Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nobody's Business

I loved last night's screening of Alan Berliner's Nobody's Business! At first it was a little confusing trying to figure out what was going on with the pictures and voice over, but in the end I really appreciated how little the interviewees were shown. It brought a really unique perspective on the conversation going on between Alan and his father, as well as forced you to pay much more attention to what was being said in order to figure out how it correlated to the visual elements of the story.

In the beginning I thought this film was just going to be some sort of boring family history, discovering your roots, type of documentary, but even that part of the story became gradually more and more interesting the more we dove into Oscar and his character. He started off as such a crotchety old man, but by the end of the film, going through his entire life, I felt sorry for him. His refusal to care about so many things, his family history, his past, his future, just emphasized what he was refusing to admit the whole time: his loneliness. 

This film was so touching! It started off funny with Oscar's stubbornness but turned into this beautiful portrait of how he came to be the way he is and how despite his stubbornness and loneliness he truly loves his kids more than anything in the world. I also found it interesting how as the film progressed and we got to know Oscar more and more we also saw him more in interviews and b-roll footage.

I also liked the use of archival footage and how b-roll didn't necessarily match up with what was being said but was used metaphorically, such as the constant use of the boxing match to symbolize the fight between Oscar and Alan's mom or Oscar's fight against cancer. This type of b-roll seemed to be used often and made me think a lot more about what was going on with Oscar beneath the surface. For as much as he refused to answer questions or give opinions, I walked away really feeling like I understood his character and actually liking him very much. His stubbornness and bitterness became endearing rather than annoying or comical, and his loneliness became something I pitied rather than felt he deserved. I really really enjoyed this film.


  1. I agree with Emilee, this film was awesome and I enjoyed it very much. Saying this about an archival, voice-over documentary is quite rare for me. I'm usually not interested in archival documentaries unless it's used sparingly, because I just get bored, but for some reason "Nobody's Business" captured my attention the entire time.

    I think what made me watch the archival footage closely was the sound of a ticking clock (I'm assuming that was the sound). This loud tick, tick on cuts from archival footage to archival footage helped me keep my eyes on the screen. It made me think something important was coming on screen. This technique of sound made everything "click." Pun intended. It connected the footage, especially since pictures and video we were watching were not all correlative in time. Without the clock sound, cutting may have looked more random and seen as jump-cuts, but the sound held them together.

    I'm also not a huge fan of voice-over. When the movie started, I became anxious because I wanted to see a face talking. I wanted to see a scene, but the voice-over was hilarious! It kept my attention and made my anxiety disappear. I think the voice-over was also appropriate, because most there seemed to be tension between Alan and his father when yelling at each other. From Alan's voice it seemed like he was getting agitated and just wanted his father to give in. But his father felt the same way by continuing to argue with Alan and not give him the answer he needed. So, the voice-over allowed this tension to be heard rather than seen which allows the audience to focus more on what they are saying rather than the emotion, because it may take away from the story of the documentary.

    I wanted to also note the extreme juxtaposition presented in the hearing aid scene. This scene brought tears to my eyes with laughter. It was just so hilarious. I loved it. But as I was laughing all of a sudden the brain tumor scene about Alan's father came on. I stopped laughing immediately and my tears changed to sadness rather than from laughter. My emotions were switched like a light switch. Usually, in films when you want to change the emotive tone, you gradually reach a new emotion, rather than putting the two right next to each other. In my opinion, this helped strengthen the seriousness of Oscar's health.

    Overall, after watching this I got an urge to make a doc with archival footage. There's so much that can be done with it. It's awesome!

  2. GREAT POSTS, Y'ALL! Alan is the master of using archival footage in interesting ways. His films are like great books. You can watch them many times and see new metaphors and connections. If you want to learn about poetic uses of archival material, watch his work and study it. ES

  3. I also loved the screening of Nobody’s Business, however I had very different reactions to the film. It actually made me incredibly depressed, especially about aging and death. A few moments in the documentary saved me from bursting into tears:

    Alan: “What do you think is a healthy outlook on death?
    Oscar: “I think a healthy outlook on sex is…”
    Alan: “No, no, no! Death!”

    But overall I walked away pretty pessimistic about life. If Oscar didn’t have his granddaughter to bring joy to his life, then I would have completely hated this film. That’s the thing about films. You don’t always remember what was said, or what happened, but you always remember how it made you feel.

    I did like that Alan struggled with his father to see the importance of family history and knowing where you come from. It seemed such a generational shift to have a son persuading his father to care about his ancestors. From a filmmaker’s perspective, I really enjoyed the archival footage of a boxing match when Alan and Oscar would get into a heated argument. It was so much more interesting than two talking heads having a conversation. It added humor to a film that might otherwise make the viewer uncomfortable.

    What I most enjoyed about Berliner’s film is that he used certain noises or tones from within his film as a way to transition edits. Chelsea noted in her post how she liked the sound of the ticking clock that cut from one shot to the next. When Alan recounts his fathers day to day life we see his alarm clock making that same ticking noise. The “ding” that also was the sound underneath many cuts was actually Oscar’s granddaughter playing a toy xylophone. I took pleasure in these little “discoveries” throughout Berliner’s doc. It really made watching the film a much more entertaining experience.

    I like that Berliner has his own style as a filmmaker and I hope to look up and watch more of his work in the future.

    P.S. I went to Alan’s website and read that his dad died a few years ago. He wrote the elegy for his funeral and has it posted on his site. You should go check it out. It’s really very touching – made me feel like I knew Oscar.

  4. Berliner's documentary was certainly a far cry from a feel-good romp. I thought the emotional path it took was very interesting: Alan begins the documentary with some light-hearted footage, humorous moments, a whole lot of crotchety old man stuff...but as the movie progresses, the son delves deeper and deeper and the father becomes more and more hesitant to respond.

    I was actually bracing for some horrible family secret to come out of the whole thing, but maybe that's just because I'm used to family docs like "Capturing the Freidmans" or "51 Birch Street" (great flicks, if anybody's interested). While not as shocking as I was led to believe, the reveal that Oscar has been living what is (quite honestly) a desperately lonely life hits the viewer like a ton of bricks.

    But doesn't that make Berliner's third and final act all the more powerful? With the birth of his granddaughter, Oscar has a new a lease o life. It's not just the man's words, you can see it in his face: he is overflowing with love and joy and empathy for this little girl. It's almost heartbreakingly beautiful to watch the transformation.

    And of course, that ending credits, I've gone through some rough critiques, but if my own flesh and blood gave me a dressing-down like that I think I'd just pack it in and call it a day.