Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I am Supertramp, and you are Super Apple."

I just watched The Call of the Wild, a documentary about Chris McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp. I also re-watched Into the Wild for comparison. The latter I assume you've all seen and don't need to hear anything about; I liked it just as much the third time as the first. Pretty much the only thing I don't like is the font of the opening titles. Thanks for not blowing it, Spicoli.

The Call of the Wild on the other hand is a low-budget independent documentary by film-maker Ron Lamothe who re-traced McCandless' steps. Lamothe was born in 1968, the same year as McCandless, and was obsessed with the story even before Krakauer made it huge. For the movie he went to Emory during graduation, Lake Mead, Slab City, hitch-hiked to Carthage, South Dakota, drove up to Alaska, and hiked to the Magic Bus, getting swept downstream by the Teklanika River and temporarily ruining his camera. There's a fair amount of thoughtful introspection--he interviewed random Emory grads, all of whom were headed to grad school or Wall Street and none of whom seemed to be questioning like McCandless. Lamothe asked whether Generation X was really different from the current one, and he contrasted his own post-college wanderings in Africa with the life of a college friend of his who is a happy suburban LA lawyer who never questioned anything.

After watching Into the Wild I sort of expected Call to be a documentary of interviews with Chris' family, and the real-life versions of the Catherine Keener (Jan Burres), Kristen Stewart (not real), Hal Holbrook (Ronald Franz) and Vince Vaughn (Wayne Westerberg) characters. Lamothe did interview one of Chris' college roommates, neighbors from his street in Annandale, his high school track coach, and a few people who met him in Carthage, and this actually served to paint a slightly darker or more angry/upset/lonely picture of McCandless than I'd had in my mind. Lamothe interviewed neither his family, Franz, nor Westerberg, however. Franz (not his real name?) passed away, so that explains that, but Westerberg was apparently serving as a consultant for Sean Penn, who was shooting on location at the same time as Lamothe, and there were some issues with people in Carthage, SD not talking to Lamothe because they signed away the rights to their story. So Penn and co. may have prevented some interesting interviews from taking place, which makes it all the more disappointing that even though the Into the Wild DVD is a 2-DVD set, not a single one of the DVD extras contains one iota of information about the real people--they're just slightly annoying Sean Penn and Emil Hirsch talking head videos.

So Call ended up being half personal adventure of Lamothe (who Lamothe met hitch-hiking while making the movie) and half McCandless' life and adventure (minor characters McCandless met). Some aspects of the movie seem slightly conspiratorial or accusatory of either Sean Penn or John Krakauer for mis-telling the story (Lamothe thinks McCandless just starved to death instead of being poisoned). That aside, the moments of discussing the questions of why people like McCandless, Lamothe, me, Krakauer, etc., want to go explore and have adventures like this are fairly thoughtful and well done. Overall I'd give Call a B and Sean Penn's version an A. I bought Call off Lamothe's website, I don't know if Netflix has it, but it's apparently been on PBS, so maybe.

On a related topic--how great is the ItW soundtrack? If you, like me, deeply regret not seeing Eddie Vedder when he came through Berkeley on his solo tour playing many of the songs, you can find a bootleg here. The links at the top don't work, but the FLACs lower down appear to. Also, "Hard Sun" is a cover of a song by the band Indio off their album Big Harvest. They basically sound like Vedder with a slight accent. [YouTube link]

1 comment:

  1. i do love that soundtrack. 'society' is epic, 'rise' is awesome, 'hard sun' is great (but as you say, it does sound almost exactly like the indio version).