Title: Life In a Day
Director: Kevin Macdonald
Born of a partnership between Ridley and Tony Scott’s production company, Scott Free, and YouTube, Life In a Day is a unique, user-generated documentary given formal shape by director Kevin Macdonald, editor Joe Walker and a small army of cataloguing research assistants. The idea: to enlist the global community to capture and upload fragments of their lives on a single day, July 24, 2010, and then sift through the material to try to provide a fleeting snapshot of modern life, in all its dazzling arrays of form.
Culled from over 80,000 submissions, representing 4,500 hours of footage from an incredible 192 countries, Life In a Day ping-pongs from bustling metropolitan centers to some of the furthest and most remote corners of the Earth. What’s perhaps most impressive, in its own fragmented-shard way, is the clarity and quality of some of the shots, which indicate set-ups with specific ideas of composition. It’s interesting to ponder (if one is so inclined) the manner in which consumed film and television has in turn framed and influenced the way we witness and experience our own lives, and thus record it in our own photos and videos.
Small parts of Life In a Day dazzle, no doubt. It’s most interesting to see how incredible montages of pedestrian meaning can be winnowed from material from such a wide variety of sources. A “breakfast montage,” for instance, incorporates quick cuts and dozens of short shots, yet speaks volumes about the simultaneous worldwide similarities and differences in this most basic and shared of human acts, eating. A couple births are shown (a giraffe, a bird, and a human baby, the latter of which brings about the fainting of the video-recording father), and a marriage proposal is engagingly juxtaposed with romantic rejection.
There are moments, too, that are both nervy (a gay youngster calling his grandmother to break news of his homosexuality) and touching (a father lighting incense and goading his young son into ringing a bell to give greetings and respect to their obviously deceased wife/mother; an awkward and pimply Toronto teenager shaving for the first time, under the guidance of his father). Life In a Day also takes some time to get to know some characters, too, returning a couple times to a Korean man who has already traversed 190 countries as part of his mission to ride his bicycle across the world.
Still, Life In a Day is a movie that succeeds more in theory than practice. It’s a fabulous concept, but overall less than the sum of its parts, largely because the film slips back and forth, in kind of jarring fashion, between different modes of storytelling. This is probably somewhat of a necessity when one is working with culled ingredients that are not of their own creation, but that doesn’t make the viewing experience any smoother or more cohesive. Piecemeal, segments with ethereal musical contributions from Harry Gregson-Williams and Matthew Herbert achieve a certain woozy, hypnotic hold. But the self-narration of other subjects intrudes and tramples on any sustained mood. It’s a perhaps impossibly difficult task, finding an order in this sort of disorder. And that’s emblematic of real life, one supposes. But there are more engaging examples of that paradox than Life In a Day, even for fans of reflected reality in cinema.
Written by: Brent Simon