What does the world do every day? I don’t mean the headline stuff – wars, summits, natural disasters – but the homely matters. How many different ways are there to cook breakfast? To crack a joke? To computer-date? To tend the kids? Life in a Day (opening in the UK next week) is a digest of 4,500 hours of recorded amateur footage submitted from around the globe, all recorded on July 24 2010. Kevin Macdonald “directed” the film. Ridley and Tony Scott are the executive producers who saw it through – this celebration of digital empowerment in the age of camcorders, cellphones, webcams – from first hullabaloo to final hurrah.
Hurrah? Well, the film is here; it is humungous in scope, if not length (95 minutes), and it is almost unique. That “almost”, though, is the problem. Don’t we feel, a little, that we have been here before? Remember the local-colour philosophisings and platitudinisings with which we hopped continents in the old Pathé Pictorial News? (The crowing cock hath crowed and moving on . . .). Or the pantheistic one-worldism of Koyaanisqatsi? Or even, and here Life in a Day meets its most dangerous mirror image, that beloved but banal-with-familiarity Coca-Cola ad in which the world is a swaying, singing entity out in the desert of make-believe togetherness.
You almost want to side with Margaret Thatcher and say, “There is no such thing as society.” Or at least to say that togetherness is a spoiler of stories. It is the individual vignettes that count here, not the kaleidoscope. So a loud “yes” to the fish-eye-lensed scenes of a Chinese widower trying to mother a little son in a chaotic flat; the young man performing a breathtaking somersault to shoplift a loaf of bread; the American dad supervising his son’s first shave; the girl working a Rubik’s cube while hula-hooping in the desert. (There’s multi-tasking for you.) These are short stories: beautiful Hemingwayish fragments that sting us into imagining more.
But as soon as the movie starts theming its images, a specious connectivity replaces the picayune and particular. We have the birth montage, the morning ablutions montage, the dating montage, the death montage. I nearly wanted to break into the screen dressed as Mrs Thatcher and say “There is no such thing as montage.”
Yes, people around the world are defined by their differences, as they perform the same functions. But the functions chosen here are too obvious, too commonplace (even, regrettably, death). They erode differences; they homogenise everything into either a party or a wake. And of course we must have that Korean cyclist touring the world, a self-appointed emblem of togetherness, tying the movie up with a near-literal ribbon.
My favourite sequence? I loved the girl at the end who laments that nothing has happened to her. For all her hopes, on this July 24, nothing occurred to elevate her life or to unite her to everyone else on World AmCam Day. Lit with low-fi chiaroscuro, like the girl in the tent in The Blair Witch Project, she faces the camera as if to say: “Sorry, no epiphany. All I can offer is some moody, homemade humdrum. But at least it’s mine.” Attagirl. Long live the single planetarian and her honest reality. Forget the planet and its synthesised sodality.
Kaboom has so many gorgeous young men in it, in states of undress, that you feel as if the top shelf has crashed down on you in a San Francisco magazine store. It must be – it is – a Gregg Araki film. He made The Living End, Mysterious Skin and other anthems to gay America. Kaboom is less an anthem, more a discordant impromptu.
With its errant structure and bottom-dollar special effects (animal masks that make Donnie Darko seem like Star Wars) it could have been made on World AmCam Day. “The people are beautiful,” Andy Warhol would say. Yes they are, but the story is a naff tale of sci-fi events impacting on a sexually AC/DC college, and the numerous sex scenes send out all the wrong messages, the main one being: “You’re not here for the art, are you, since there isn’t any? So you must just be here simply as a shamefaced philistine voyeur.” Guilty as charged.
In Donor Unknown, a documentary about a group of half-siblings brought together by the quest for a biological father, a girl discovers her sperm-donor dad is a middle-aged hippy living in a van on Venice Beach, California. This isn’t a plot spoiler: we meet “Donor 150” early on and learn his history as a once prolific contributor to remote-control paternity.
I wish Jerry Rothwell’s movie went further than the “dear diary” tones in which a set of well-adjusted teens – central character JoEllen and her adventitious kinsfolk – meet an apparently well-adjusted beach bum. Doesn’t anyone in this America have a problem? Isn’t there something strange, even tragic, about a guy who spent his years of desire doing three-times-a-week sessions in “masturbatoria”? Isn’t there just one sibling who thinks, “Oh my God, Dad is, like, this total loser”? Instead everyone cycles happily into the sunset at the close and the US is apple pie from shore to shore. My advice: re-rent The Kids Are All Right, where sperm-donor paternity (played by Mark Ruffalo) gets the rueful, witty, mischievous-seriocomical treatment it should.
Just when you think it is safe to raise a baby, in a world without Rebecca De Mornay and her tot-terrorising antics in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (1992), back comes the actress in Mother’s Day.
She may seem prim and preeningly proper. Like a U-certificate Ma Barker she arrives in a rural mansion taken over by her four hoodlum children (fleeing a messy heist) to tidy up the blood and soothe the hostages. But she turns nasty on a sixpence. That may have been the cost of the supporting cast – all hardworking unknowns – since it is the star performer who switches on the power, transforming a dodgily wired script into something that at least crackles when she is on screen.