The Wall Street Journal: Old Technologies Make 'It's About You' About More
The Wall Street Journal By Joe Morgenstern
As an advocate of seeing feature films on a big screen, I try to practice
what I preach—seeing movies for review in screening rooms rather than on DVD
screeners, even though I have a flat-panel display in my living room that
transcends anything I could have imagined before these gorgeous megagizmos
became as common as, well, flat-panel displays. That said, I have a confession
to make. I watched "It's About You" on a screener, and justified doing so by the
fact that this documentary about John Mellencamp was shot on blurry Super 8
film; blowing it up to fill a theatrical screen could only make it look worse. I
must also confess that several times during the first few minutes I reached for
the remote to turn it off. Yet my finger never hit the stop button.
"It's About You" was made by the noted photographer Kurt Markus with his son
Ian. Its ostensible—and often actual—purpose was to follow the unquenchable Mr.
Mellencamp on his 2009 tour and document the making of his album "No Better Than
This" in historic locales. The main thing that put me off was the use of Super
8. This struck me as an affectation in the digital age, and one that imposed a
practical penalty: no accurately synchronized sound (though the filmmaker's son
did, in fact, record the music digitally).
But the Mellencamp band was also using relatively primitive equipment—an old
mono tape recorder from the 1950s and a single microphone. Soon I realized that
the real subject of this film, with its philosophical voice-overs by the
filmmaker and its haunting shots of decayed American downtowns, is the passage
of time and the toll it takes. The effect of the Super 8 is to give present
moments historical weight by making them look primitive; it's a kind of instant
oldening that seems to pause time if not to stop it. "It's About You" is an odd
and touching little film. I'm glad I stuck it out.