The Windmill Movie
NEW YORK -- Clearly a cinematic labor of love, Alexander Olch's tribute to the late documentary filmmaker/Harvard professor Richard P. Rogers essentially attempts to complete the autobiographical portrait that Rogers himself had been working on for decades. The result is an occasionally fascinating, occasionally tedious exercise that never quite achieves the thematic or emotional resonance for which it's aiming. “The Windmill Movie” was recently showcased at the New York Film Festival.
Olchs, a friend and former student of Rogers, was commissioned by his widow, noted photographer Susan Meiselas, to make some sense out of the copious hours of footage that he had compiled through the years. Said footage, which also included old home movies shot by his own father, was intended by Rogers as a self-portrait, albeit one that he agonized would turn into a mere exercise in “auto-eroticism.”
Using extensive voice-overs recorded by Olchs and taken from Rogers' diaries, the film details Rogers' well-heeled WASP upbringing; his troubled relationships with his parents; his messy personal life that included a longtime affair in addition to his committed relationship to Meiselas; his conflicted feelings about his career, including an expressed jealousy of Steven Spielberg; and a struggle with melanoma to which he succumbed in 2001.
Concerned as much with its own inception as with its principal subject, “The Windmill Movie” ultimately stretches its double layered, self-reflexive aspects past the breaking point. One example is the presence of Wallace Shawn who, besides offering his own memories of Rogers, also briefly serves as an on-camera stand-in.