Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The flattery of observation

The NYT review smartly says: "the flattery of observation is difficult to resist." This is so true! As a doc subject myself, in 24 hours I went from "I don't really want to be on camera. I'm not a public person. I'm not a performer." to "I can't believe they're not shooting me more. What about what I'm doing over here!?!!"

It's highly seductive to be followed around by a camera crew. Not the camera per se, but the 24/7 interest in your stories, the fact that everything about you becomes interesting. For that moment anyway. It's a crazy sea change to experience.

When I saw the doc Billy the Kid at sxsw last March, I was interested but wary and I couldn't put my finger on exactly why. The immediate and continuing accolades confused me further. What were people seeing that I wasn't? I saw a kid with some kind of obvious mental condition that allowed him to function around the edges, preening for the camera. Is this really the kid we all are /were? Is Billy really the ultimate in "teenager" which many are positing? I don't think so. But it doesn't really matter what I think in this case, and I've not been great about articulating my discomfort. I am however, taking this moment to mention it again because I so appreciate the insight in today's NYT review by Jeanette Catsoulis.

Essential point of the NYT review:

Yet the filmmaker’s decision to eschew other viewpoints underscores the fundamental friction at the heart of the documentary process: the flattery of observation is difficult to resist. When Billy, after persuading a shy waitress to be his girlfriend, is loudly applauded by a clique of town hangabouts, he is pleasantly surprised.

“The years of loneliness have been murder,” he tells them, and the men collapse with laughter. Whether a blurted confession or a line to the gallery, we’ll never know.

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