“There were always secrets to be uncovered in the most mundane of photographs.”

I’ve waited a long time since the great Bright Leaves with its promising ending. After spending that whole movie looking into the past, Ross shows his son Adrian playing at the beach and looks towards the future. That future is now and Adrian is graduating high school, but Ross being Ross, he retreats back into the past, using his son as an excuse to revisit some people and places from when father was the same age as son, trying to find a place for himself after graduation.

The present segments don’t work for me. Ross plays the old fogey card, telling us he can’t understand his son with all the iphones and the internets and the facebooks, dismissing technology while shooting on a digital camera. Adrian seems to be doing fine, talks to his father plenty and goes on fishing trips, is taking up videography (they help on each other’s projects), so the frame story’s attempts to tell us that the two are unable to connect seem untrue, as do Ross’s claims that his son is lost and aimless, since we see Adrian stunt-skiing, writing films and developing his own media startup.

Ross retreats to France, seeking his old photographer boss (Maurice) and his girlfriend from a few months later (Maud). He marvels at the changes that time brings, finds the late Maurice’s ex-wife and finally finds Maud. Ross and Maud each thinks that they’re the one who ended the relationship, after which she married another photographer. I’m sure it was an extremely cathartic trip for Ross, and it comes off as a reasonably pleasant trip for us, really coming together when Ross gets back home with Adrian in the last few minutes.

Still my #1 or #2 favorite documentary of the decade (grizzly man? same river twice? farmer john?). Saw Ross McElwee speak twice today. What I learned:

– His movies are all interconnected, which I’d know if I bothered to watch some of them.
– He considers Time Indefinite to be the sequel to Sherman’s March
– was impressed by DA Pennebaker docs but particularly by Fred Wiseman’s Titticut Follies, which he said made him want to make docs, but not the same way as DA and Fred… example of the crazy naked man staring back at the camera, put a human face behind the camera so it’s not as much a weapon (my words)
– tries to capture these little moments of feeling, of humanity in each picture. Showed us a scene of a mechanic discussing his daughter’s death, Ross says he once tried to find the exact frame where the man’s face flashes, changes, but he couldn’t find it. “The moment must have been between the frames”.
– question whether he’s considering the film, the big picture, while filming each small scene, he says “even while you’re having these conversations about life, death and god, you have to be thinking ‘how am I gonna edit this?'”
– Ross was once fired by Miramax (apparently, The Six O’Clock News deals with this)
– says his future films will have more old footage juxtaposed with the new stuff, will deal more with memory and pictures and how time and preservation change things.

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Favorite bits are still the film scholar wheeling Ross around (says he showed the movie to a group of self-important film scholars and they *howled* at that scene), the little revelations and plot twists, the cousin’s house of memorabilia, the beach / fish rescue ending.

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Ross films himself walking across a yard, pumpkins in the foreground, garden sculptures behind, with a little dog yapping at his feet. The dog has ruined his shot, the shot of himself contemplating all that he’s learned, so he gets rid of the dog and does the shot again, self-consciously narrating these facts and including both versions in the final film. That’s one of my favorite documentary scenes… the part where the narrative stops, and he reminds us that he’s making this movie, that we’re watching a movie that he made… it’s not Life Exactly As It Happened, it’s not The Pure Unedited Truth, it is Ross’s movie and he shows and tells us everything through his own filter. It’s a creation, a film, like The Godfather or Rushmore, a work of mostly non-fiction, but still a valid creative work. And usually, USUALLY (see: American Movie?) the minds behind this work are more important than the subject matter. Gotta remember that the next time I’m tempted to see dreck like Enron or Gunner Palace. Ross is my hero.

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