BEFORE WE BEGIN, A MOVIE SUMMARY:

Logline: “Sy Parrish (Robin Williams), a clerk at a discount store photo counter, becomes obsessed with the family of one of his customers. He moves from being a lonely man infatuated with what seems like a happy family to a stalker with a crazed agenda.”

Summary: “Photo development is a responsibility Sy Parrish takes very seriously. He does not just mechanically thread negatives into a slot and print pictures. He does his job carefully, meticulously, taking care to see that each frame properly represents a moment in time. A person’s life, after all, in its simplest terms is nothing more than moments strung together from the second of birth to that final instant when the last breath is drawn. If those moments, all so fleeting, should be preserved, they become memories to be cherished; the more memories, the more important the life. Sy Parrish treasures these moments more than most people do. Sy cherishes these moments even more than the people who live them. If anything, or anyone, should disrupt or interfere with Sy’s perception of the picture-perfect family, a family he feels so very much a part of, then he too feels the intrusion. Just as he takes responsibility for preserving the perfect moments, he feels obligated to correct the imperfect ones…”

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“One Hour Photo”, directed by Mark Romanek , and starring the late Robin Williams, examines our relationship to the perfect moments we preserve in still photos. In 2002, there was still a lot of film being used, but this is a story for the digital age. Because today, more people see our idyllic photo moments than ever before.

Has digital photography changed what we shoot? No, we just shoot more of it. We still shoot pretty pictures, positive moments, special occasions, babies and cruises, and post therm all over the map. Damn it, we’re happy!! And we have the pictures to prove it!

We never shoot reality (at least of ourselves or our families).

And that’s what this film is all about. Sy is lonely, but he shares in and believes in the moments he develops. He cares, even touching up photos when he doesn’t like what he sees. Eventually, he tries to become part of the picture and that’s where I’ll leave it, because you have to see this film.

We don’t shoot sad pictures. We don’t want them. But they represent the most powerful reality we have. People live and people die. Photographed any funerals lately?

Some years after my partner Ric and I started our slide show business, my sister got engaged. We came from a large Irish / Norwegian family, and my father had been an amateur photographer, and we had sat through many slide shows, mostly of family moments. Babies, A trip to the beach, a Christmas, a graduation.

When I was visiting my family in New Jersey, my father suggested a slide show. We surreptitiously gathered slides and photos, and I brought them home to Milwaukee. As I laid out the show on our light tables, I realized there was one problem: My mother had died just three years earlier. She was 50, and she died of an irish disease- alcohol.

Having been trained in journalism, and because we used “journalistic techniques” in our shows, and because I believed in audience catharsis, I felt I had to treat the subject. But how? The wounds were still fresh.

Peggy Lee

Mom mugs for camera

I started with the song “Time in a Bottle.” It was perfect. I built a sequence of my mother as an adult having fun, smiling, holding her dog, hugging her kids, mugging for the camera.

Mom at Window

Mom at Window

For the last shot of the sequence, I found a slide of her gazing wistfully out our front window with the sun shining in.

Family in kitchen

Family in Kitchen

On the final notes of the song I dissolved to a shot of my brother, sister and father sitting forlorn in the kitchen, as if reacting to the loss (I don’t know if that shot was a fluke or I actually shot it with the sequence in mind, but given my absence from the photo, I must have shot it).

I broke one of my own rules and let the audio fade before the video by about a half second. The video hangs for what seems like an eternity (just an extra half second) then fades. Now you hear upbeat drums, and we begin a sequence of life after Mom, to the tune of “Time for Living” by the Association.

Up, down, recovery, finale.

It worked.

Tears, then beers.

I highly recommend “One Hour Photo”.

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PS: I offer no legal opinion as to the use of pop music you bought in your own family videos, shown in your basement, to your family. That’s a whole other discussion.