The trailer above for Ross McElwee's Photographic Memory, which screens at 7 p.m. tonight at CAC, is misleading. It runs some scenes in fast forward and uses fast-tempo music that's not in the film. McElwee's documentary is much more patient and deliberately pensive. Ostensibly it's about the filmmaker's concerns about his son Adrian's discontent and desire for separation, and it's strangely compelling for a film about one parent's worries about the future of his child.
What makes McElwee's work almost darkly compelling is the way he earnestly states one purpose while pursuing a more narcissistic one. The effect works brilliantly in Sherman's March, and it works well in Photographic Memory, though the contrast is less stark. In Sherman's March, McElwee says he's making a documentary about Gen. William Sherman's path of destruction in the South. But what's brilliant to the point of discomfort are the scenes in which he interviews former girlfriends about why their relationships didn't work. In Photographic Memory, McElwee rolls footage of his son at young ages being very open about his thoughts and McElwee contrasts that with the aloof late-teen Adrian seeking privacy (to smoke pot, hang out with his friends, pursue extreme sports). McElwee announces that he's going to go to France to retrace his steps when he was his son's age - to see if he can gain insight into being that age - but again it turns into a journey much more about his past relationships. It seems that he planned the trip to France and then sought an excuse he finally found in arguing with Adrian. And as insightful as he sounds, one wonders if he should reflect on how often he tries to relate to people while filming them. That's an inherently unequal conversation. He exposes some of his own frailties this way, and it's engrossing.
The film is presented by the New Orleans Film Society and the CAC. Trailer for Sherman's March after the jump.