Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Documentarian

The Windmill Movie

"How does not being me help to tell a story about me?" It is this question around which Alexander Olch constructs his film about the life of experimental filmmaker Richard Rogers. The Windmill Movie is Olch's deeply felt effort to complete the autobiographical film project that Rogers, his film professor and mentor, could never complete, a project which was named simply "Windmill." Olch takes the quest literally, becoming, in a sense, Richard Rogers.

The first half of the film is a collage carefully built from over 200 hours of found footage that Rogers recorded, either home movies of his mother listing the family's suicides in a fur coat in summer, or from his own documentaries, such as one of hot-air balloons alighting from a manor of the English countryside, along with super-8 footage from his father's archives, overlaid by Rogers's own narration. The second half of the film is freed up in a fictionalized rendering of the director's own. Olch's voice takes over where Rogers's left off. Derailing his own projects, Olch helped the deceased filmmaker complete a film he could never finish. What begins as one man's confusion about his own need to obsessively document his life, and questions not only the worth of his documentation, but the value of the life documented, ends in a discomfiting hall of mirrors that contends only with that in Orson Welles's The Lady from Shanghai.

The boundaries between fact and fiction are coyly flubbed not only to flatly question the sincerity of the "facts" about Rogers being put forth, but also to toy with the tension between the observed world and that world which exists somewhere just outside it. The film presents life as spectacle and asks, How much of the spectacle are we willing to buy into.
Olch takes risks with The Windmill Movie and, as is the province only of risk-taking, succeeds, not only in sublimating "Windmill," but in transcending its limitations.

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