Home Page (1999)
Directed by Doug Block
Cast: Justin Hall, Doug Block, Lucy Block, Patrick Farley, Denise Tenorio, Julie Petersen, Jim Petersen, Howard Rheingold, Judi Rose, John Seabrook, Marjorie Silver, Josh Silver, Carl Steadman, J. Carew Kraft.
1999 102 minutes
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R rating for profanity and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 23, 1999.
Documentarian Doug Block won raves in 1995 (and I was one of them) for his quietly poignant "Jupiter's Wife," about a homeless woman living in NYC's Central Park. His latest film, made in 1996 and premiering at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, is "Home Page," an alternately fascinating and disappointing look at the way the Internet has changed peoples' lives since 1996, the first year it officially caught on with growing popularity. The documentary is fascinating because its subject is about something that I, myself, am intrigued with. Ever since getting AOL in the summer of 1997, my life has been altered in many way, and all for the better. Not only is it an enormous outlet in which you can do almost anything on, but it also has paved the way for what I am doing right now--writing film reviews and attempting to get my voice heard in the profession.
What makes "Home Page" unsatisfying on many levels, however, is its shaky, flawed storytelling. Centering, in large part, on Justin Hall, a fellow student at his son's school, Swarthmore College, what starts as a film on Block's own daughter quickly turns as he is overtaken by Justin's obsession with the net and his own home page (www.links.net). Justin, an alternatively dressed and groomed 21-year-old, is a self-proclaimed "physical embodiment of the Internet," a young man who has no qualms about revealing the most personal things about himself and the people around him on his site. Temporarily moving from New York City to San Francisco to stay with Howard Rheingold, his mentor, Justin becomes involved in launching Howard's aspiring "virtual community" website, called Electric Minds.
From here on, the film branches off on several different paths, as we meet other web site fanatics, including a few of the employees at Justin's former intern job at HotWired, such Julie Petersen and Carl Steadman. Of note, Julie reminisces about leaving her husband for Patrick Farley, a fellow web designer.
Through everything, "Home Page" always leads right back to the life of Justin. While an eccentric, interesting individual, and the only person whose life and website is really delved satisfactorily into, filmmaker Doug Block's misstep is in relegating the other people virtually into the background. Also, Block disregards quite a lot of other aspects of the Internet and that of home pages, and so the film always seems one-sided, as we never are given a glimpse into others' relationships with this great, recent technological advancement.
In discussing the titled subject, its details remain sketchy, at best. Rarely are we ever shown the content on the people's pages, with Block seemingly leaving it up to the viewers to go see for themselves when he pops up each of the characters' home page addresses at the film's conclusion. Why make a film about something, and then not even attempt an effort in exploring that topic? As Doug Block follows Justin around more and more, he is inspired to create his own site. One scene in which he is trying to learn how to set his page up, and is shown to be absolutely delighted when he begins to catch on to webmaking, may have been an ultra-realistic portrait of human nature. Block botches the effect, however, by not pointing the camera at the computer screen to show us what he is looking at or doing.
"Home Page," which is currently in limited theatrical release and is then expected to go to cable and home video, is filmed in a very matter-of-fact way, with not enough insight into the World Wide Web or home pages to be fully recommended. One of Block's goals is to show how a portion of the world population has been so romanced by the Internet that they are at a point where they can function far better through a computer, rather than in real life. The Internet, you see, is sort of like an alternate-reality reality, in which many people can speak their mind more honestly through a screen because it is a more protected environment. If you don't like something, you can just close it and not look at it, but in life, it isn't as simple as that. Block is successful in relaying this message, but the target audience (Internet fans), I suspect, already knows this. "Home Page" is a documentary not nearly intimate enough in its portrait of the people the film inhabits. For webaholics, at least its never boring, even at a prolonged 102 minutes.
©1999 by Dustin Putman