Sunday, December 13, 2015

Documentary Critique: Point and Shoot, Marshall Curry's Exploration of Looking for Ourselves In and Out of the Camera


Now on Netflix, while blasted by many critics for some reason, who may not have understood what preeminent documentary filmmaker Marshall Curry was going for or simply didn't like the subject matter, Point and Shoot tells the story of Matthew VanDyke -- a Middle East theory master's degree graduate with OCD who was imprisoned and fought in Libya as a self-sent mercenary with a camera and a motorbike on a quest to become a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia.



This is meta with an accomplished filmmaker getting to resplice a young man's amazing-on-film journey, and a mirror onto ourselves, as even rebels he fights next to play to the camera, all of us, trying to live in an "idealized image of ourselves", becoming self-duplicating realities of that self-recorded media fantasy. Now for many of us that means going to a fancy restaurant and taking a picture of our food before it's eaten, or taking a picture while edging as close as we can to a guardrail overlooking a waterfall. For VanDyke, who now still films for others, and also seems to organize Christian militias in Iraq , that meant going back to Libya when civil war broke out, and going back to the frontlines after spending half a year in a dark hole hallucinating.



One of the strangest parts of the film is a recurring interview of VanDyke's girlfriend in front of a messy kitchen with the dishes just completed. From the film's website and Curry's words .... "I wanted to strip away anything that felt like slick, glossy production and give the audience the feeling that they had just stumbled on this guy at his desk or just stumbled on his girlfriend in the kitchen."


Look Ma, I'm in a Libyan jail

Much of the criticism focuses on the word "narcissist". But undoubtedly, VanDyke has a more interesting life than those who write those words. He was just a spoiled and wealthy student graduate who decided to leave books behind for an ongoing life adventure onto some of the tipping points of our current human civilization. Whatever his role and effect, he has dipped his toes much more than others, in this changing, disturbing world, and if he came back with images of himself, selfies of war, whatever you want to call them, why not, as that is also representative of the times we live in. Now it's true, he seems to have fared much better than Libya for now.



I think a better review compared VanDyke to Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell.... "a similarly remarkable self-documentarian, prone to extremes...", except that VanDyke lives to tell his tale. And there are extremely touching scenes between Van Dyke and his friend Nuri Funas, a peace loving hippie who used to walk the world, but returned to Libya to fight during a madman's last days in power (Muammar Gaddafi), during a bloody interlude, before the whole country goes amok with even more bloodletting. Who knows what has become of Funas? Maybe VanDyke could devote another documentary film to his friend, rather than to war correspondents, who like him, go more into the world's trouble spots for adventure and their own self-esteem, whatever the consequences, than with their entire being as Funas seems to do.

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