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Palm Pictures presents
William Eggleston in the Real World (2005)

"I am at war with the obvious."
- William Eggleston

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: February 07, 2006

Stars: William Eggleston
Director: Michael Almereyda

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:24m:54s
Release Date: February 14, 2006
UPC: 660200312824
Genre: documentary


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
F DC+C D

DVD Review

This is one of those confounding documentaries during which you cannot believe that you are actually watching the director's final cut, and can only hope that you're watching just an assembly of footage—after a time, you'll be muttering to yourself, "You've got to be joking," only to discover that no, it's in deadly and pretentious earnest. I admit to knowing very little about William Eggleston or his work, and I sort of feel like I know even less now after having watched this movie, for the bulk of it is, no word of a lie, just footage of a man taking photographs.

On some level, you've got to have sympathy for documentarian Michael Almereyda—it's hard to imagine a more laconic, less forthcoming subject for a film than Eggleston, who keeps his own counsel, and lets his pictures do the talking. He's a son of the South, and there are some very brief mentions of the regionalism of his work, and of how the facts of his biography may have shaped his aesthetic, but it's not much. You get the sense that he's allowed the documentary crew to tail along only reluctantly, and that he's made a choice to be completely withholding. The movie is at its relative best, then, when we're looking at examples of Eggleston's work—he imbues the ordinary with a sort of mysticism, in an ongoing effort to elevate the commonplace, and his use of deeply saturated color is quite striking. But you'd figure that out for yourself just leafing through a book of his pictures, and you'd be spared Almereyda's droning voice-overs and numbing takes on Eggleston's work.

There's a half-hearted effort to stir up some family drama, but to no avail. The photographer's chief assistant is his son; for much of the run of the movie, Eggleston's wife is offscreen, and you get the sense that Almereyda is trying to gin up an air of mystery: is she a monster? His muse? What horrors lurk deep within the Eggleston family? None, it turns out. We finally meet her, late in the game, and she seems like an equal partner in a perfectly pleasant, long and happy marriage. So why are we watching this?

It's certainly not for the technical elements, that's for sure. The footage is frequently out of focus and poorly framed—other than having access to Eggleston, it's difficult to discern just what the director brings to the party. There's some talk about Eggleston's place in the contemporary art scene—his breakthrough exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1976 was described by one critic as "the most hated show of the year," yet it's clear that the photographer also has his fierce partisans. Presumably Almereyda is one of them; but his enthusiasm cannot even begin to make up for the shoddiness with which this movie has been made.

Rating for Style: F
Rating for Substance: D

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: Adequately transferred, though the material is clearly of marginal technical accomplishment to begin with.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Some buzz and extra static can be heard pretty much throughout.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 10 cues
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Unknown
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: An original trailer and a brief biography of Eggleston were the only extras included on the screener copy sent for review.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

This documentary exudes a cultivated pretentiousness that's absolutely excruciating—it's sloppy, unfocused and didactic, and so if you want to learn about Eggleston or his work, look somewhere else.

 


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