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HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto) – Pushwagner/Aaron Burr, Part 2 (Double-bill) Reviews (Paolo Kagaoan)

HOT DOCS 2012 (Toronto)

Pushwagner

Directed by August B. Hanssen and Even Benestad

Aaron Burr, Part 2

Directed by Dana O’Keefe

Last night’s show was sort of a double-bill, starting out with a quasi-documentary short film called Aaron Burr, Part 2. My only knowledge of the man was his close contest and loss against Thomas Jefferson in the Presidential election of 1800. But the film, shot with a DIY digital camera, focuses on his infamous win in a duel against Alexander Hamilton and a general reputation making him the worst Revolutionary figure second only to Benedict Arnold. A straightforward and sincere voice-over of a relatively younger man retells Burr’s side of the story through anachronistic pastiche. Sometimes the actors are in a forested area wearing period correct costumes, at others they’re cellphone addicted Wall Street douchebags on casual Friday wearing form-fitting black pea coats. At many times it’s a mix of both. It’s what the man would think if he walked around Manhattan’s avenues and saw what kind of country America has devolved into, and how much fault he can bring to his enemies and towards himself. It’s also about stunted masculinity and the lies men tell when their country’s fate is at stake.

The same, careful image branding takes place in Pushwagner, when the movie’s titular subject tries to tell the directors what to do, where to put which decorations and how to start the conversation. This movie already feels like a long, painful ride. But it’s understandable why he has such doubts against the men documenting half a decade of his life, as its major plot point concerns his lawsuit against his former personal assistant who, through contracts, has swindled the man from the rights to be financially dependent on his artwork, a body of drawn and painted images well regarded in his home country of Norway.

Pushwagner dedicates a significant amount of time displaying the artwork in question, the images looking like what would happen if Van Gogh worked in the turn of the 21st century. His depiction of lines and figures and boundaries remind of me of a lot of contemporary animation that I can’t discern whether he’s influential or just within a school of thinking.

Pushwagner seems to be made for a local audience since it doesn’t present any dates other than ones dealing with the court case. And there are so many gaps within the information about his life. During a Q&A the film makers explained that they wanted him to have a mysterious air, and besides, the man’s personality now has too much energy that a trip to his past makes it sort of unnecessary.

This movie is loud and brash like the subject himself and not always in a good way. Occasionally electronic music pumps its way into scenes whether they feature the man with his inhuman energy or when he’s relatively calm. And despite him recounting his struggles as a homeless man or when he berates the filmmakers, there doesn’t seem to be any arc within this movie. Despite its unapologetic portrayal of a man who is more punk than guys younger than him, or maybe because of it, it makes the doc feel like an impenetrable experience.

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