15 April 2010

We Live in Public (Ondi Timoner, 2008) / Afghan Star (Havana Marking, 2009)

It's spring in Chicago and it's been too gorgeous to sit inside all day watching movies, not to mention the apartment hunting that was going on, so I've hardly watched any movies in the past couple of weeks. I was sort of Jonesing yesterday so I stopped in at Specialty Video on the way home from a haircut and picked up a couple of documentaries: We Live in Public and Afghan Star, which I had been really excited about seeing in the theater last year but which I unfortunately missed when I had the chance. Neither of them lived up to my expectations but both were engaging and worth watching.

Josh Harris made a bazillion dollars in the 90s through some kind of internet something or other, though I'm not entirely clear on what he earned the money for exactly. I feel like the NPR piece on this film, We Live in Public, was much more coherent and informative than the actual movie, which I guess is it's main flaw. If you've ever seen a documentary about something artsy that happened in New York where everyone is blowing it out of proportion and talking like they held Jesus's hand the day he walked on water, this movie is kind of like that. Essentially, he spends his fortune on these over the top ventures that seemed part venture capitalism, part unethical psych experiment that could never be approved by any ethics panel, and part performance art. His most famous experiment is often credited as being the first reality show. He basically put a bunch of New York lunatics into a bunker and filled it with food, booze, and weapons and filmed it all. Whether this was for the internet or not or whether anyone watched it wasn't made too clear in the film. I think one of the problems with the film is that the filmmaker was a participant in the narrative and was too close to achieve any real critical distance. The movie needed to be more reflective, I think. It also seemed to make pronouncements about the role of technology in our lives that were as quaint and obsolete as Blue Man Group. C-

Afghan Star was the UK's submission to the Academy's foreign film panel this last year. It's a documentary about this American Idol-type television show in Afghanistan and its role in the culture. There is an element of this film that seems like what you'd expect from a movie about a talent contest and that part of the film isn't that great. (See Every Little Step or Pageant for a more successful take on that narrative.) The stronger part of the movie is about the culture and politics of what's been going on in Afghanistan for the past few decades. It doesn't necessarily go into the whole story like a special on the History Channel or something but it sort of gets the story across. I guess what I wanted though was a more in depth look at how Afghanistan got where it is now, even though that's not necessarily the mission of this film. It was good. I just wanted a little more from it. B-

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