It sounds like a cinematic concept you wouldn’t care about, or a Pavement song: white guy born and bred in the idyll of the Hamptons resents his privilege. I mean, the burden of wealthy white male privilege is already the concept behind 39% of all non-superhero movies. But The Windmill Movie is about about a man, born of this particular strata, who begins to try to document the unfettered, drunk, easy way around him with the idea of doing a biographical film–a documentary or a narrative–about the ugliness of it and admitted ridiculousness of his discontent.Except he shoots and shoots and he cannot manage to capture that. Instead it’s just breezy ocean grass and moneyed people making small talk, all soft and clean and polite.
The Windmill Movie is a verite doc. culled from the 200+ hours of footage that documentarian Richard Rogers shot. He began with this project around 1970 and carried it on, in spurts, until his death in 2001, but never edited anything or pulled it together–so the task was passed to one of his former students (he taught at Harvard for a long time) who edited and shaped it into something slightly different. It’s strange and beautiful and Rogers is sad and honest in the snippets of interview and narration, trying to get to the nugget of his envy and lust and resentments that stem from the long summers of his youth in the Hamptons, surrounded by powerful matriarchs and effortless wealth. His mom and her neighbors, filmed in old age, in wigs, so smart and well-bred, cold and (in his mothers case) cruel–in their leisure suits on lawnchairs; total Grey Gardens context. His gorgeous black and white footage from 1970-71, where he just walks the streets of Cambridge and Chelsea, passing girls with lustrous hippie hair and then the mid-80’s footage of a cadre of teenage preppy girls riding to the beach and baking, cocktail parties at an exclusive country club–it all could have been little films of it’s own. And then, there are bits, from when he is thinking of making it a dramatic staging of his life, and gets other people to portray him–basically a moustachioed dude on a bed with a girl ranting about his neurosis–and it makes you glad that is not the movie that he settled for, that he stuck to “reality”. It’s also a gambit that the director who takes over the project uses, getting Rogers longtime friend, Wallace Shawn, to “play” Rogers after his death. You get the sense that the movie that ended up being made, which is more about what Rogers wanted to do with this strange, constant document of his lifetime–how you make autobiography, the dissonance between reality and retelling, “the truth” of film–is somehow a more just document of his life. The Windmill Movie through Rogers needling, self-loathing and nagging self-doubt rather than serving them up.