From the Archives: CFF 2016: Time Machine review

From the Archives: CFF 2016: Time Machine review

In the interest of getting “hard” copies of my work under one roof, I plan to spend the next few weeks posting the entire archive of my film journalism here on ScullyVision. With due respect to the many publications I’ve written for, the internet remains quite temporary, and I’d hate to see any of my work disappear for digital reasons. As such, this gargantuan project must begin! I don’t want to do it. I hate doing it. But it needs to be done. Please note that my opinions, like everyone’s, have changed a LOT since I started, so many of these reviews will only represent a snapshot in time. Objectivity has absolutely no place in film criticism, at least not how I do it. 

Without further ado, I present to you: FROM THE ARCHIVES.
Originally posted on Cinema76.

In 1977, a high school-aged Sam Klemke began documenting his life. Mystified with film’s ability to capture a moment in time, Klemke obsessively filmed much of his day-to-day activities, culminating in a yearly video-rumination on the state of his journey through existence. Basically, he’s the world’s first vlogger, and much like the work of his modern counterparts, these video diaries are of the “too much information” variety.sam-klemke-feat-604x211

Thematically similar to Michael Apted’s Up series, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine avoids being a copycat film for a variety of reasons. First, Klemke is a true eccentric by any stretch of the definition. From his days as a wanderlust-affected youth through his struggles with prostitution, weight fluctuation, and career instability, Klemke defies his normal upbringing and moves through his life as a genuine character. We watch him transform from a pimple-faced ball of energy into a down on his luck caricature artist who spends a concerning amount of time examining the physical qualities of his own urine. Yet, despite his cartoonish strangeness (and penchant for nachos) the raw honesty that Klemke puts forth in his recordings is admirable, making him much more relatable than he has any right to be.

Also setting this documentary apart is the framing device. Alongside the scrapbook assembly of excerpts from Klemke’s adventures are clips from a faux-educational film about the Voyager satellite’s Gold Record, a disc containing information about the biology and culture of humanity which was launched into space the very same year Klemke began his project. Narrated in French, these segments bring a poeticism to the questions surrounding the purpose and design of the Gold Record. The soothing voiceover ponders whether or not the record, which contains no mention of humanity’s downfalls (or even a complete photo of human biology – thanks, prudishness), is really an accurate representation of its subject matter (us).

By juxtaposing the journey of the Voyager with Klemke’s journey through life, many themes are drawn to the surface. Aging, health, creativity, responsibility, legacy, interpersonal relationships, and self-representation are just a handful of the ideas on which the film successfully meditates. On a technical front, Time Machine subverts the traditional function of the documentary format, simultaneously telling the story which populates the reels and pixels, but also blurring the line that so many films of the genre stumble in tiptoeing: when a camera is introduced to a situation, to what degree can “reality” truly be maintained?

This subversion of format becomes apparent when the film’s director, Matthew Bate (Shut Up, Little Man)  befriends Klemke. The two meet after a YouTube video containing a concise cut of Klemke’s 35-year project goes viral and Bate requests permission to cut together a full-length film – the very film we are watching. When the two first meet, each with a rolling camera in hand, Time Machine transcends every traditional film boundary, becoming a living, breathing cinematic self-reflection, unfolding in a sort of non-diagetic real time.

There are no proper points of comparison here. As I watched this story heap layer upon layer of substance upon itself, growing functionally and thematically richer by the second, I knew I was seeing something truly original. This is the type of strange creative anomaly that could only come from 35 years of a madman’s self-aware naivety corralled by the skills of a practiced technician. This is the type of movie that leaves its viewers feeling both flabbergasted and in total awe of how wonderful the ups and downs of existence can be if you’re bold enough to open yourself up; the type of movie that can make even the most insignificant viewer feel relevant and powerful. Sam Klemke’s Time Machine is the rare type of film that, if you let it, can change your life.

Time Machine has its Philly premiere during the Cinedelphia Film Festival on Tuesday, April 19.

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