The last few weeks I’ve been doing what I believe most cinephiles around the internet have been doing, consuming lists nonstop. Seeing what others have been touting as the great of last year. I presented mine to the world (and will be posting the podcast version soon) here on this very website.
One of the films that has been thrown high up on my radar after this barrage of hyperbole was Kirsten Johnson’s Camerperson. So when this week it was announced that the film was thrown up on Amazon for all to enjoy I jumped at the chance to finally see what the world was talking about. I sit here writing unsure how many ways I can express my regret that the film I saw did not match up with what the world seems to be enamoured with.
The magic of this film is how quickly it makes us feel attached to the images, despite only getting snippets of the various stories Johnson has captured on film during her lengthy career.
This is a statement that on it’s face I cannot disagree with. There were moments watching this film that I found myself enamoured with an image. Or even at times when you could hear the Kirsten talking with another person behind the camera about the shot she’s getting now, or what she wanted to get it’s interesting and I’m invested in that moment. However, as the film moves from shot to shot with no real connection or any sort of feeling of any idea I sat there saddened that I was there attempting to engage with this film.
The truth is that I almost don’t deserve to complain, as I wasn’t lied to as to what the movie was. Nobody said it was going to be a De Palma where someone walks you through the footage. It’s as if I must come to terms with the part of me that is constantly wanting to be a part of some special club of people who’s entry fee is having seen all the films that could ever be talked about. Even the film itself opens with an explanation from the director herself claiming this to serve as some sort of Memior to her 25 years of work. It’s as if someone were to magically get to go into the deleted drafts of my life and start finding gems of sentences that are amazing and put them all on display. Sure the posts that were deleted were awful, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t make a nice arrangement of words from time to time writing that trash.
I guess my problem is this. This movie isn’t really a film, I think. This film feels like a collage of memories that is really for Kirsten, and not for us. There’s no way for us to truly understand the works of this without having lived the life that Kirsten lived making them. She understands what was happening to her when she filmed that philospher walking across the street in New York, or sat behind the car in Yemen attempting to sneak a shot of a prison, or even when she had to overwrite footage she accidentally shot while at Guantamo Bay. I would’ve been more interested in hearing her view of these moments in her life than to view them out of context with no real way to truly engage with them other than an image, that at times can look lovely, but be fleeting.