The Windmill Movie
How we react to a movie has a lot to do with what we bring to it, our life experience, our baggage. I was especially reminded of this while seeing “The Windmill Movie,” a very unique personal documentary about one man’s life and his attempts and frustrations to define and find meaning in it. The man in question is Richard Rogers, an independent filmmaker and teacher.
As someone who works in the film industry myself, my opinion, watching “The Windmill Movie,” was that Rogers was a success. He was commissioned to travel the world and make documentaries. He made short films, one of which “Quarry” precedes “The Windmill Movie,” now playing at Film Forum, June 17 – 30. Rogers taught at Harvard, owned a house in the Hamptons and a loft in Soho. Despite all of this Rogers felt unfulfilled in comparison to Steven Spielberg. Personally I am happy to give Spielberg his place and carve out my own. I found Rogers frustration, at Spielberg and other aspects of life, to be a compelling entry into his world.
Rogers is shown to be neurotic, at times comically so. He complains about being in the Hamptons, where his family had a house that he eventually inherited, and at the same time admits that it is, “Infuriating to complain about being in the Hamptons.” Rogers also ponders the choices he has, or has not made, in life – “What if I’d had a family?” His camera seems to have always been running. “The things I photograph are my memories,” Rogers explains after pondering the notion of “Where do the memories go?” once a person has forgotten them.
Although he had no trouble making documentaries about others, “The Windmill Movie” is the one movie that Rogers could not complete. It was a movie about Rogers himself. Director Alexander Olch, a student of Rogers, was commissioned by Roger’s wife to excavate the contents of many boxes of film and videotape to try to put together this movie that Rogers could not complete after 25 years of trying. Olch has accomplished this with the skill of an archeologist carefully dusting around ancient remains so as not to disturb anything that might be important: Roger’s father’s home movies of Rogers as a boy running around naked in his back yard, to footage Rogers later shot of his father as an ailing wheelchair-bound old man, footage Rogers shot of himself, girlfriends (he had two at one time who lived within blocks of each other in New York), interviews with his mother and various situations from his life including footage from Rogers’ ill-fated attempt to make a narrative film about his life.
“The Windmill Movie” reminded me of the funny, introspective, personal documentaries of Ross McElwee (“Bright Leaves,” Sherman’s March”). While McElwee narrates his movies first-hand, “The Windmill Movie” has been made after Roger’s death. However, this minor detail has not prevented Rogers from narrating the film through tape recordings, videotape he shot of himself as well as his writings, some of which are performed by Rogers’ friend, actor Wallace Shawn.
“The Windmill Movie” is a small, fascinating documentary not likely to have much of a theatrical life beyond Film Forum, which makes it a special film not to be missed.
The Windmill Movie, director Alexander Olch, Devlin Productions, 82 minutes