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Film Review: Side by Side

I guess they're sort of side by side...

Keanu Reeves’ 2012 documentary Side by Side is a fast-paced documentary pretty clearly aimed at a young crowd: the length of each shot follows the typical Hollywood two-second rule, and the shots themselves are excerpts from hundreds of very different movies, all of which move fast enough to keep a Gen-Yer happy. As I took notes in the documentary, clips from three different movies could fly by in the time it took me to finish a sentence.

The topic of the film, then, is interesting. Since Keanu is discussing the battling techniques of shooting with physical film and with digital footage, but he shoots his documentary entirely in digital, he already seems to be indulging one position above the other. But the market for his film is an audience already primed for digital content due to their younger, iPhone-oriented psychographic. Of course, he has to produce an engaging documentary in order to be popular, Side by Side’s weakness would have been tough to avoid. And, given this problem, the film remains almost surprisingly fair to both sides of the issue, while conceding that digital film is indeed surpassing physical film.

Because of its topic, film, the documentary uses very little reenactment in other to become visually appealing. It does use some, however – the title of one film, Dogma 95, is shown in type-written white font over red, and then followed up with a similarly styled, made-for-the-documentary letter detailing rules followed by Dogma’s director and friends. I don’t like this type of visual fluff in my documentaries, since it rings false. Yes, I know fictional films are false, but that’s okay, since I’m accepting them for the fiction they are. When I see a documentary, I don’t want to see actors portraying real events or anything trying to represent reality: I know reality can’t be represented, so why try? I was glad that Side by Side was able to rely on clips from countless other films. That form of visual fluff already existed, so I’m okay with seeing it in a documentary.

Keanu’s haircut varied wildly throughout his interviews, which was distracting, but the documentary itself was cut together very well, in an unobtrusive manner that supported every point that was being made, and was enjoyable. Personally, I welcome digital footage. Physical film is special to those who grew up with it, but digital will be just as special to those familiar with it.


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