Rob Gordon Bralver’s Moby Doc opens with electronic artist Moby attempting to justify the documentary’s very existence in what scans as a pre-emptive apology for having co-written a film about himself. The sequence captures Moby’s self-conscious stance on fame following his rise in mainstream popularity, but it also serves as an early sign of the film’s tendency to over-explain, over-intellectualize, and over-script events that would have been moving had they been allowed room for spontaneity and doubt. In lieu of that, we get a series of lectures by Moby addressing the viewer with ready-made certainties about “existential portfolios” and the meaning of life. Although the film isn’t directed by Moby, you get the sense that he’s exerted great power over its various moving parts.
As told in the film, Moby’s biography unfolds in traditionally linear fashion. He grows up as the poorest person in the richest town of Connecticut with a dysfunctional family, enduring rat-infested basement apartments with no heat or water. He then becomes the poster child for “intelligent dance music” after selling a million copies of his single “Go” (from his 1991 self-titled debut album) at the age of 25, sharing hotel room floors with the likes of Madonna and P. Diddy and hanging out at strip clubs all over the globe. But fame and fortune ruin him, and so he spends more time drinking and doing drugs than working on actual music. There are panic attacks and toxic sleeping patterns. Passed out on some hotel room floor, he misses his mother’s funeral. An early childhood realization that animals are safer to be around than people also appears as a nourishing through line, or a north star.
Moby Doc devises this almost prototypical tale of sudden fame followed by self-destruction and belated awakening through a fast-paced mishmash of quirky vignettes: photographs of Moby’s early days, archival footage of his live performances and videos, dry-erase-board drawings, fictitious therapy sessions with Moby as an overtly articulate patient, and a farcical re-enactment of Moby’s childhood with cartoonish acting where a middle-aged actor plays a three-year-old Moby and the artist himself faux-directs the sequence. There’s also a comedic bit where Moby impersonates a doctor and talks to us about alcoholism, and the day after a drug-fuelled orgy in the U.K. where he wakes up covered in excrement but doesn’t know whose. And these sketches are awkwardly punctuated by snippets from a testimonial by David Lynch about meditation, concentration, and Moby himself.
Thus, Moby Doc feels less like cinema than self-promotion given the significant involvement of its very subject. Even if Moby’s life doesn’t feel whitewashed here, the vulnerability he displays is too scripted as the logical pathway toward some kind of ultimate salvation, which takes the shape of animal rights philosophy (animals are emissaries of “the vast existential void that we are all so afraid of,” he tells us). It’s a facile logic of redemption that the film tries to mask with its pseudo-experimental aesthetics and Moby’s hyper-controlled performance of openness and exposure. A fantastic sequence, late in the film, where an aerial camera dances around a besuited Moby alone in a deserted landscape embodies his plight, his militancy and his resiliency, much more powerfully than all the kooky Ted Talk-esque lecturing.
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