Cameraperson ★★★½

Kirsten Johnson puts together a kind of highlight reel of footage she's shot as cinemtaographer for various documentaries over the years, placing an emphasis on moments that deeply challenge the separation between filmmaker and subject, and therefore the ethics of their relationship. This is a bit like Close-Up in its buried meta-narrative and erasing of the line between truth and cinema, and also in the manner that I don't find as much profundity as many do in its mere acknowledgement of these controversies. I'm not challenging the idea that it's profound, just saying it's not really communicating in a manner I find especially effective, largely because its conglomeration of basically unrelated clips ping-pongs so rapidly between emotional extremes that it's actually a bit numbing; I'm reminded of those massive coffee table books with names like The Twentieth Century in Review that were popular in the late '90s and attempted to compress the events of a hundred years into lively infographics. On a single page you might be treated to a photo of some Nazi atrocity side by side with the birth of a beloved celebrity or the climax of some memorable sports event. If Johnson's real purpose, as I suspect, is to call attention to the camera operator's role in these narratives and how tricky it is to maintain the necessary distance, or to know when to violate it, then I feel as if it might well have been preferable to actually concentrate more on the physical presence of both herself and the camera. The more I look back on the film with its theoretical implications in mind, the more impressed I am with it, but I think the sense in which it becomes a "greatest hits" of sorts challenges rather than aids its central conceit -- because, for one thing, your main takeaway in the moment is how much you want to see some of these clips continue, to explore them more individually rather than have them stuck all in a row to convey a thesis. And while the footage of her own family is touching and sometimes heartbreaking, I don't know how well it really fits in -- but then again, who the fuck am I? Certainly no one so accomplished as this director, who's seen all of this and has earned the right to place it whatever order with whatever context she wishes. Oops, I basically talked myself out of all my criticisms of this film in the course of writing this capsule...

Many breathtaking pieces of footage here, as you'd expect, but I didn't expect the one that would have me the most frantic and awestruck would be the one that was shot at a boxing match.