We Live in Public (2009) Poster

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A Fascinating Film about a Peculiar Internet Pioneer
JustCuriosity18 March 2009
This film was shown at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX after winning the grand jury prize at Sundance. It was well received in Austin as well. It is a fascinating look at the early days of the Internet through the biography of one its pioneers Josh Harris. The film is well-done in a technical sense and fascinating ride, but I'm not sure if it ever figures out if it's a history of an industry, a study of the social impact of Internet, or a biopic about the peculiar mad scientist, John Harris. It tries to be all of these things and thus perhaps undermines its own ability to completely succeed at any of them.

The film is informative in filling in some of the early history and Harris's key role with the mostly forgotten 1990s pioneering ventures of Jupiter Communications and Pseudo.com. But Harris seems to move away from his role as a computer nerd and begins to evolve into a dysfunctional performance artist who seems to want to demonstrate that the Internet will break down all remnants of human privacy. The film maker seems to want emphasize his visionary qualities in which he is predictive of today's MySpace and Facebook culture.

However, this reviewer doesn't find his bunker experiment or his living in public online to be particularly insightful or predictive. The whole concept was more-or-less foreshadowed in Jim Carrey's Truman Show in the 1990s. Nor is it particularly predictive. Harris was creating venues in which people were forced to live in public in front of cameras with predictably unhealthy and destructive results. Today, we choose voluntarily how much of our lives to allow the public – and really only our chosen friends – to view online. The difference between everyone's lives being on display and allowing our friends to see limited glimpses of our lives is vast. Harris seems like a tragic and self-destructive figure, who is constantly rewriting his own experiences in his own mind. He is estranged from his family and unable to establish and maintain intimate relationships.

In the end, he seems to have stranded himself on his own Gilligan's Island (with which he is obsessed). He is either a clown (another one of his characters) or simply a reclusive madman. The film provides an intriguing picture of an internet pioneer who went off the deep end, but I'm not sure if it achieves its goal of truly using Josh's experiences to critique the virtual world that he played a key early role in helping construct. The virtual world, for all its flaws, is not the world of total public voyeurism that Josh imagined it would become.
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A master of self-regard
paul2001sw-117 June 2010
There can be few more tedious groups of people than dot-com entrepreneurs and performance artists: Josh Harris was one of the former who thought himself one of the latter; and in this documentary of his life, he reveals himself to be every bit as self-regarding as you might expect him to be. That he has a collection of groupies willing to assert his utter brilliance is even more annoying. What it seems he has done right is to predict how the internet will change the world; what he has not shown is any ability to get the timing right when it comes to taking advantage of this in a business sense, or the ability to suggest how we can shape this evolving world to make it a better place. Instead, he seems to have specialised in freak shows that might have accurately predicted some unwelcome aspects of the future and whose funding has depended on the the false confidence they might prove lucrative. The fact that Harris has himself retreated from the world of the web is telling; as is the fact that the chief executive of myspace claims never to have heard of him. Far from being the "visionary" as his friends attest, Harris comes over simply as the boy with too many toys. The documentary is lively, however, and oddly entertaining, even though one quickly comes to dislike and distrust the film-maker (a certified Harris groupie) and participants alike.
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narcissistic, and not in a good way
harmony707425 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
What should have been an interesting film on either Harris or Harris' Quiet project is nothing but a sluggish vanity piece. Director Timoner seemingly had access to the massive amount of video collected from the month-long - or was it ten-day-long? - lock-in that seemingly had dozens (if not hundreds) of cameras recording 24/7, as well as footage from Harris' six-month-long, multi-camera We Live in Public endeavor, but wastes it on showing merely (the occasionally) titilating footage. Seemingly no effort was made to creatively construct narratives around the dozens of themes available. Instead, the film charts the rise and fall of Harris from dot-commer to internet-outsider. Timoner tries to sell the tale of Harris being always ahead of internet trends - with Quiet and WLiP as proof - of virtual living, failing to note other social phenomenon such as little tidbits such as MTV's The Real World. (This film doesn't even live up to the artistry or worth of your typical MTV biopic.)

Aside the futurist baloney being sold, the film leans heavily on a hipster soundtrack to create the illusion of worth, instead the film finishes to reveal the empty sugar/caffeine high with the "ominous lesson" that social networking sites and internet platforms are culling your personal data for advertising - ooohh, so profound!

