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Featured DVD Review: Photographic Memory

February 9th, 2013

Photographic Memory - Buy from Amazon

Photographic Memory is the latest documentary made by Ross McElwee, whose previous documentaries include Bright Leaves and Sherman's March, both of which did well during Awards Season. This film opened last October and earned near perfect reviews, but went nowhere at the box office. Does it deserve to find a bigger audience on the home market? Or is it just too limited in scope to find a wider audience?

The Movie

The film begins with Ross McElwee talking about simpler times with his kids. When they were young, the family was close, but as his oldest, Adrian, entered his late teens, something changed and Adrian became restless and now that he's in his early 20s, they've drifted apart. Ross thinks his son is unfocused and has too many self-destructive behaviors, like extreme sports and drugs.

We spend much of the first part of the movie getting to know Adrian, including his father talking about his son's potential. However, he also laments that he is distracted by too much technology. In order to connect with his son, Ross decides he has to figure out what he was doing when he was that age. This is where he returns to Brittany, France, where Ross spent a summer when he was his son's age. There he had his first paying job as a photographer and spent time living with a woman. He wants to return to remember what it was like to be young and reconnect with the people he knew.

Fans of Ross McElwee will likely enjoy this film, as it has all of his signature personal style and intimate approach. Those who are not fans might find the film a little too slow moving to be engaging. This isn't a hard-hitting investigative documentary. There are no big revelations or surprise twists to be found here. It's a film about memories and the effects time has on memories, even those preserved by photographs. It is also about nostalgia and worrying about becoming out of touch with the future. This latter part does manifest itself in some frustrating ways. He complains about shooting with digital cameras on a memory card instead of shooting on film. (It's the first time he's done this.) He's worried the memory cards will fail and he will lose footage. However, earlier in the movie, he notes he didn't store is negatives properly and many were damaged. While an individual memory card is fragile, it is certainly easier to make duplicates and back up your work than it is when using physical film stock.

And don't get me started on him blaming rap videos for his son's attitude.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD is a photo gallery.

The Verdict

Photographic Memory is a personal documentary about one man and his relationship to his son, and his own memories. If you like these types of films, then the DVD is worth checking out. If you are a fan of Ross McElwee, then it is worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Photographic Memory, Adrian McMorran, Ross McElwee