Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Life In A Day

Directed by: Kevin McDonald
The YouTube Community

Produced by: Ridley Scott
Tony Scott

Music by: Harry Gregson-Williams
Matthew Herbert

Editing by: Joe Walker

Studio(s): Scott Free Productions
YouTube, Inc.
LG Corp

Distributed by: National Geographic Films

Release date(s): January 27, 2011 (United States)
June 17, 2011 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 95 minutes

Country: United States

Alright gang, I am writing this review before that of Never Let Me Go, so that will be hopefully explanation enough for the occasional confusion, as I'm sure you can see that this has been posted after that and my review of the month. Nevertheless, my seeing this film has decided to get ahead of myself and have ready to post. I have a busy enough month, as The Adjustment Bureau and I Saw The Devil are on the DVD stack, which will soon be joined by Age Of Heroes and Five Days Of War. Also, I can guarantee three trips to the cinema this week, so keep your eyes posted! On an unrelated note, do yourself a favour and get The Knife's Silent Shout album: it wipes the floor with most electro/house music that's coming out today!

Today's review is brought to you courtesy of that wonderful website that is This site is like discovering a treasure chest for the documentary fiend, and I'd recommend getting on the site, as you'll definitely find something to watch. Anyway, Life In A Day is an interesting case, for it comprises entirely of clips sent in to YouTube on the day July 24th, 2010. The film was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and purchased by the National Geographic Channel, so, in an innovative case of marketing, the film has been available to see on the big screen, on television and for free on YouTube.

To start off with what is good, I must highlight Joe Walker's editing. Having over four thousand hours of footage to cull into a ninety-minute feature film is no easy task, but Walker seems to have succeeded in doing so without diluting away the purity of Life In A Day's central concept. Also, his work here ensures that Life In A Day is a postmodern film that is representative of our times. However, Walker's work would not have been as good if he did not have such strong material to sift through. Despite being 'amateur' cinematographers, the 'YouTube Community' have done an excellent job of being both true to life and representing a certain hyperreality that is prevalent in our society. Some of the things that I saw and these people told me were among the most emotionally powerful scenes I have seen all year, and it is the simplicity of the way they are shot that ensures they are anything but mundane. In many ways, the film resembles Koyaanisqatsi, the wonderful 1982 documentary by Godfrey Reggio. Director Andrew Macdonald displays a real sense of control over the project. This is the kind of thing that really could have got out of hand, but thankfully Macdonald has the sense to hold back and show some restraint. Finally, as music was so important to Koyaanisqatsi, it is key to the watchability of Life In A Day. It's great to see that in collaboration with Matthew Herbert, who makes some great contributions, that Harry Gregson-Williams has delivered a score that is on the level of his work in Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear Solid video-game series. This score has a great mix between orchestral compositions and experimental work, Gregson-Williams and Herbert bouncing off one another to create a strong amalgam piece of music.

Life In A Day is a great film that is certainly of importance and one of the best of the year, but it is not without its criticisms. For starters, I think that there are pacing problems. At less than ninety-five minutes, the film barely leaves room to breath and feels exhaustive to watch. The same problems of the postmodern documentary can be seen Catfish and Exit Through The Gift Shop, the viewer just being bombarded with a sheer mass of information. Also, an argument could be made that with this much information, is a project as vast as this truly representative of, well, 'life in a day.' Also, despite some powerful scenes, I personally felt that it did not tell me anything that most people don't know already, and the film me led down a traditional route that didn't expose me to many new ideas.

Nevertheless, although not up to Koyaanisqatsi's level, Life On A Day certainly deserves to be held in similar regard. It is a remarkable achievement for the documentary medium, the co-directing 'YouTube Community' proving that their simple, pure stories can easily be as powerful as one wrote by a seasoned screenwriter. Joe Walker has done a terrific job editing this down to its bare essentials (frankly, if it was any longer, it would be a very flabby film), and Andrew Macdonald reigns in something that really could have got out of control. Finally, the great score by Matthew Herbert and Harry Gregson-Williams adds an additional layer of strength to this great film that I feel right now to be the best documentary of the year.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.4/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Tired (been juggling a review for this and In Time at once, as you'll see with the quick posting)