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Windmill Movie, The (DVD Review)

16 Mar, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 3/22/11
Box Office $0.03 million
$29.99 DVD
Not rated.

Perspective is everything when it comes to film. Documentarian Richard P. Rogers spent 25 years trying to find the proper perspective for what he thought could be his master work. It seemed simple enough: He wanted to film an autobiography. He took cameras everywhere and filmed as much as he could. But he kept hitting the same basic stumbling block: How do you make a film about yourself without seeming self-serving and pretentious?

Rogers drew inspiration from his childhood in Wainscott, N.Y., and the lazy summers that influenced the man he grew up to be. But when he returned in his later years to capture that feeling on camera, he found his efforts to be inauthentic. He realized he would have to make himself the central figure of the film, but he didn’t want to. As the project evolved in his mind, it became more about the process of trying to find a way to tell the story he wanted to tell without being the one who had to tell it. But he could never find a perspective that satisfied him.

When he died of cancer in 2001, Rogers left behind 200 hours of footage labeled “Windmill,” after a scenic local in the Hamptons where he attended the annual parties that constituted the centerpiece of his formative years. Rogers’ wife gave the footage to Alexander Olch, who had studied film under Rogers at Harvard.

And thus, the film Rogers had been trying to make finally found its perspective. Olch’s enthralling “autobiography-by-proxy” of Rogers is a deeply personal reflection of his mentor.

The Windmill Movie is the ultimate expression of film as a substitute for memory. We learn about Rogers not only through the postmortem remembrances of those who knew him, but through his own pictures and through his own words, as Olch reads intimate passages from Rogers’ personal journal.

We are left with the haunting portrait of a man striving to achieve artistic success on his own merits, but never quite able to escape the influence of his privileged upbringing. Thus, it is somewhat fitting that Rogers’ would-be masterpiece would be finished by someone else.

But it’s also a testament to his legacy that the people who knew him and learned from him could pick up where he left off and complete the project he spent so long trying to perfect. For if indeed our lives are giving meaning through the memories of others, then that, perhaps, is the greatest perspective of all.

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