Friday, 13 November 2009

[265] We Live in Public (dir. Ondi Timoner, 2009) Review

Last week, I had a really fascinating discussion with my good friend, and upcoming documentary filmmaker Edward Szekely, about the nature of the documentary film as a genre/movement/mode of expression. We came from entirely different angles: I, probably revealing my journo-critical roots, see documentary as non-fiction narration of history, theory, criticism or people; he sees it as much wider, encompassing documenting in a larger capacity. Our point of departure was probably Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, and Ron Fricke's Baraka, which are purely cinematic, non-verbal documents of life, industry, and other aspects of earthly existence.

I'd more likely describe them as art films, but then again I'm coming from the point of view of journalistic commentary and purpose - something that is either lost or made oblique by the lack of narration, and sole reliance on the films' (utterly staggering) use of cinematography and editing for a creation of 'meaning'. Nevertheless, he has a point - when one accepts all filmed content as a document of a time-and-place, then there is plenty of documentary-like material out there to discover, not unlike the use of everyday, non-artistic texts in linguistic and cultural criticism. It's a discussion I'd like to revisit someday.

Sadly, We Live In Public isn't fully satisfactory for either of those definitions.

It is, no doubt ironic that, as soon as I had finished watching We Live In Public, the new documentary from DiG! director Ondi Timoner, I posted a 140-character micro-review on Twitter. The film is squarely focused on Josh Harris, an Internet visionary who, during the 1990s, spearheaded a number of projects, experiments and services that anticipated much of how our relationship with the web would develop in the first decade of the 2000s. If you've not heard of Harris, don't worry; he was one of the generation of tech-geeks that burned quickly and brightly during the American dot-com boom of the 1990s, before fizzling out and disappearing into obscurity, bankruptcy and self-imposed exile not long into the new millennium. Timoner's documentary, not unlike DiG!, is cobbled together from footage shot through her long liaison with the film's subject, and at times lacks the perspective that would facilitate a compelling character study.

Read the full article here.

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