The People vs. George Lucas
USA / UK | 2010 | Dir. Alexandre O. Phillipe | English | 93 mins.
A would-be thesis on the cult of Star Wars, Alexandre O. Phillipe’s 93-minute exploration of the boundaries of fandom feels, for its first half hour, like an extended trailer—but, happily, it eventually congeals into something like an actual film. The documentary is mix of interviews—both newly recorded and lifted (via fair use) from extant ‘makings-of,’ etc—and footage culled from hundreds of hours’ worth of user-generated content submitted to a website set up by the filmmaker. Most of the amateur material falls roughly into two camps: scene and sequence re-enactments from both the original and prequel trilogies, and to-camera YouTube rants about how much of a dick George Lucas is for messing with the OT and in the process retroactively ‘raping’ the childhoods of millions of now thirtysomething grown-up nerds in the US and around the world. (They also get angry about Jar-Jar, natch.)
The film is split into four “episodes,” each of which is an attempt at examining an aspect of Lucas’ life and work, including his grounding in the rebellious political mood of late-’60s USC film school and the notorious misdeeds he’s committed in the last two decades beginning with Episode I, with its high midi-chlorian count, possible modern-day black-face and its emphasis on spectacle over coherence.
The doc’s first half-hour is a bewildering, incoherent mess: hundreds of interviewees (some prominent film critics like Glenn Kenny, but most geeky convention-attending nobodies spouting mildly idiotic gibberish) fly past at warp-speed. The bulk of them are given their 15 seconds of fame and never returned to. When this hyper-active pace is discarded, the film begins to seriously consider both the new era of film-marketing Lucas aided in creating, as well as fandom and participatory culture, interviewing, at reasonable length, Henry Jenkins, Neil Gaiman and other intelligent, forward-thinking proponents of free and open culture movements.
Phillipe spent years collating and sorting through the excessive amount of footage he had collected from Internet nerds the world over, and would have benefited massively from either an assistant editor or simply a bit of critical distance from the material. (He apparently surveyed it all personally—all 600-plus hours.) His amateurish “throw-a-whole-lot-of-brief-interviews-at-the-screen-and-see-what-sticks” approach betrays a mild contempt for his audience—and makes for an incredibly frustrating—and ultimately banal—establishing act. Had he selected perhaps the funniest or most insightful interview excerpts and restricted them to a 10-minute introductory segment, he would have opened up the following 80-some minutes to be used for actual criticism, discussion and exploration of themes like (cross-cultural) reception, film-based mythology and storytelling. As it is, the film is certainly worth seeing for the questions it raises about ownership, participatory culture and fandom—not to mention the hilarious rants and raves from geeks united in their collective love-hate relationship with Lucas.
The People vs. George Lucas is playing in the Documentary Edge Festival which runs in Auckland until the 6th of March and in Wellington from the 10th of March. See the festival’s website, documentaryedge.org.nz, for screening schedules, ticket prices and other information.
This review cross-posted at The Corner.