January 11, 2007

What I've been and will be up to

This has been a crazy few weeks. I am suddenly bursting at the seams with stuff to do, and lacking sufficient threads of time with which to sew the seams back up. So let's see -- well, there's the Mystery Hunt this weekend, and while I wasn't nearly as involved with this Hunt as I was with the Matrix hunt, I still managed to find myself spending hours and hours and hours working on a bunch of different puzzles for it, which wouldn't have been a problem except that I'm also writing a puzzle book this month, Trivial Pursuit Crosswords, which will be out in the fall. This is a very very fast turnaround indeed, and so the manuscript needs to be done by the beginning of February. So, from the time I started working on it, that would be 50 crosswords in about 5 weeks.

And then I'm also contributing some short pieces to a collection of humor about dogs (which is slightly odd, given how much more of a cat person I am, but maybe they wanted an outsider viewpoint), about which more later, and I'm helping out with various things for my friend Tarl's new science fiction website, On the Premises. And these katamaris don't roll themselves up, you know. All of which is to say, I'm a little frazzled this month.

But I did take a break on Monday night to go see a press screening of my former Millionaire coworker Michael Nigro's documentary, American Cannibal, which I recommend to anyone who wishes to be horrified at reality TV's search for the lowest common denominator (and at the entertainment industry in general). Michael and his codirector Perry Grebin kind of lucked out, plot-development-wise -- what began as a documentary about a sitcom pilot turned into the story of the two writers behind it, who decide to give reality TV a shot. It's painfully fascinating to watch these two likeable, decent guys somehow end up working on an utterly skeevy, pretty-reprehensible-when-you-get-right-down-to-it Survivor variant. (Basically, it's Survivor without the food. Oh, and the contestants are told -- falsely -- that they'll have to eat human flesh if they don't want to starve.)

Watching the machinations of wealthy sleazeball producers is, naturally, entertaining, but what really makes the movie are the changes that the two writers undergo -- becoming steadily more hardened and cynical about reality TV, or slowly but surely buying into the culture completely. They say that the entertainment industry changes people; it's unsettling to watch it happen.

And then there's the plot point to which the whole film leads up (although I'm not giving much away by revealing it, because it's shown in the first couple minutes of the movie): one of the contestants on the reality show has a medical incident and collapses, seriously injuring herself in the process. She's quickly airlifted to a hospital, but the cast and crew of the show never get any details about her condition or her progress.

This brings us to the only part of the movie I objected to. At the end of the film, we're shown some clips in which the filmmakers ask various people about what happened to this contestant, and whether she's all right. No one knows. Some people seem to actively be giving them the runaround. Naturally this leaves the audience with the impression that something awful happened to the girl and it's being covered up. Now, the press kit includes an interview in which Michael says, "The girl...appeared to be badly injured and we looked into that further than is shown in the film. One of our producers spoke to her not long ago, and apparently she's okay." This leaves it unclear as to whether they didn't find out until the movie was completed whether or not she was okay, but still -- give us a caption or something about it.

Perry says, continuing from Michael's comment, "This question comes up a lot and although the movie is about the human cost of reality entertainment, it's not about a contestant or her injury and we're not interested in exploiting it." But it seems to me that having the last scenes of your documentary all be about the girl and trying -- and, in particular, failing -- to find out what happened to her makes the movie much more about the contestant's injury than it otherwise would be. It seems more exploitive (although, to be fair, still rather low on the exploitiveness scale) to play it for ambiguity than to say what happened. I still highly recommend the movie, though -- it's a remarkable example of the right filmmakers making a documentary about the right people at the right time.

Posted by Francis at 02:44 AM

Other than "Wordplay", I thought "American Cannibal" was the best thing I saw at Tribeca.

Posted by: Ellen at January 11, 2007 10:22 AM

Invent a self-rolling Katamari, and the world will beat a path....

Posted by: Rubrick at January 11, 2007 05:02 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?