directed by Elan Bogarín & Jonathan Bogarín
Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Festival, runs April 26-May 6, 2018 at Toronto's Bloor Cinema. Visit the fest's official site for more details.
by Angelo Muredda Grief becomes an occasion for pontificating about the nature of memory and archives in 306 Hollywood, Elan and Jonathan Bogarín's surprisingly aloof portrait of their charming grandmother's trash palace of a home in the months and years after her death. Following an academic talking head's advice that "Physical evidence helps to preserve a memory"--and a less convincing authority's insistence that a dead person's soul lingers in their newly-vacated home for about eleven months after their death--the filmmakers take it upon themselves to turn their grandmother's house inside-out, the better to immortalize her through the spectral traces they log on camera. The Bogaríns, who appear onscreen in both archival and present-day footage and who take turns narrating the more essayistic stretches of the film, insist upon framing their project as a work of archaeology, library science, and grief work at various points. Too often, though, the result feels like a pair of talented visual and film artists' distant elevator pitch for a feature, a portfolio of their respective aesthetic inclinations and intellectual influences rather than a cohesive text with something pressing to say about loss and detritus.
What are we to make of this cavalier treatment of the film's human star--the living animus to the eponymous New Jersey home? This moment, about halfway through a documentary that has already turned a dead woman's historical brown stockings into the stuff of a well-framed flat lay spread, seen its filmmakers precociously don hard hats to announce the start of their archaeological dig, and revel in jazzy montages of screen-filling old typefaces found in yellowed, miraculously un-shredded papers, feels like a tell. It's an admission of sorts that unsatisfying ends--in this case, a palimpsest image of an old designer literally adorned in a stiff throwback to her past--justify whatever aesthetic means the directors can imagine, however ill-fitting or crude. Indeed, for all their interdisciplinary reference points and for all the far-flung experts they consult (ranging from art historians and information librarians to a physicist who lyrically speaks of the dead as once tightly bonded atoms and molecules scattered across the universe), the thing that ultimately holds 306 Hollywood back is this lack of follow-through, its relentless appeal to sometimes contradictory bromides about the meaning of stories, the material dimensions of the past, and the home as time machine. It's clear that there's good stuff in 306 Hollywood, if not 306 Hollywood, but both could use a judicious curator.