Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Unknown White Male

I was thrilled by the teaser we watched in class, and when Netflix finally brought it to my mailbox I was a little more disheartened. Mostly, it was just slower than I anticipated.

Overall, I liked the director's storytelling approach. Beginning with the recount of Doug's first amnesiatic moments on the train and in the hospital was captivating. The informative interruptions on how memory functions and types of memory felt a little disruptive in the beginning, however, and I wished we could continue on with the story. (In fact, as a general note overall, I felt we could do with a little less talk on memory. Most of it was helpful, but not all of it was critical to the story and got a little cumbersome).

One of the joys of this piece is to watch Doug's footage. This authentic POV footage is perfect in capturing the emotions he felt as he experienced the world anew--even in his handheld shaky style and his voice-overs describing all the things in his immediate surroundings that still seem to befuddle him. This footage is great.
However, I also think the director had great observational footage. We truly felt the awkwardness of Doug meeting his family at the airport. We truly felt the awkwardness of Doug meeting up with his friends. We were present for a lot of huge events that were very meaningful to the audience.
Of course... it does make me wonder if any of it was reenacted (when did the director meet up with Doug to make the doc? if it was only for the friend segments, then the family stuff was faked).

The interviews were well-conducted, and well placed.
Likewise, the follow-up footage from "x many months later" or "years later" was another crucial part of the story that I'm glad the director told. We needed and wanted as much continuance as he could give us.

One part of the film I felt was distracting was actually the director's need to talk about how hard it was for him. I felt the director himself could have been cut entirely from the film. We could've received all the same sentiment and emotion on how hard it was for the friends and family through the interviews with Pete, Marina, etc -- and didn't need the director's moody shots of himself or narrative. It was an important lesson for me on navel-gazing. That's exactly what I felt like the director was doing. And although his story fit in exactly into the narrative as a whole, and his thoughts were echoed by others in the piece -- it just felt whiny whenever it came from behind the camera.

Overall, I thought the piece was entertaining, informative, and very emotionally connecting. It was well-shot and well-done and well-worth my time -- this one even sucked my husband in, though he wasn't sure he wanted to watch all of it with me!


  1. I have yet to see this film, though I am intrigued by what I've heard in class and now by what you wrote. Because it is such a unique circumstance, I also have to wonder how much of it was staged and how much of it was authentic, experiencing-this-for-the-"first"-time footage. It's obviously more potent to have images that are the real deal, but how could the filmmaker possibly capture all of those? It's interesting to think about. Also, do you happen to know the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject? Were they friends before or connected in some way? Or was the main guy just a pleasant fellow who wanted to let someone film him re-experiencing the world? And if it's the latter, how did the filmmaker get in on that opportunity? I always wonder how filmmakers sort those kinds of things out...especially in this case because it's such an odd circumstance.

    I'm confused about what you said in regards to the director involving himself in the film. What on earth would he have to do with any of this? It's hard for me to really make any general statements since I haven't seen this film nor do I know many of the specific details, but this doesn't really seem to be his story. Isn't it the story of the man who rediscovers the world? And that man is not the
    I don't know, when I think about the mixing of the two I feel like that wouldn't really work to make a cohesive film. But then again, perhaps that was not the intention of the filmmaker.

    I just wrote on Katie's blog about the whole navel-gazing phenomenon. In the film she saw ("Sherman's March"), director Ross McElwee seems to have successfully pulled off the whole navel-gazing thing without harming his film overall. I wonder what the two did differently to have such contrasting outcome? Just going off the little information that I have about both films, it seems the director of "Unknown White Male" failed to pull off the self-narrative because his representations of himself was not balanced with his representation of the guy recovering from his severe memory loss while McElwee succeeded because he wasn't looking so far down that he lost sight of the other people around him and how they influenced him. What do you think, Jennie? Does that sound about right? I'm sure you have a lot more to add since you actually watched the film. And I'd also like to pose the same question to you that I posed to Katie: do you think there's ever a point in a filmmaker's career where they kind of earn the right to try to make a self-reflexive film or is it something that most people should avoid?

  2. I'm actually agree with you, directors should be (if at all) a very minimal part of the film. It probably would have bugged me a little bit too. I felt like that with the film I watched called "The Business of Being Born." There was even a point that the director talking to a critic about the film was put in at the climax of the film. It didn't seem necessary and it was actually very distracting to the overall message. The more directors put themselves in the film makes me wonder, just as you had before if they had staged more of the moments that didn't need to be re-enacted. If this film was truly about the man who lost his memory, then why did the director need to be included? There may be films that they can pull it off better but it would fit more in a film that is a more general topic than one mans journey.

    I'm a little bit confused on whether you really liked it or not. After class, I too was really interested in seeing Unknown white male but in the beginning of this paper you made it seem like it's not much more than what was pepped up during class. Then later in the paper you said your husband even liked it. Would you recommend the movie? Would it be worth someone's time? Is your recommendation for it higher than most movies?

    PS Jennie I think you're very lovely