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Saturday, April 18, 2009

LOOK -- DVD review by porfle

These days, almost every aspect of our lives takes place under the watchful eye of a hidden camera. The average American, we're told, is captured on camera over 200 times daily. When writer-director Adam Rifkin (DETROIT ROCK CITY) began to notice this, it occurred to him that this would be an interesting way to tell a story about some of the people whose lives, loves, triumphs, tragedies, births, and deaths are recorded and can be played back by anyone with access to these records. And with his riveting mockumentary LOOK (2007), filmed solely from the point of view of different surveillance cameras, we become those hidden observers.

Right off the bat, Rifkin kicks the voyeuristic aspect of the film into high gear as we eavesdrop on two underage high school girls, Sherri and Holly, as they cavort naked in a dressing room at the mall. (Actresses Spencer Redford and Heather Hogan are both in their mid-20s, amazingly enough, so guys--you may gawk without guilt.) It doesn't take long to realize that these are two of the most vapid, preening, self-centered brats imaginable. On their way out of the store with a shoplifted item or two, they run into one of their teachers, Mr. Krebbs (Jamie McShane), and his extremely pregnant wife. Sherri, who is the very embodiment of the word "jailbait", hatches a devious plan to seduce the unsuspecting teacher and have sex with him just for kicks. This will lead to horrendous consequences that her ditzy little mind can't even begin to contemplate.

We begin to meet other characters whose stories will intertwine in unexpected ways. There's Marty, the cubicle-dwelling terminal nerd who is ridiculed by women and tormented by a bullying practical joker at work. Tony, a department store manager and compulsive letch, has sex with as many female employees as possible during work hours. Lawyer Ben and his wife Louise install "nanny-cams" in their apartment to ensure that their newborn baby isn't abused while they're at work. Willie and Carl, an irresponsible convenience-store clerk and his slacker pal, putter their way through the graveyard shift in unproductive (but funny) ways until one night they come face-to-face with two criminals suspected in the murder of a highway patrolman.

Each of these seemingly random storylines becomes more and more interesting as fate begins to bring them together. In the film's most disturbing scenes, we observe some mothers and their young daughters strolling through the mall, unaware that they're being stalked by a nondescript man in a blue fishing hat. He bides his time, waiting for the right opportunity to strike, and we know that sooner or later he'll succeed. For several of the characters in this film, terrible tragedy is inevitable, and there's nothing we can do but watch it unfold through the cameras' eyes.

Some scenes, such as the dashboard-cam view of the highway cop being overpowered by two thugs, are virtual re-enactments of actual footage you've seen if you watch reality video shows or YouTube. Some, we feel, will later be used as evidence. Often an unseen viewer zooms in on certain people and events, and fast-forwards through idle chatter to get to the good parts, like an omniscient Big Brother. Rifken states in the commentary track that he wanted it to appear as though someone with access to all of this material had selected and edited various segments in order to create a narrative.

There's no traditonal exposition, so you have to pay attention--which will undoubtedly turn a lot of viewers off. I found it interesting to become familiar with the various characters simply by observing their words and actions, which are presented in an entirely dispassionate manner that becomes subjective only when certain things are highlighted by a pan or a zoom. This method of storytelling, once you get used to it, offers its own unique fascination. It wouldn't work, of course, if the actors weren't natural enough to give us the feeling that we're eavesdropping on real, unsuspecting people. But after extensive casting sessions, the filmmakers have managed to choose actors who are more than capable of this. And in most scenes, the "extras" actually are real people.

It becomes obvious after awhile that the style of LOOK is less of a statement about privacy invasion than an offbeat way of giving the viewer a voyeuristic perspective on this multi-character narrative. It's interesting that if you wanted to tell someone's story, you could pretty much do so by gleaning footage from all the various hidden cameras that record their activitites every day. This includes the cameras we point at ourselves, such as Ben and Louise's "nanny-cams" and the ubiquitous cell phone cameras that turn average citizens into tabloid-style documentarians. One thing LOOK makes clear--whether we're in stores, cubicles, elevators, parking lots, hallways, buses, dressing rooms, or bathrooms, we are rarely truly alone and have very little privacy.

The DVD's image and sound quality are good, considering that the whole movie consists of simulated surveillance camera footage. A fun and informative commentary track features director Rifkin, producers Brad Wyman and Barry Schuler, and actor Hayes MacArthur ("Tony"). The half-hour featurette "Look at LOOK" is an entertaining video diary of the fifteen-day shoot. Lots of deleted scenes and outtakes, plus the teaser and trailer, round out the bonus features.

Before it's over, we witness a freeway car chase (containing actual police helicopter footage), a dramatic confession, a bomb threat, a live birth, an abominable act or two, and one truly jaw-dropping revelation. Entire lives are quietly and irrevocably destroyed. A woman farts in an elevator--a man masturbates at his desk. And we watch, because LOOK is a compelling and very entertaining exploration of the joys of seeing what we're not supposed to see.

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