Bill Brown and Ross McElwee (doc director of the brilliant rambler, "Sherman’s March") both have a knack for deadpan soliloquy and the dazzling found image. But where McElwee is obsessed with his personal history (particularly, sexual failure) and how that history twines and tangles with the greater history of our nation, Brown has a deep love of wastelands, wild places where only the crustiest creatures dwell. His two big short docs, the heartbreaking "The Other Side" and the more introspective "Hub City," are mostly about that love of liminal lands, of dust and must and drear, of nowhere country where people vanish for no logical reason, where ghosts prowl and nightmare, dream and reality coexist.
"Homeland Insecurity" compiles three of his excursions into his own private obsessions–one, the shortest, a throwaway trinket, the other two possessing their own broken poetry and ragged chaos that is, by turns, dull and dazzling. Brown’s work is bleak, gray and scratchy, all static shots and scruffy, Super-8 charm. More than anything (and strangely), it reminds me of the recent PIXAR film, "WALL-E," about a squat, little, Johnny Five robot banished to an abandoned Earth, doomed as its lone custodian, cursed forever to wander and tidy, the universe’s loneliest obsessive-compulsive, stacking his world into compacted and tidy bails and keeping the occasional bauble for himself. WALL-E and Brown (despite one being synthetic, the other, as far as I can tell, organic) are sympathetic soul mates.
The voice who narrates "The Other Side," a day dream and wet dream and endless fever dream of a travelogue along the Mexican border, is dry as a dust devil and has the bite of a tangle of razor wire. It’s a voice angered and a little in awe of this atomic wasteland of a desert and its prickly magi, the cacti, and the heat waves that glitter and gloat over all, like God’s ghost, and, above all, the scruffy bands of immigrants who must brave hell before finding their dubious heaven.
Brown shoots Mexico as a splintery shadow land of haunting horrors and winking visions, a miracle mirage zone with phantom lights in the skies, the Blessed Virgin peeping out of wasted trees, hoops of rainbow light, like halos with no angels to hang them on, the smudged crayon charm and desperation of Christ graffitti on adobe convenience stores and saguaros stretching, like scarecrow giants, over a dreaming desert both mystical and miserable.
In Brown’s other two pieces, "Hub City" and "Kustom Kamera Kommandos"-one about weather’s whimsy, the other a film geek’s masturbatorial homage to Kenneth Anger and his own camera-you get that same Jack Kerrouac genius for vagabond poetics and fondness for wandering wonder. Brown likes to park his camera next to some found object of beauty and just gaze up at it, till you’re dizzy with the sheer dazzle of it, and his voice runs loping, echoing circles in your brain.
I have a deep affection for the WALL-Es of the world, valiant gypsies subject to the whim of their own eclectic hunger, forever brooming the world for the faint glint of gold, not sure what to make of the little bits of beauty they happen to find.
But it’s fun to rake and dabble fingers and eyes in their little junk troves.