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Photographic Memory

Posted by martinteller on December 20, 2013

Auto-documentarian Ross McElwee is frustrated in his attempts to guide and connect with his aimless, aloof 20-year-old son Adrian.  Partly to reexamine what it was like to be that age and partly just to get away from the brat, he takes off for Brittany, where as a young man he wandered around.  He spends most of his time trying to track down two figures from this time.  The first is Maurice, the man who gave him his first photography job… and subsequently fired him.  The other is Maud, one of his youthful romances.  With 40 years’ distance and without last names, it’s a difficult search.  But along the way, McElwee takes a close look at his past, his present, and the changes (both personal and technological) between them.

I haven’t seen any other McElwee films besides his most famous, the wonderful Sherman’s March.  I ought to seek out more.  His very personal style reminds me a bit of some of my own writing… especially my (short-lived) blog about the neighborhood I grew up in.  The things he says often sound like things I would say, introspective and sometimes critical of himself.  This film is less idiosyncratic than March, and less interested in unusual detours, and so it doesn’t captivate quite as much.  But it does have a certain pull to it, as we’re invited to browse through his photo album while he tries to reconnect with his past.

I am not a good photographer.  But I really should take more pictures.  The photographic evidence of my entire 12-year relationship/marriage is limited to a handful of snapshots from our wedding and the two trips (two! in 12 years!) we took together.  There are virtually no other photographs either of me or by me from that whole period.  My 30’s are practically undocumented.  And now when I take pictures, it’s on a cell phone.  There will be no more albums of pictures to flip through, it’s a memory card or a folder on Facebook… digital residue without a tangible element.  McElwee also seems disturbed by this change, and there’s something a little magical about the creases in the photo of Maud he kept in his wallet.  One must keep up with the times, but it’s worthwhile to pause and reflect on what’s being lost… the way McElwee’s past is lost in many ways.

And good luck with that kid, Ross.  He seems like a real douchebag.  Rating: Good (77)


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