Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sundance '09: We Live in Public

You may remember Josh Harris, the subject of the wildly entertaining documentary We Live in Public, as spokesmen for the internet awakening during the late ‘90s.

Harris was a genius in predicting the way our society would live. His first real web investment was a site that had chatting, video downloads, and live TV, none of which had been around before. After that site came and went, Harris wanted a new project, something bigger, better, stronger, faster. His idea was so ingenious, yet equally terrifying, that it startled a nation, and predicted the future.

Harris recruited 100 people to dive head first into his experiment titled “Quiet: We Live in Public”. This venture saw all 100 people living in an underground bunker smack in the middle of New York City. They slept in little pods (which look like Holocaust-era bunk beds), ate, went to the bathroom, shot guns at the shooting range, watched the Millennium ball drop, and so on. They lived as a family, with one small catch. Every single inch of the bunker was under constant surveillance. Every second of every day was taped for Harris’s pleasure. The sex, the urination, the showering, the arguing, nothing was to be missed.

Ondi Timoner followed Harris around for over a decade, recording his lavish, multi-million dollar ideas. But Timoner’s camera never judges. While Harris was eccentric, and egotistical and probably a bit insane, his ideas were revolutionary. Watching clips from his bunker experiment is like watching your favorite trashy reality show. But keep in mind, reality TV didn’t exist when this experiment took place.

Harris couldn’t be a better subject for a documentary. His life-conflicts are gut wrenching to watch on film. Take, for instance, one of his final experiments. He brought his “Quiet” project to a much more intimate level when he asked his new girlfriend if she would like to be filmed in his apartment 24 hours a day 7 days a week. The catch this time: it would all be broadcast live on the internet. Users could even chat about what they were seeing. It’s a real treat to watch Harris on his computer, reading the chat comments as they come to him live.

The downfall, as it is inevitable, is excruciating to watch. We witness a perfectly happy couple wallow in decay over a few months.

This film is like no other documentary I’ve ever seen. Credit Timoner for sticking with such a tough subject. What we get to watch is sacred. Never private, always out in the open. A-

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