to say “good job son”, something he refused to do even on his death bed.

    Like

  45. I trust you know that Feynman also is a Princeton alum! When I worked as the major gifts officer for the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, I was asked to pick a favorite alumnus (a sort of talisman, I suppose), and Feynman was mine.

    Like

  46. There is a documentary called “Beautiful Losers” that I liked a lot– tells the story of young artists who came of age in the late eighties. I watched it because Shepard Fairey gets interviewed and I was going through quite an OBEY phase at the time, but all of these artists really captured my attention. The storytelling is what does it here: though relating actual events in the lives of these people, the director/editor lays them out in a story arc that echoes what good fiction might do– and there is a twist at the end that will rip your heart out and show it to you.

    Like

  47. An old one, nevertheless a timeless documentary: BBC – Human Body/ Human Mind series. I learned so much about the body and the mind in those documentaries.

    Like

  48. I’ve put together a list of documentaries we have so far.

    Note that I haven’t “verified” many of these titles, and that the documentaries listed here don’t necessarily reflect my personal opinions, although I would highly recommend watching the Yabusame TV Pilot(Trial by Fire), starring someone you may have heard of ;)

    I’ll update this list once another 50-100 blog comments have been made here.

    Also, if you find this list helpful, I would appreciate it if you could donate to my giving page on donorschoose.org (go to donorschoose.org/mesa, or simply click on my name). Even a single dollar (or just spreading the word by via email, Twitter, or Facebook) would help tremendously… Thank you!
    Now here’s the list, sorted by popularity in the comments (number of counts)

    —5x—
    Zeitgeist

    —4x—
    Man on Wire

    —3x—
    Exit Through The Gift Shop
    Senna
    The Fog of War
    Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara

    —2x—
    Trial by Fire (starring Tim Ferriss; History Channel)
    Alone in the Wilderness (about Dick Proenneke)
    The King of Kong
    Food Inc.
    Craigslist Joe
    Jiro Dreams of Sushi
    Cosmos (series by Carl Sagan)

    —1x—
    How Art Made The World (BBC)
    The Freshest Kids
    The legacy by Michael Wood
    The history of civilization
    His story of India
    Cocaine Cowboys
    Visual Acoustics, 2008
    James Burke’s Connections
    Christopher Langan: The worlds smartest man
    The World’s Greatest Money Maker:Warren Buffett
    The Great Dance
    180 Degrees South
    Super Size Me (2004)
    Men Who Built America (History Channel)
    Holes in My Shoes (2006)
    Brits Get Rich in China
    Gasland 2 by Josh Fox
    It Will Be Better Tomorrow
    Temple Grandin (with Claire Danes)
    Never Sorry
    Pumping Iron (about Arnold Schwarzenegger)
    Beautiful Truth
    Food Wars
    The other side of the heart is white
    Children Full of Life (about Toshiro Kanamor)
    When we were kings
    Louisville Leopards take Manhattan
    I am (by Tom Shadyac)
    Food Maters (by Carlo Ledesma)
    Cave of Forgotten Dreams
    You Don’t Know Bo Jackson (ESPN Films:30 for 30)
    Dogtown and Z-Boys
    Restrepo
    Cave of forgotten dreams
    The Powers of Nightmares (BBC series)
    When we were Kings
    Murderball
    Genghis Blues
    Adventures in Plymptoons! (2011)
    American Experience: Silicon Valley
    Michael Mosley documentaries on BBC
    Gates of Heaven (by Errol Morris)
    Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (by Les Blanc)
    Hungry for Change (2012)
    BUCK – Buck Brannaman Documentary
    The True Story of Che Guevara

    Like

  49. I’ve watched the Ken Burns’ Baseball doc twice…and that’s loooong. at least 15 hours total.

    I love it not only because I like baseball and jazz music, I also love the history lesson that is woven throughout the documentary.

    I really enjoyed the Feynman doc…amazing how one man’s curiosity can be so creatively inspiring.

    Like

  50. Excellent documentary! My favourite documentary is “The Masters of Money” from the BBC, especially the third part about Karl Marx.

    Like

  51. The fastest man alive is definitely a great watch. To be able to see how it’s like in Bolt’s shoes, and what level of discipline and determination is required as to stay where he is and even improve… also, the documentary emphasizes on his training regimen so, in a way, it prizes methodology greatly over other factors. That is encouraging.

    Like

  52. As a physicist I’ve always admired Feynman for his scientific achievements and profound insights (which are outstanding, to say the least), but also for his charismatic personality and that insatiable quest that always led him to incredible and unknown places.

    One of my favorite documentaries is “From Mao to Mozart” where violinist Isaac Stern goes to China around 1980 and exposes us to their culture and life at that time. When I was much younger I just found fascinating that at the other side of the world things could be so different.

    Like

  53. I am going to narrow the criteria to “favorite documentary that you would be willing to watch every day for a month and that would make you better for watching it” — with that narrowed criteria in mind I would take the following two:

    1. Man on Wire
    - This film shows someone doing what most reasonable people would fairly call impossible. His focus and commitment could hardly be surpassed by any human in history.

    2. Buck
    - It is hard to watch this and not be convinced that this guy is one of the best people on earth.

    Like