Apr 1, 2008

My Special Olympics

At New Directors New Films I saw "My Special Olympics", the short that won the jury prize at Sundance.
It is made exclusively with footage of home movies; a confessional family documentary (in the vein of My Architect or Capturing the Friedmans). We hear some slacker voiceover nasally intone about his mother and her family problems and how his dad was a US Army chaplain was abducted in the Munich Olympics together with the Israelis and then released. The film is lazy, self involved and deeply uninteresting.
At the end of the film, there is a Q&A with the young director, who explains that, in fact, the "documentary" we just saw is not a documentary, it is pure fiction. He made it all up. His aim was to investigate, I don't really know exactly what, the fictionalization of real events. He had the temerity to tell disgruntled audience members to think about Holocaust movies like Schindler's List or that aberration of a movie, Life is Beautiful. But the difference is that none of those movies pretend to be a documentary. Whether one likes them or not, they are clearly fictionalized stories set in a historical context. Schindler's List is based on a NOVEL about a real character. Life is Beautiful is pure, obscene fantasy. They do not pretend to be fact. They do not try to trick the audience.
I am an audience member, not a guinea pig. I don't like to be experimented with. Filmmakers who do this are intellectually dishonest, and come across as supremely arrogant. This is the reason why I loathed the first version of Michael Haneke's Funny Games, an exercise in punishing the audience for their curiosity. Anthony Lane's review of the second version pretty much sums up my feelings about the first. This is what bothers me about this kind of cinema in a nutshell:
Yet the movie itself is hardly free of exploitative tricks, and what seemed, a decade ago, like an unprecedented exposure of our viewing habits now verges on a gruelling condescension.
It seemed so sadistically condescending to me a decade ago, I actually turned it off.
The short that won the prize at Sundance is not to be compared to any of the films mentioned in this post. It has none of the depth or intellect or insight. Whether as a documentary or as fiction, it feels like lazy, sophomoric, self-absorbed homework.

But this brings me to the current topic of futzing with the truth. I am in the camp of wanting to know what it is exactly that I am reading or watching. If it is a commercial, I want to know its a commercial.
If it's a memoir, I expect it to be reasonably based in the facts of the real life of a person, obviously with their very subjective point of view. If it is a documentary, I am not that naive to expect it to be objective, but it should not be fabricated. If you use your actual home movies to invent a story, this is valid and even interesting, but the audience needs to know it. Otherwise, it is called lying.

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