Review – Narcissus’ Pool is Now a Digital Camera (“Point and Shoot”)

“Point and shoot” can describe what you do with a camera in order to capture life. “Point and shoot” can also describe what you do with a weapon in order to take a life. These two concepts collide in filmmaker Marshall Curry’s latest documentary, which just happens to be entitled “Point and Shoot”.
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Curry’s film consists mostly of footage shot by its subject, one Matt Van Dyke. Mr. Van Dyke is an excellent representative of the current generation and its incessant need to digitally record each and everything about their lives and then foist it upon the public to provide validation for their existence. Van Dyke, a sheltered (some would say spoiled) individual with mental health issues (he admits to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, but this film leaves you with the feeling there may be a whole lot more at play) decides that he wants to undertake a “crash course in manhood” through North Africa via a motorcycle and, of course, a video camera or two.

What might have been a semi-interesting documentary about world travel and the search for meaning in life soon takes a dark turn as Van Dyke ends up fighting on the side of the rebels during the Libyan revolution. Admittedly, there is value in the footage Van Dyke provides that gives us a rare look at a revolution from the inside, but the price we have to pay for that glimpse is more footage of Van Dyke posing and preening for the camera. This culminates in a stomach-churning scene where Van Dyke is pressed to kill a Libyan soldier, which at first he seems reluctant to do, but ultimately accepts – only after making sure his camera is recording it.

To have a film produced based on footage you shot of yourself must be a narcissist’s wet dream. Van Dyke probably sees the release of this film as validation for all the choices he made and affirmation of his “manhood”. At first glance, Curry seems to have provided this validation. Look deeper and you’ll see a trenchant commentary on the voyeuristic nature of society today and how the meaning of “manhood” has changed from personal growth that is reached through a series of challenges and encounters to the filming and public exhibition of said transformation for all to see.

Matt Van Dyke’s camera was clearly pointed at himself. Marshall Curry figuratively takes Van Dyke’s camera and turns it back on us. As much as we don’t like what we see in Van Dyke, when we think about what passes as “entertainment” today, should we feel any better about ourselves?

“Point and Shoot” is as frustrating and infuriating a film as I’ve seen in a long time.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, “Point and Shoot” opens on December 5th at Landmark Theatre’s San Francisco Opera Plaza Cinemas and Berkeley’s Shattuck Cinemas. Check your local theatre listings.

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