Sunday, March 14, 2010

DVDebut: In WE LIVE IN PUBLIC, Timoner tracks humanity's least human connections

Smart, prescient people, particularly those who have understood and profited by the rise of the World Wide Web, seem endlessly fascinating to movie-makers, if not to movie-goers. The latest -- and one of the best examples -- of this phenomenon is Ondi Timoner's whoppingly entertaining and thought-provoking film WE LIVE IN PUBLIC. (Ms. Timoner is shown below.)  Detailing the rise, rise, fall, fall and (hmmmm: we'll see) of smart/weird guy Josh Harris, her documentary touches all the bases and leaves us wondering what's in store, not just for Mr. Harris, but for all of us, as we become ever more web/computer-addicted and further estranged from our in-the-flesh connections.

We begin our tour of Mr. Harris, as his brother Tom explains how Josh ignored the family -- and his mother's -- request that he come home to join them because mom is dying. Instead he sends a video-gram (we see this; it looks shockingly cold) and refuses to appear in person. By the end of the film we have come round to viewing this video again, but now -- knowing Josh better, as well as his mom and his life -- we see it in a somewhat different manner.

The more we learn about Josh (above), the more we understand. Was momma drunk a lot of the time? Seems so. TV becomes life for the kid, and he grows up with Gilligan's Island replacing his own family;  later, in his office/work life, Josh seems to do the same, using a kind of imagined "Gilligan" version of people and events. Finally, having grown wealthy and even more bizarre, Josh resembles a latter-day Howard Hughes. "We Live in Public," however, is no "Aviator" -- and that's just fine.

We see Josh's alter ego "Luvvy" (above) whom he enjoys becoming -- in public, unfortunately -- which begins to tarnish the up-till-then, smart image of rich whiz-kid created by him and our PR-crazy media. Then arrives his biggest experiment -- Quiet -- an underground communal-living arrangement for an enormous amount of people in which every moment -- including sex, showering and other bathroom activities -- is captured on video.  Quiet becomes both the most interesting but the least realized portion of Ms Timoner's movie (the filmmaker also acts as narrator of her film).  Clearly, she had to be careful what -- and how much of it -- she showed, so even as we're seeing sexual twosomes or threesomes, we're titillated, aroused and then finally bored by this cinematic equivalent of constant coitus interruptus.

Her camera also seems, during this section, as flighty and all-over-the-place as are most of the partakers of Quiet. (Boy: talk about misnomers! The only scene that reflects the name is the one of the world's largest dining table, above -- prior to its being stormed by the diners.)  As even Quiet's own members point out, this was a kind of fascist society. Sort of.  And temporary. (Fortunately, all fascist societies are temporary.  I know: On some level all societies are temporary.)  But as Josh notes, "Everything here is free" And it is: the food, the rent, all the activities. "Except the video we capture of you.  That, we own."

The second day of the new Millennium, NYC police close down Quiet. (There is a rifle range in this huge underground concoction that can be heard from quite a distance, and the sound disturbs people.)  Soon after Josh grows close to one of his women workers, Tanya.  The two movie in together and so begins yet another in his series of bizarre interactive experiments: We Live in Public, in which every last detail of the twosome's life is on video, linked to the web and shared with whomever is interested.  Both Josh and Tanya seem delighted to be doing this.  (That's Josh showering, above)  Uh-hum. Can you imagine how long this relationship will last?

Unlike some other documentaries, in which the camera is kept going, no matter how horrible are the circumstances we're watching (Tarnation, for one), in the case of We Live in Public, this seems absolutely appropriate because the cameras are always running, in any case.  Could anyone handle this life of constantly being watched?  Perhaps, for awhile, depending on the level of that person's autonomy.  But Josh?  Hardly.  Soon everything,  including his fortune, implodes.

What happens post "Public" is every bit as interesting as what has come before.  Though the film ends around 2008 -- as Josh as gone from a worth of some 80 million dollars to less than zero --we can't help but wonder where and who the guy is now.  Don't, whatever you do, miss the final touch in the end credits: an absolute gem of "nothing ever changes, does it?"    

WE LIVE IN PUBLIC is out this month on DVD -- available for sale or for rent from your favorite video source.

No comments: