When it comes to documentaries, I’m the kind of viewer who usually avoids them – just in case they get a little tiresome. But occasionally I am surprised, excited even.
Whilst Michael Moore‘s efforts have been critically acclaimed, I can only see them once because he uses a sledgehammer to pound home his messages. But I was blown away by 2008’s Man on Wire, a brilliantly conceived retelling of Philippe Petit’s illegal, high wire act between the Twin Towers in 1974.
Yes, with documentaries I can take them or leave them. But if I do sit through them, they are usually about film stars or musicians. One of those was the surprisingly brilliant DiG!, which followed the careers of The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Having loved DiG!, I was interested to see director Ondi Timoner‘s follow-up, We Live in Public.
It might be far removed from the world of music, but We Live in Public had me riveted from the onset. Filmed over more than a decade, Timoner’s camera follows a man called Josh Harris as he tries and ultimately fails to become a pioneer in the early days of the internet’s infancy.
During the dot-com boom of the 1990s, Harris founded the first internet TV network, Pseudo. Like a modern-day Warhol, Harris oversaw a diverse range of programming from his ‘Factory’, while also hosting bizarre club nights. By the end of the decade, Harris was regarded as one of New York’s most eccentric celebrities.
But after a huge falling out with Pseudo, Harris next turned his attentions (and fortunes) to a social experiment that would be his unmaking – both financially and mentally. As the millennium drew near, Harris created an underground bunker in New York City where 100 people lived, Big Brother-style, for one month under 24-hour live surveillance. The result – a messy, emotional roller-coaster ride that ended with an eviction order and, for Harris, a mental collapse.
Garnering Timoner her second Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, We Live in Public comes off like a Shakespearean tragedy with Harris playing a self-absorbed Lear, blind to his own limitations, who ultimately finds redemption following his fall.
This is a fascinating character study which will leave you awestruck, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what this director will do with her next subject – the late, great photographer Robert Mapplehorpe.
Released 5 April