Ondi Timoner Doc We Live In Public Strokes Dot-Com Artist’s Ego


Documentarian Ondi Timoner lends her credulity and camera to swollen, damaged egos who believe themselves to be visionaries. We Live in Public documents 10 years in the life of dot-com multimillionaire–cum–installation artist Josh Harris, a clammy-looking loaf with none of the schizo firing-synapse spark that made musician Anton Newcombe a suitable study for her 2004 DiG!.

“One of the first great artists of the 21st century” (self-proclaimed), Harris’s primary claim to fame was “Quiet,” a locked-down scopophilic millennial commune, for which he footed the bill in exchange for the rights to tape and live-broadcast every intimate moment of the participants, all interwired in a web of constant mutual surveillance, presented as a model of the post-privacy online future.

Harris’s canard, which Timoner echo-chambers, is to insist that the behavior of a flawed test sample—trend-susceptible extrovert extended-adolescent “artists”—observed under this unique set of circumstances has any relation to how most people use computers. (One bit of associative editing actually connects the “Stasi-type” interrogation rooms that were an element of designed dystopia in “Quiet” to keyword-sensitive advertising in e-mail browsers.)

Timoner cuts her material to fit preconceptions. In DiG!, she set up the false dichotomy of get-rich pop band (the Dandy Warhols) vs. poor-but-authentic rockers (Newcombe’s Brian Jonestown Massacre), which opened the movie up to rock naïfs weaned on reality-TV generalities (while the superior You’re Gonna Miss Me went widely unseen). Incapable of separating bluster from inspiration, Timoner excludes any dissenting voice that might suggest BJM aren’t a terribly important band (they aren’t), or that Harris’s “Quiet,” a spasm of manic profligacy born of short-circuiting megalomania, isn’t artistically significant (it isn’t).

Timoner takes Harris’s erratic pulse—and diagnoses society. What is disturbing is not Harris’s self-absorbed insistence that his own emotional hobbling—self-protection through technology, “explained” by a raised-by-the-TV childhood—somehow reflects an overarching social-technological pattern, but, instead, Timoner’s uncritical cinematic collusion. She places her subject in a cultural vacuum, ignoring the long procession of justly better-remembered precedents that render Harris’s “ideas” banal. Even his ultimate self-discovery, the revelation that Ethiopians are more “real” than Los Angelenos, is another putrid cliché—which Timoner swallows with barely a flinch.