Home Movie
dir. Chris Smith
Fri-Thurs July 19-25 at the Varsity.

Part of the pleasure of a documentary profile lies in the filmmaker's blurriness of intention. Chances are that if it doesn't occur to you at least once that you're laughing at the subject--which might mean the film has a condescending tone (or, heaven forfend, that you have a condescending tone)--then the documentary lacks the necessary meta-level to justify its own privacy-invading existence. Home Movie, the new film from the director of American Movie, the all-time king of the "Does this guy know he's being made fun of?" school of filmmaking, is only an hour long, but that doesn't prevent it from offering up a mountain of meta.

As the title suggests, Home Movie is a movie about homes, five of them, spread all across America. The only linking device is that the homes are owned by eccentric, creative people who have funneled all their creative energies into the spaces that immediately surround them. A houseboat-dwelling alligator wrangler in Louisiana; a crackpot inventor/occultist right out of Eightball with an "all-electronic" (automated doors, curtains, toilets, etc.) house; a couple of flute-playing, drum-circling New Age hippies in a converted Kansas missile silo; a former Japanese sitcom actress who lives in a tree in a remote Hawaiian forest; and saddest of all, a pair of cat lovers (obsessees might be more appropriate) whose home is like a macro habit trail. These are the people who open their homes to Smith's camera.

Despite being a bit awkward on camera, they're all secret extroverts--who else would spend so much time and money customizing their homes so elaborately?--and therefore brilliant subjects. The show is not just seeing where and how they live, but seeing how proud and excited they are to finally be receiving some validation for their efforts.

Some people cringe at films like this, on account of the aforementioned condescension they feel is inherent in examining the lives of "colorful" weirdos. It's a legitimate consideration. But Home Movie, like its predecessor, doesn't exploit its subjects--it revels in their ungovernable individuality, which is more like bestowing dignity than taking it away.