"the deadliest bullshit is odorless and transparent" - William Gibson

Friday, November 19, 2004

I saw DIG! last night

It's sad that when a "documentary" like F911 sells out theaters, a real documentary like DIG! can't even get 10 people in the theater for a weekday evening show. It got love from the critics, including grand jury at sundance. My favorite review soundbite comes from the LA Times: "The movie, which was seven years in the making, plays like a mid-'90s Amadeus." Still, the sparse audience was somehow a fitting environment - no overwhelming gasps or laughter to socially color your reactions and a sea of empty seats to remind you that both the film and the bands (brian jonestown massacre & the dandy Warhols) it chronicled will never really got the attention/success that they merrit.

DiG! belongs in the same breath as other great recent narrative documentaries like startup.com, american movie, and hoop dreams. But just like these amazing films, DiG feels somehow flawed. The director's mission to tell the essence of the story, yet remain honest to the details stretched out over years, 1,000 of hours of footage and evolving perspectives is an inherent contradiction. Making such a film over time changes both subject and filmmaker, at least if it's done right, and no virtuoso editing feat nor objective stomach can change that fact. Unlike in Hollywood (or the Michael Moore variety of "documentary"), the cards we are dealt in real life and the emotions we have to handle them are much stranger and more complex than can be summed up in 120 minutes. So, the documentary filmmaker has to offer us glimpses, impressions, and moments. Many of my favorite films are fiction, but almost all of my favorite film moments are from documentaries, and DiG! has plenty of honest and radioactive moments that transcend time, space, and grainy VHS.


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