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.