Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Rhys Coiro, Hayes MacArthur, Giuseppe Andrews, Spencer Redford, Jennifer Fontaine, Heather Hogan, Jamie McShane, Sebastian Feldman, Craig Barnett, Adam Bitterman, Sarah Grant Brendecke, Michael Cooke, Troy DeWalt, Miles Dougal, Sarah Livingston Evans, Jackie Geary, Nichelle Hines, Tom Hodges, Haley Hudson, Bailee Madison, Shane McAvoy, Tracey McCall, Sarah Jane Morris, Fred Ochs, Karen Posada, Kimberly Quinn, Karanai Ravenscroft, Paul Schackman, D. Brett Schramm, Rachel Vacca, Dori Valleroy, Ben Weber, Chris Williams
Written by: Adam Rifkin
Directed by: Adam Rifkin
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content, pervasive language, some violence and brief drug use
Running Time: 102
Date: 06/01/2007
IMDB

Look (2007)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Stranded Camera

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

[Note: Critics are supposed to be infallible, and once on record we're supposed to stick to our guns, come hell or high water. In reality however, we're all human, and we're subject to whims and urges and other influences. A few weeks back I received a DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment, entitled Look, written and directed by Adam Rifkin. I was curious, so I watched it. To put a point to it, the film made me very uncomfortable, and it conjured up a kind of resentment in me. I spewed out a review that I thought was appropriately angry, but also funny and snarky. The next day I had second thoughts about the review, and I considered not posting it. But in my busy schedule I got lazy and posted it anyway. Who was really going to read it, anyway? A little over a week later, I got a message on my voicemail from none other than Adam Rifkin. He left me his home phone number and asked me to call him back. Now, if I had been perfectly comfortable with the review, I probably would have ignored the call, but I wasn't sure, and I wanted to hear what Mr. Rifkin had to say. So I called. To his credit, he spoke calmly and did not try to berate me. He had never actually called a critic before, he said. He explained that he thought some of the things in the review were unfair. I told him that, to be honest, I thought he was right. It was a rushed, ill-considered piece of work, and his film -- any film -- deserved more. You, the readers, deserve more. Here, then, is my revised second draft of my review, with a new revised rating.]

Here's a film that left me with one response: I wish I hadn't seen it. That's a strong reaction, and it doesn't necessarily mean the film hasn't succeeded. Catherine Breillat's Fat Girl affected me the same way back in 2001, and though I still don't like it, many others found it to be a masterpiece, and even a great work of art. Look is shot entirely from the point of view of surveillance cameras, though its assemblage could only have been managed by someone with godlike vision. The footage comes from shopping malls, dressing rooms, police cars, parking lots, mini-marts, office buildings, elevators and more, with mounted cameras constantly running and racking up footage over the course of several weeks. (That's an overwhelmingly huge shooting ratio.) We follow several characters, starting with a teenage, high school hottie who decides she wants to sleep with her teacher. She does, and then accuses him of rape. Meanwhile, a couple of vicious cop-killers are on the loose, as well as a child kidnapper/child molester. We get images of a clumsy nerd who is the constant butt of practical jokes at his office. Then there's a department store manager who has sex with all his female employees, and in-between masturbates and snorts coke. And a gas station snack shop clerk occasionally practices his peculiar rock songs.

The movie begins with the detail that "Americans are captured on surveillance cameras at least 170 times a day mostly without their knowledge." It then revels in the most hideous examples of human behavior, the kind that anyone would be horrified to find captured on camera. The difficult part comes in the presentation of this behavior. The surveillance cameras naturally keep the characters at a distance, and as a result, it's hard to connect on a human level at all times. It's hard to recognize ourselves in these misfits. The office nerd, Marty (Ben Weber), is an especially difficult case. We watch as he fumbles through his day, trying to connect with other human beings, but even in his private moments there's little to show what really makes him tick. He interrupts a film shoot -- directed by John Landis in a cameo -- and loses his ATM card, but why is he such a sad sack? (There is a reason, but it comes at the end.) The department store manager also comes across as rather shallow, which he probably is. I think I wanted to feel a little sorry for him, or to understand his behavior somehow, but Rifkin presents it just as it is, nothing more and nothing less. The manager is a walking erection, and doesn't seem the least bit bothered about it. Perhaps if the character knew he was being watched, he would somehow put on a performance for us, but here he is in his natural state. Then, despite a few little warnings, we get a small surprise oasis in the form of the mini-mart. The weirdo, wannabe rock star turns out to be one of the most level-headed characters, and returning to him provides a balance for the rest of the material.

But here is the movie's key. In one scene, we watch the inside of an elevator. A pretty girl alone lets out a fart. She gets off and Marty gets on. Other pretty girls get on, and they immediately assume that Marty is the farter. We, the viewers, are the only ones privy to this information, and no one -- in a million years -- would ever believe that the pretty girl was the real culprit. We want to scream and shout and shake the TV, or perhaps rewind the tape and warn Marty not to get on the elevator, but we're powerless. It's this powerlessness, I think, that drives Look and makes it so disturbing. It happens again on a larger scale with the teacher. We watch the teacher as he continually thwarts the elaborately planned sexual advances of the hot teenage girl, and we watch as he eventually succumbs; who can blame him? But my heart sunk as he's caught, and suffers the direst consequences for it. We can go over all the footage again and again, and the scenario will unfold in exactly the same way; there's nothing we can do about it.

All of this brings me to the hardest question of all: should you watch Look? Although it left me disturbed in many ways, it's a film I haven't forgotten, and there are many films I've seen since that have already faded away. Some movies provide a kind of comfort and reassurance, and this one doesn't do that. But another thing that's great about movies is the way that the best ones can test you and slap you and wake you up to new feelings and ideas. If you're one of the brave few who likes -- who craves -- this latter experience, then perhaps Look is for you. You're on your own, though, because once is enough for me.

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