Somewhere to Disappear follows the wanderings of photographer Alec Soth as he meanders across the United States in pursuit of the perfect place to escape. On his travels he encounters an assortment of reclusive loners who, for their own reasons, have turned their backs on mainstream society and have chosen to live in seclusion; some in caves, some in shacks and some even in dwellings that defy definition. The film wanders from hermit to modern troglodyte with loose continuity and tells more with its imagery than it does with its narrative.
The documentary was a strange departure from the usual brand of sharp cinematography and heart wrenching tales that permeate the genre. The film follows a photographer, asking the viewer to see the sights through the eyes of an artist and appreciate the images as they would a picture. This film requires the viewer to feel the pictures and have a real appreciation for the concept otherwise it tends to drag along.
The cast of crazed misanthropes does little to gain support for Soth’s idealistic view of the perfect place to escape but rather reinforces the stereotype of the kind of troubled person who chooses to renounce society. As the characters, most of whom are interesting enough to warrant their own films, begin to reveal the depth of their personalities, the film moves before any revelations about their lives can blossom. Only at the end does the film take a breath to appreciate the oddity of the openly gay spiritual hermit with his ramshackle shelter and starving horses. A pleasing end to the films gallery of cynics.
The documentary delivered what it said it would, but in a less creative and interesting way than expected. The concept was a little confusing, not just for me, but for many of the folks in the film. It did, however, force me to think outside of the box and give myself over to Soth’s quest. The cinematography failed to capture a sense of awe, especially considering Soth’s insistence on their beauty and power. It would seem that the film missed a major opportunity by failing to include the photographs Soth captured, which was, after all, the point of the whole venture.
The eccentric characters are the only element that keeps things interesting. As strange as they are, they seem sad and depressing. Like the skinhead who lives in a cave and desperately needed a hug, or the frightening shut-in who only wanted his father’s love.
Overall the documentary was too slow and contrived for a concept based film. Throughout the journey Soth states that he wants to be carried, taken along on his adventure by circumstance and surprise, and at one point he even admits that it is frustrating when he’s not. I wanted the same thing from this film and he is right, it can be very frustrating indeed.
Somewhere to Disappear is playing as part of Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival on Thursday, May 5 at 7:00 pm and Saturday, May 7 at 1:15 pm at the Cumberland.