Sunday, January 23, 2011

Netflix-a-thon (#23) WE LIVE IN PUBLIC

(Oh, the irony; as the narrator talked near the end in kind of full-summation form about how we're now dominated by how we go online and give out our information and always look down to our little black boxes - i.e. blackberries - I looked down at mine without thinking to check a message I got on my Facebook.  My wife dutifully with a big smile reminded me of this, and I smiled as well thinking of the moment I'd come to this blog and write about it.  How Meta!  I'll have a Meta-Internet Burger with a side of Pixels).

In the era before the Dot-Com bubble burst with the stock market and the near-pioneers of the movement to get information put online, Josh Harris was one of the big guns, worth 80 million at one time, and the founder of a website,, which was a big interactive media site that provided a lot of videos and music with artists and entertainers and all sorts of crazy and fun stuff that garnered a good deal of attention.  Harris had a good thing there in the 90's as the creative head, until he went a little batty (i.e. dressing up in a clown costume, which I'll reserve to reveal till the end of this review as to not frighten the children), and left the website with his share of stocks.  He used his leftover millions to then go and make a project called 'Quiet', where he'd make a kind of cross between the Warhol Factory, a utopia, and the Millgram experiments: artists and regular folks and those with some big problems (maybe a hundred, more or less) participated as lab-rats in a societal experiment that made Big Brother look like the Partridge Family.

Click.  come on...
It was a bold, dangerous, unethical, surreal and fascinating experiment.  I'd never heard or seen it until this movie, but it had to have been something wild to see, as the director Ondi Timoner did when she went to shoot there.  Cameras were set up in every room and all over the place, a big connecting network where everyone would be seen, and the people participating could watch what other people were doing: eating, drinking, shitting, fucking, and shooting off guns in a firing range(?)  There were also (ala Millgram) controlled interrogation rooms set up, supervised by an actual CIA interrogation psychologist dude, and the goal was... I guess to reveal how messed up some or most of these people were: their mental problems, addictions, and would be basically tortured in ways that were fascinating precisely because the people agreed to participate.  Why?  Cameras?  The knowledge of being watched and doing what's told?

Beavis and Butt-head in the 'Quiet' project would be mostly this.
Josh Harris' ideal of going forward with the Warhol '15 Minutes' quote to '15 minutes of fame - a DAY' was stopped right on January 1st, 2000, the day after the burst of Y2K, as it was (rightfully so) assumed that it was some fucked up cult gathering.  But the next experiment was much more personal though not any less strange and self-indulgent for Harris: he would turn Quiet on himself, taking 24/hour surveillance on himself and his girlfriend (whom after their bad, inevitable break-up he called his 'pseudo girlfriend, which she vehemently denies and is more credible than he in this).  How real was the relationship, and even their big fights?  Does it matter?  After any seemingly big emotional exchange, such as Josh grabbing at Tanya in a manner close to spousal abuse, they each would go to their computers to communicate with fellow viewers to the site.  Through a glass pixelated.

In another life Josh Harris designed the sets for Clockwork Orange's Korova Milkbar.
It's not mentioned in the film, perhaps intentionally, but on Harris' Wikipedia it states that he was highly influenced by Peter Weir's The Truman Show.  In a sick way perhaps Harris saw himself as but puppeteer and the puppet, and couldn't ultimately have it both ways.  The key to that movie is that Truman doesn't know he's on TV, but the creeping sensation eventually builds.  Yet TV is a much bigger factor in shaping Harris than, I'd argue, the internet.  He was on the forefront of it, and pushed the innovation perhaps a little too early like a premature birth (or ejaculation?), but if it weren't for the years in his childhood without parental guidance and watching hours of Gilligan's Island and other shows ala Cable Guy (another Carrey movie connection, might as well), he might have been a better adjusted kid.  But like a Howard Hughes empowered by his own egomania and sense of his own created status, he went further into himself.  Even when he eventually stopped 'We Live in Public' due to, basically, being broke, he was still in a kind of self-made experiment of exile with an apple farm.

And we may also be able to tell Josh Harris' religion by this picture.
The point of view of the film on the surface is that Harris was "the great innovators you never heard of".  It's a given to say that he was ahead of his time with his idea of showing everything you do every minute of every day for others to see.  But the difference is with Youtube, Facebook and all of the blogs and so on that exploded a few years back is you can cherry-pick your information to share.  Harris' ideal was a world without boundaries to reveal.  This is what makes the 'Quiet' section of the film the most captivating and the most disturbing, how far humanity goes when it has total freedom: free food, free drink, free sex, and tons of psychological torture, as if the Orwell Big Brother ran Club Med in pods.  For him this might have been his most successful period if also the shortest, as he created his own diorama of humanity.  It's an experiment in an ironic placement of free will in a controlled environment, all on camera, all ready to broadcast for people to comment on all over the world.

While Y2K didn't happen, this did that very night of New Years Eve.  Yey naked shenanigans!
So while the director may have a perspective on Harris that is positive to an extent- that is the director likely had to have one at the least to have the access she had, or she does find him genuinely innovative which he could be in a less insane framework- We Live in Public ultimately reveals a personality that is precisely unbalanced for a regular social world.  He's like The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg with a little more pudge and a fewer friends, seeing something of the future but also lacking the mental faculties to see his "cool" at odds with his own self-regard.  He obstensibly was under the radar since 2001, in some part due to credit fraud, but any time he appears on screen, even with a final video he shot for his dying mother whom he refused to see for reasons perhaps a little too complex to show in a documentary, he comes off like a jerk full of his failures even more than his successes.

Josh's next project: competition in TRON with Kevin Flynn.  
It's an immensely interesting and sometimes (in the 'Quiet' scenes) emotionally claustrophobic look at an awful person, and at a society where for at least a few moments a man like Josh Harris gets his 15 minutes, and maybe another 15 minutes somewhere down the line.  Maybe, kinda, sorta.

and now...

AAAHHH!!  (yes, he tried to make this a mascot for the dot-com company he worked for - View Askew's Vulgar had a better grasp than this douche

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