People has always enjoyed watch other human beings while they go about the daily routine of their lives. In a lower technological time the neighborhood busy body would covertly listen in on conversations through the local telephone party line. Now that private phone lines are standard numerous other means of ‘not minding your own business’ have surfaced. This is one of the major factors behind so called reality television programming. Even back in the fifties we had ‘Candid Camera’ to help legitimatize the compulsion to watch people especially if they are unaware others are viewing their every action. About a decade ago an enterprising young woman put her daily life on a constant live internet feed. Not only did she get a good size chunk of money but she gained instant media celebrity. Actually the fascination that people have with the day to day lives of celebrities has turned the tabloid media into a billion dollar industry. This constant surveillance has even been cited as contributing factor in the dead of Lady Diana and the mental instability of pop icon Brittany Spears. Since the great tragedy of September 11, 2001 the government has become more conducive to the idea of cameras watching the movements of regular citizens. It may have been fear and a desire for public and personal safety that tipped the scales to the degree of monitoring currently in place but as just considered this only feeds into a fundamental human curiosity. Currently there are over 30 million surveillance cameras in the United States generating more than 4 billion hours of footage every week and this number is growing at a staggering rate. Independent film maker Adam Rifkin as exemplified the spirit of the Indy movie by show the intersection of several lives completely from the point of view of regular surveillance cameras. The film is oddly compelling that once you start it is rather difficult to stop watching.
Since this movie is in the category of experimental film. As such a lot of members of the audience may be uncomfortable in the presentation no matter how much it panders to voyeur in most of us. First of all there is an apparent lack of linearity to the various story lines. This is inherent to the methodology but may take some time to get used to. In some ways it reminded me of another experimental movie ‘Timecode’ by Mike Figgis where he gave small digital cameras to four groups and showed the results in independent quadrants of the screen. The variation used here of standard monitoring cameras is actually brilliant in its simplicity and broader in scope than just telling the individual stories. After watching this film every time you spot a traffic camera or a surveillance camera in a shopping mall you are going to think of this film and wonder just who is watching the accumulated footage of you.
‘MTV’ has a popular show called ‘The Real Life’ where a bunch of kids are filmed living in a house. The tag line was ‘when people start being real’. This is one of the driving motivations at work here. We all have secrets or act slightly differently when we think no one is watching. Perhaps it is the disgruntled employee spitting in his boss’ coffee or the woman sneaking into s motel to engage in an extramarital affair. The cameras have become such a routine part of everyday life that awareness of them as all but disappears; we see them but they barely register on our consciousness. Here the not so hidden lives of five people are deconstructed and lay bare. There is Tony (Hayes MacArthur) an overly flirtatious store manager, Marty (Ben Weber), an insurance salesman who is socially unsure and a pair of male lawyers, Ben (Paul Schackman, and George ( Chris Williams), trying to have an affair and finally convenience store clerk Willie (Giuseppe Andrews) who enjoys playing to the cameras.
There is more than a modicum of suspension of disbelief required for watching this film. Most of the cameras used in this capacity have no audio capabilities yet there is sound through the flick. There are also many occasions where it is obviously scripted but in all honesty the same criticism can be applied to more than a few of the most popular series in the reality category. Even with these negative aspects of the production the founding idea is amazing and provides one of the most novel changes to the methodology of cinema in many years. The DVD does contain a couple of interesting extras including a very illuminating director’s commentary and a few behind the scenes looks. If you are in the frame of mind for something very different this will do nicely.