My girlfriend is a documentary FREAK, so when there's nothing better to do, we usually end up at the local public library checking out documentaries. This week we got two, and the first one I want to talk about is Chris Smith's [u]Home Movie[/u].
[u]Home Movie[/u] is about five different families who live in unusual homes. The first is this disaster prone guy in Louisiana who lives on a house boat hunting alligators and things like that. The second is this inventor from Illinois, if memory serves, who's basically automated his entire home and builds robots and the like, the third is this old lady in Hawaii who lives in a tree house, a couple whose home is full of cats, and a couple who live in a bomb shelter. What all five groups have in common is that they're really eccentric, and as the final shot of this movie suggests, the point of this film seems to be that eccentric people live in places that draw from and sort of reinforce their eccentricity, and they're happy just that way.
So is it any good?
Well documentaries in general are difficult to review for me. To me, what makes a good documentary is how well the director makes whatever point I think s/he is trying to make (IOW, the film is not just footage randomly cut together), how well it's shot, and how well it's edited. Interest level is a bonus but is not necessarily a requirement for a "good" documentary, becuz ultimately I think you either like the subject matter or you don't. That part is /really/ subjective, and so hard to criticize. And in this case, I have to be honest - once you've seen the gimmick of each home, you're basically seeing it over and over again. Nothing new is going to come of it as far as that goes. But what I like about the way [u]Home Movie[/u] was made, and what I think any potential documentary filmmaker can learn from it is that it's arranged in such a way that the characters develop as the footage does. That is to say, you're introduced to where the person lives. Then they cut from that person and go to the next. And every time they revisit that person, you learn a little bit more about their history. You slowly get to try to figure out why they are the way that they are. In some cases, it seems to make sense - the lady in the treehouse, for example, is pretty lonely. But in other cases, like the people in the bomb shelter, you have no idea why they are the way that they are. The exercise of trying to "get to know" them, however, is fun, and makes it a compelling documentary, and that's why it gets points as a good documentary film. I mean, let's face it, these people have really interesting homes. I'd never live in any of them, but they're really fun to watch. And to try to figure out what kind of person lives this way holds your attention throughout the film. Capping it all off with a final comment that says, "this is a part of who we are" brings it together nicely. Again, a masterwork of editing, shooting (everything looks very crisp, clear, and interesting), and storytelling which shows that Chris Smith totally knows what he's doing.
I really dug [u]Home Movie[/u], although I didn't really expect to. And I think it drives home how compelling good documentary filmmaking, about any subject, can be.