New Musician Documentary Remixes Superstar Moby in Quirk.
DIRECTED BY ROB GORDON BRALVER/2021
DVD STREET DATE: JUNE 29, 2021/GREENWICH (VIA KINO LORBER)
From the title on down, the brand-new documentary film chronicling one-time music superstar Moby is too clever by half. For anyone in this day and age who might happen to wonder whatever became of that bald ubiquitous wonder of twenty-plus years ago, prepare to be disappointed by this film.
In lieu of much heartfelt assessment, Moby and director Rob Gordon Bravler go out of their way to gussy up what would be a standard musician profile. Unfortunately, most of what’s brought to the table is a bunch of simple tricks and nonsense. In the film’s busy ninety-two-minute running time, we are subjected to deliberately hokey amateur re-enactments of Moby’s early years, interludes by cheap puppet mice, pointlessly bizarre framing devices, and garishly swirly After Effects animation. Those are just some of the silly bits and pieces that keep turning up as Moby Doc goes on.
Moby is attempting in vain to weave a thought-thread about his current state of relative contentment. In the opening minutes, he monologues about how no one ever reconciles their “existential portfolio”; how true happiness is never achieved. This lapses into the story of his own series of rises and falls- which is presumably why we’re here.
As anyone who heard Alec Baldwin interview Moby last year on his “Here’s the Thing” podcast, you know that the musician’s story is actually very moving and compelling. Do yourself a favor and just listen to that instead of watching this. Some of the info overlaps (you get vegan activism either way- which is fine, but in the movie, it nets a good twenty-five minutes as it showcases “Moby the crusader”), but there are zero attempts at cheeky “outside the box creativity” on said podcast episode.
Must we keep seeing majestic helicopter beauty-shots of Moby’s lone figure standing motionless, arms at his side, facing outward on a rocky mountaintop? Or positioned perfectly symmetrically in the shadows of dilapidated archways? Or sitting at the table working on a cardboard box representation of his childhood home? Or wandering an Indian grocery store while narrating the movie into his smartphone? Yes, Moby’s buddy David Lynch is on hand to chat and say nice things. And it’s always nice to see David Bowie archival footage, in this case, from the “Area 2” era, which he shared with Moby. But these winning inclusions can’t salvage the film.
None of that should detract from the honest to goodness greatness of Moby’s music, which there simply isn’t enough of in the movie. Full disclosure, I’ve been a fan of Moby’s since the mid-1990s, when my brother started buying his CDs after loving “God moving over the face of the waters” on the Heat soundtrack. One thing very blatant in those early CDs was Moby’s devout spirituality. In ridiculously tiny two-point type, Moby could always be counted on to include an epic-length diatribe imploring whatever was on his mind. Lots of talk about God and animal rights. These essays must rank among the first rock star TL,DRs.
Clearly, talking up his spiritual beliefs was important to him back then. By contrast in Moby Doc, his “spirituality” is cited once in passing, as negatively affected by the life of extreme debauchery he regrets having fallen into. (Per the film’s murky timeline, he had two such major backslidings). Methinks there’s more to this story.
Watching Moby Doc left me wanting to hear the underrepresented Moby music from throughout his career. I’m not someone who wants to think of an artist whose work I like as “washed up”, but the embarrassing execution of this film does little to dissuade that perception. Moby does what he can to present himself as grey and wizened now; his wild oats long sown. But muddying that humble approach is the very notion of such an insistently myopic movie at this downward phase of his career. If you are interested in Moby, do not pass “Go”, but don’t bother pressing “Play” for Moby Doc.
The Greenwich DVD of Moby Doc, released through Kino Lorber, has no bonus features other than its trailer.