Elan and Jonathan Bogarín’s 306 Hollywood begins like any good ghost story should: with the image of a suburban house shrouded in darkness, save for a few eerie lights glowing from its windows. As the camera floats toward the front door, we realize that we’re looking at a miniature house, similar to the intricately designed miniatures that Toni Collette’s character constructs in Ari Aster’s Hereditary. And then, like a magic trick, the image cuts seamlessly to a shot of the actual house. It’s an unexpectedly arresting opening to one of the most inventive documentaries in recent memory.
However, to label 306 Hollywood as a ghost story would limit the genre-bending achievements of its sibling filmmakers. Their film—part personal essay, part home movie, and part eulogy for an ordinary life—blends various tones and visual styles with confidence and infectious exuberance. Those same traits can be found in the documentary’s subject, Annette Ontell, owner of the unassuming house on Hollywood Avenue and grandmother to the Bogarín siblings. The pair interviewed Ontell every year for the last decade of her life, asking her questions that ranged in topic from sex and marriage to family and aging. Ontell’s responses, recorded in her kitchen with a digital camcorder, are self-effacing and candid—the type of honest answers one doesn’t expect to hear while the camera is rolling.
Following their grandmother’s death at age 93, the Bogaríns decided to turn her house into an archaeological dig. It’s at this point in the proceedings that the story’s ghostly elements rise to the surface. Odd and inexplicable events occur during the makeshift excavation. An old woman is seen sitting in Ontell’s bedroom. A portal to the past appears in the kitchen. Like the miniature house seen in the opening, each of these cinematic recreations reveals the film’s artifice, but rather than stopping to explain their rationale, the film barrels onward. If a house is indeed a universe, as one of the film’s interviewees states, then there’s room here for the impossible.
Some of 306 Hollywood‘s more fantastical moments don’t even involve the supernatural. The findings of the Bogaríns’ excavation—decades’ worth of tax forms, fashion magazines, toothbrushes, neckties, and shoes—are presented in tableaus of meticulous arrangements straight out of Wes Anderson’s imagination. To watch this cataloguing of everyday items is to witness the transformation of life into history. We see the end results of this process by visiting museums and ancient cities around the world, but rarely do we get the chance to behold the metamorphosis in real time.
And yet, for all its flashy genre-bending and inventive storytelling, the documentary’s standalone moment of metamorphosis is captured in the pixelated images of a home movie. During one of her interviews, Annette, a former fashion designer, is presented with a dress she made in her youth. While she’s encouraged by her daughter and granddaughter to try on this relic from her past, Annette’s expression seesaws from calm reserve to wide-eyed panic to childlike glee. “I’m twice the size I once was!” she exclaims, wrestling with the reality of the decades that separate her from the dress. She runs her fingers over the fabric and recalls the intricacies of her work as if she had completed it the previous night instead of a lifetime ago.
And then, with a little effort, Annette slips the dress over her body and she’s instantly transported back in time. In a film that grapples with memory and ghosts, this might be the most convincing moment that the past is a living thing—as real as the shimmer of an evening dress.