Like Starsuckers, reviewed last week, Ondi Timoner’s We Live in Public is a confused film. It’s a documentary about ‘the most brilliant dot.com millionaire you’ve never heard of’ [actually that would probably be all of them] ― a chap called Josh Harris.
Not that even if you had heard of him, you’d necessarily have recognised the brilliant dot.com millionaire, since he seems to have spent much of his life, including many of his board-meetings, dressed as his fully made-up, alter-ego ‘Luvvy the Clown’. An unusually hideous look even for a man who during his better moments (and in this film they’re precious few) appears damply constipated.
Whether getting the jump on the market in online porn chat and cheap-as-chips MTV really marks out Harris as a media visionary, I’ll let you decide. Nevertheless he oversaw two projects which have eerie resonance with much of contemporary online culture.
The first project ― part art-installation, part monumental vanity-project ― involved locking up and catering for, about a hundred volunteers in a windowless New York apartment block, filled with cameras and televisions, which allowed the participants to snoop on one another, in any location, at any time. Harris’ prototype Big Brother in fact went rather further than any of the progressively more gruesome TV versions, by including a basement filled with automatic weapons, and a white-tiled prison cell in which theatrical interrogations were held, the tone pitched somewhere between the Stanford Prisone Experiment and a Max Mosley wet dream. Ultimately the police shut the event down though not before most of the inhabitants had gone from a short-lived orgiastic euphoria into a black hysterical mania; while Harris (who had by now sold his own business to become ‘an artist’) had burned through most of his personal fortune.
Harris’ next project was to Big Brother his own life online, by sticking cameras up throughout his flat (with a dedication that extended to a spy-cam in his toilet bowl) and streaming the resulting film online 24 hours a day. Surprisingly Harris had a girlfriend at this point; less surprisingly she soon left him ― though whether this was because of the project itself or the simple result of living with a lunatic sociopath isn’t really discussed. The most interesting aspect of the project came from what was initially one of its by-products― the couple’s online chats with their viewers. For both of them the chats became an obsession, craving sympathy from their unseen arbiters; those capable of judgment but not punishment. Or more prosaically it reminded me of watching relationships explode on Facebook.
Like a character from Evelyn Waugh, Harris is last glimpsed living in deepest Africa as far away from new technology ― and by his own admission, his creditor’s ― as Luvvy and himself could manage.
Whether Harris’ story really does suggest the future for the rest of us is a moot point. In spite of a somewhat breathless commentary, and being at least half an hour too long, Timoner’s doc is worth looking out for on DVD because, whilst it is currently showing at select art house cinemas, it’s unlikely to make a much wider appearance.