Since seeing Dig! a few years ago, I’ve kept a close eye on the releases from filmmaker Ondi Timoner and having missed the original release of her latest documentary, We Live In Public, I was eager to take a look at it when it came up for review.
In We Live In Public Timoner takes a look at how privacy has suffered as a result of the Internet age, focusing on one of the key figures who pioneered many of the interactive and social aspects of the Internet: Josh Harris.
Josh Harris is, without a doubt, an incredibly interesting character. Having pioneered many aspects of the Internet that are seen as the standard today, he became hugely wealthy as a result.
He launched Jupiter Interactive, latterly known as Pseudo.com, which was at the fore of streaming live video and audio over the Internet. Harris used the site to broadcast a number of specialist shows as well as hosting a series of chat rooms. His vision became the blueprint for many a site that was developed after the release and successes of Pseudo.
Harris also fancied himself as something of an experimental artist and the results of this are perhaps the most fascinating pieces of the film. He was keen to see how media and technology affected personal identity and developed the installation, Quiet: We Live In Public, in the late 90s.
Like an extreme version of Big Brother; Quiet saw 100 artists living together in a Japanese style capsule hotel with cameras following their every move. Occupants would also be able to view the actions of their cohabitants. It’s interesting to see how the occupants react to such a stretch under constant surveillance and their exploits are captured in graphic detail.
Following Quiet, Harris spent another six months under constant surveillance as part of another project that ultimately had a hugely negative effect on his life.
Ondi Timoner adopts a similar technique as she did when making Dig!, by amassing vast quantities of footage on her subject over a period of ten years. Editing over 5,000 hours of footage down to an interesting 90 minute documentary can’t have been an easy task, but the hard work has paid off as the end result makes for compelling viewing. There doesn’t seem to be a moment wasted in this brilliantly paced and thoroughly interesting documentary.
What’s apparent from the documentary is that Harris was far ahead of his time. A lot of what he achieved may seem fairly run of the mill by today’s standards, but in the context of the time in which he undertook these projects, it’s really quite remarkable.
He’s not a person who mixes his words and, as such, not everyone will warm to him and his artistic endeavours and indulgencies, but he’s an excellent subject for a documentary as he’s a thoroughly fascinating and charismatic man who has experienced incredible highs and lows, many of which are captured in this excellent documentary.
The fact that the feature is presented in stereo and shot in full frame as opposed to widescreen help to capture the feeling of watching the footage at the time.
There are a variety of extras available including a couple of trailers (one for the UK release and the other for Josh Harris’ commentary track), two inside the bunker featurettes (The Pods & The Guns), a ‘making of’, a behind-the-scenes look at Sundance ’09 and two commentary tracks.
The two commentaries that feature differ drastically, but are both well worth taking time to enjoy in full. Ondi Timoner’s track is pretty much what you would expect of a director’s commentary; she talks passionately about the film and provides great insight into the production.
Josh Harris’ track is easily the highlight of the disc, though, and one of the best commentary tracks I’ve heard. It was recorded the first time that Harris saw the feature in full and involves Harris taking exception to a number of things that are said about him, blasting his competitors and defending his vision. I can see why not everyone would take to Harris, but he’s an intriguing character and one that speaks with a great deal of passion and doesn’t hold back when presenting his opinions. All of these ingredients make for an incredibly interesting commentary track that almost matches the quality of the main feature.
The fact that the Harris commentary is as good as it is no doubt lead to the decision to make a trailer for it. A bit unnecessary, but it provides a taste for what to expect if you’re unsure of taking the plunge and taking in the commentary.
There are plenty of extras available here and all – with the possible exception of the Harris commentary track trailer – enhance the viewing experience.
I really would recommend We Live In Public to anyone. It’s another excellent documentary in Timoner’s filmography and an interesting look at one of the true pioneers of the Internet age.
We Live In Public will be released on April 12 and can be pre-ordered from the Den Of Geek Store.