LOOK [dir. Adam Rifkin]
There is no such thing as privacy. Stop kidding yourself. From the moment you leave the house to the second you step back in your supposedly secure abode, the world’s many Big Brothers are constantly watching you. There are cameras on street corners, lenses trained on you as you drive, fill up, or pay your daily tolls. Once at work, bosses monitor your computer, gauging Internet access for abuses and reading email to gain a managerial advantage. In the mall, every fitting room is monitored, every store a shoplifting prevention zone with more manpower than on a military base. Even our leisure is a source of surveillance, marketers and advertisers buying credit histories and charge plate purchases info as a means of making informed demographic decisions. Yet as writer/director Adam Rifkin points out in his intriguing new film Look, life goes on - and we seem oblivious to the fact that someone is constantly watching.
We follow five different stories here - a young high school girl, desperate to show off her sexuality, decides to target a teacher. A pair of ruthless spree killers murder various victims around town. They go unnoticed mostly, except to a gas station clerk, his on again/off again gal pal, and his slacker buddy. In the meantime, a high priced lawyer with a wife and kids sets up a Nanny-cam to keep the new au pair in check. Of course, when he’s away at work, he has the occasional lunch meeting with his hunky attorney boyfriend. Then there’s the department store manager who snorts coke, watches porn on his computer, and screws every floorwalking gal on his watch. Finally, a disgruntled insurance adjuster who’s the butt of every prank pulled by those in his office decides there’s only one way to gain control of his life - and it’s not a very pretty solution.
Like Short Cuts absent Altman’s metaphysical heft, Look is an oddly compelling little film. Rifkin, perhaps best known for his work as both a writer (Underdog, Zoom) and director (The Dark Backward, Detroit Rock City), takes the intriguing premise of life captured by surveillance camera and adds a few fictional twists to spice up the situations. Of course, no one will believe this is actual ‘caught on tape’ drama. The actors are obvious, everyone is miked for ease in understanding the dialogue, and logistical truths (how long would a store tolerate the outsized sexual appetite of such a supervisor/lothario) are pushed in order to puff up the running time. Still, any movie that lets the great Giuseppe Andrews preview a few of his masterful songs while playing a Clerks-like convenience store stooge has got to be doing something right.
It has to be said that not every story works here. The killers’ tale is interesting, and ends with a literal bang. And the teen sex queen and her desire to conquer her married (and soon to be a father) teacher has a nice level of lewdness and necessary law abiding…for both sides. Yet the whole narrative surrounding office dork Marty is too cruel and takes way too long to truly pay off, and the gay lover attorneys appear to be homosexual for the sake of something different, not an actual interpersonal dynamic. Still, we remain fascinated by Rifkin’s approach, wondering to ourselves how often supposedly private acts become part of a constant camcorder ideal. In fact, he’s careful to show both standard security footage intermixed with material captured on cellphones and other recording devices in order to emphasize the point.
Rifkin also found actors who walk the fine line between fake and fully aware. Andrews may sound like a mannered moron, but there’s a savant like specialty to what he does with a basically underwritten role. Similarly, Ben Weber is pathetic as Marty, just sad and clueless enough to earn our sympathy - that is, until his true side emerges. We’d love to know more about how Chris Williams’ George and Paul Schackman’s Ben ever got together, but they seem like a happy closeted couple. Indeed, all throughout Look, Rifkin’s attention to personal detail makes the frequently pat stories seem all the more real. In fact, one can easily see each scenario expanded and added to in a special edition DVD.
The most important thing the film establishes, however, is the theme of false privacy. When our school slut seduces her teacher, she’s shocked that it’s caught on tape. Our department story manwhore does things that no right minded person would ever attempt were they to know about the ever-present eye watching them. Look loves to push that concept to understandable extremes. The killers murder a cop, knowing full well it’s being captured on a windshield monitor, and every act in the convenience store - from singing to outright stealing - is preserved for future reference. This leads to the movie’s one minor complaint - the lack of realistic follow-up. Unless we are to believe that no one reviews these recordings, many of the situations repeated would have been legally nipped in the bud a long, long time ago.
Still, the human instinct to play voyeur matched by the morbid curiosity that comes when people are trapped in the act of being unbelievably inappropriate (to paraphrase one Candid Camera) makes Look a laudable effort. It may not be the landmark film that critics are cawing over - there have been other examples of the cinematic gimmick used here, including a crime thriller from 2001 created by Max Allan Collins entitled Real Time: Siege at the Lucas Street Market - but that doesn’t lessen the wonder in Rifkin’s approach. Indeed, in a new weird world order where we gladly substitute security for inherent rights, where we complain about the invasion but chalk it up to being protected, Look appears less like a stunt and more like a salient bit of future shock. Unfortunately, from what we see here, Orwell was right.