Never one to shy away from self-destructive geniuses, filmmaker Ondi Timoner has a knack for sniffing out cultural visionaries and crackpots. Such previous portraits of people who follow their muses into madness (like 2004’s Dig!) feel like trial runs, however, for Timoner’s look at “the Warhol of the Web,” Josh Harris. An early proponent of the Internet, Harris was one of the “dot-com kids” who made a bundle during the boom years. He was also remarkably prescient about the way this techno-connectivity would warp human behavior. Two Orwellian experiments—the underground hotel-cum-prison called Quiet and the real-time surveillance of a love affair, weliveinpublic.com—aptly proved his point. They also cost Harris his relationships, his wealth and for a while, it seemed, his sanity.
Using archival material and footage Timoner herself shot over the previous ten years, We Live in Public would be fascinating by virtue of its subject alone. But the filmmaker wisely emphasizes how Harris also represents something bigger; this isn’t just the story of one man but also the dawning of the virtual ber alles age and the death of privacy. Some of Timoner’s creative choices, such as the overuse of the Gilligan’s Island theme (Harris’s favorite TV show), tend to grate. Yet in terms of a timeline charting how we arrived at the Facebook-YouTube era of today, it’s damned near invaluable.—David Fear
Opens Fri; IFC. Find showtimes