'Instant Dreams': Film Review
Willem Baptist's impressionistic documentary recounts the history of Polaroid instant cameras and their enduring significance.
The poster for Instant Dreams features a nude young woman sitting atop a bathtub in the desert, her bare, pear-shaped bottom gleaming in the sunlight. You may ask what the image has to do with Polaroid cameras, the purported subject of Willem Baptist's impressionistic documentary. The answer is, nothing at all, really. But it's an alluring image, one of many seen in the film that does a lot of showing without much telling. Any viewers actually interested in the topic would be well advised to search elsewhere for information.
The pic does provide some basic information about the pioneering "one-step photography" first demonstrated by Edwin Land in 1947. The story is that Land was inspired to create the product while on vacation. After he took many photographs of his 3-year-old daughter, she asked, "Daddy, why can't I see the pictures now?" He subsequently devised his unique chemical process that resulted in photographs appearing in just one minute. We see footage of newsreels extolling the product, as well as from a short promotional film featuring Land in which he rhapsodizes a future in which we would be all be able to carry around a small camera and document every moment of our lives. That prediction has come true, for better or worse, although ironically it wasn't Lamb's invention that caused it to happen.
Unfortunately, Lamb's formula seems to have died along with him in 1991 and his company in 2008. One of the subjects of Instant Dreams is Stephen Herchen, a former Polaroid scientist intent on trying to recreate the process but so far not having any success. Another is Christopher Bonanos, the author of the book Instant: The Story of Polaroid, and someone clearly enamored of the analog photographic method. Still in possession of a Polaroid camera and film, he's seen taking photographs of people at a party and chatting it up with them about the bygone method. Commenting about the photos he takes of his young son, Bonanos points out, "He'll be one of the last kids to be photographed this way."
If you're still wondering about the aforementioned nude woman, she's one of the models for eccentric German photographer Stefanie Schneider, who prizes her Polaroid camera for the imperfections and unrealistic colors it produces in her pictures. She keeps her precious stash of long-expired Polaroid film in a refrigerator in her trailer. We see one of the models having an unfortunate experience with a hen perched on her lap that seems to have digestive problems.
Straining for profundity, the filmmaker includes many philosophical ruminations on the order of Herchen commenting, "I ask myself, why did God create us? What was his purpose?" The movie also features trippy psychedelic visuals meant to suggest chemical interactions but mainly inducing the feeling that we should be watching Instant Dreams under the influence of of mind-altering substances at a midnight screening. Even under those circumstances, unfortunately, the film would probably prove unsatisfactory.
Production companies: Pieter Van Huystee Film and Television, NTR
Distributor: Synergetic Distribution
Director-screenwriter: Willem Baptist
Producer: Pieter Van Huystee
Director of photography: Gregor Meerman
Editor: Albert Markus
Composer: Marc Lizier