Who hasn't thought of going through troves of old photographs and personal videos, especially those from heady and faraway youthful times, and rather than daydream about them in a fog of nostalgia, trace them back into the present?
This is part of filmmaker Ross McElwee's quest in the 2011 documentary "Photographic Memory" now streaming on Netflix. A brilliant visual auteur McElwee is well known for the genre defining Sherman's March and Bright Leaves reviewed here.
In this particular documentary, McElwee -- who usually favors the personal, droning voice to piece together a trip through his own memory and archives -- seeks out a photographer who had hired him as a young man touring France, as well as a former flame, who had been photographed much better by others, and apparently sold fruits and vegetables like no one else on market day.
The overarching theme of the film is the tension between the filmmaking father and his son, Adrian, who has starred, willingly or not, in several McElwee productions. The father, now also a professor at Harvard, talks about how his son films himself skiing backwards while being high, and worries about Adrian's own youthful, wayward ways, which are video captured by himself and what his father describes as a posse.
While some of the scenes appear to be staged, it seems the son has been getting in more and more trouble with the law since the film was released. He also seems to follow some ski videos on YouTube as Young Moula.
As an art piece, Photographic Memory is a delight for any student of documentary film, as McElwee goes through many of his own mirrors, explores momentarily vanished and continually reestablished barriers between filmmaker and subject, a trippy video segment filmed by his son's friend going up a ski lift, sous-philosophy of celluloid versus digital explained by a French female photographer with very bad teeth, not being a one man band anymore and other such subjects, some of which he discusses in this fascinating interview by Filmmaker Magazine.