Director Timoner was one of the people that participated in Harris' Quiet project and it is seemingly from this that she was able to access all his footage. With the film as disappointing as it is, it is difficult to know whether Timoner felt obligated to create a puff-piece for/of a friend or Harris required a certain product in exchange for access - either way, sad to see the opportunity wasted.
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This movie is the best example of how privacy can be destroyed.
charlessmith70221021 December 2010
Warning: Spoilers
In the 1980s, Josh Harris had seen the computer/electronic age bud with the Commodore computer keyboard, the IBM chip, dot-matrix printers, large VDT screens, and of course, 8-track tapes and hi-fi stereo systems like Zenith's Allegro and a defunct brand, Electrophonic, that were about to be dead. Reel-to-reel tapes, cassette tapes and its boom boxes, and filmstrips, Kodachrome, the Polaroid camera, and the traditional video projector were also popular then.

Realizing the Internet's major effect on computers, Josh began to take advantage in the Big Apple, founding Jupiter Communications, and later on, a hipster-friendly Internet TV company called "Pseudo", which was well-adored with New York's hip crowd. However, his overt display of his alter-ego, "Luvvy", eventually caused the company's downfall after 10-15 years of its run.

Not giving up easily with that debacle, Josh found an abandoned tenement loft in New York, and launched his most radical project ever, called "The Quiet Bunker." As the partyers enter in the first minutes inside the compound, they are almost like cattle...milling around the beds, the firearm range, the bar area, and are searching the bunk beds to find the perfect bed for them.

As more partyers enter, there is a type of noise level resembling the 4th of July. More people are in the firearm range shooting guns, and some residents are starting to become scared of the bangs. But some others start to be impervious to the gunfire and are using anti-fear techniques like free-love and friendship with all of the mates inside this unusual hangout.

As the millennium approaches, the fake cops and security guards start to become a bit more belligerent, violent, and sadistic. The music grows louder, and the bar starts to serve more alcohol than cocktails.

Meanwhile, half the participants are scared of those video surveillance cameras, and those who got out of the interrogation room are afraid of their emotions and afraid that they could be sent to that dreaded room again.

More gunfire explodes as the whole bunker scene turns into the most climatic scene of anarchy. People start to pillage the place with brute force, tear down papers and make messes on the floor with juices and beer; there is even more explicit sex, and even more screaming explodes into wildfire. Then finally, the NYPD comes in and tells them that the party--is over!!!

The partyers were escorted from the compound 6-8 hours after the millennium struck, citing several things: a very dangerous cult getting out of hand, forced confinement without giving the partyers additional food and water, and Josh allowing the partyers to resort to criminal mischief and a litany of disorderly, lewd, and dangerous acts, which included mob action and of course, the firing of guns, and not having a general permit to hold such a party.

Then, Josh Harris found three other partyers hiding from the police after the partyers were ordered vacated. He then gives the heave-ho signal to them--he simply wants to emotionally suffer the bunker's end in private!

With his "bunker project" flatlined, Josh had decided to hold the "After the vacating of the bunker" party with 25-30 of his bunker party participants on a boat on a New York river. He went to one of his love interests, Tanya Corrin, who appeared as the host of "Cherry Bomb", and proposed a strong relationship. As she said yes, Josh Harris started his new project that came out of the defunct "Quiet" experiment.

He and Tanya decided to retrofit their condo with 50 to 60 surveillance cameras, paying homage to the movie concept from "Enemy of the State." Josh's and Tanya's project of having their entire relationship on cameras was extremely shocking. I see their private talks, bathroom conversations, sex in the bedroom, and even domestic violence!! Then, as the crash of April 2000 wipes out over half of Josh's financial assets, they separate from reality, causing Tanya to say that this romantic relationship is over.

As Tanya leaves the camera-ridden house, Josh is left alone in the apartment to suffer for a long time not only the loss of Tanya, but also the pain of nearly being homeless. Finally, he had enough and he himself leaves the house for good, leaving the cameras behind.

After temporarily owning an apple farm away from NY, Josh goes back to Manhattan, to contact MySpace company, for his pitch...he was telling that company about his strong tech-savvy accomplishments in the 1980s decade of the computer world, to try to make his own Internet company...Josh's. Regrettably, MySpace said no, citing Josh's strange behavior that was revealed when Pseudo-TV was on the air. Josh ended up even more worthless.

With the "Luvvy" ego completely destroyed in his life and Josh on the ropes to severe penury, he resorted to a Marcus Garvey tactic; moving into exile.

His exile was under raps for awhile until Josh Harris was spotted in another country--Africa. Josh said his newly ascetic behavior cleansed him from all of the toxic cravings that ruined his business, his love interest, and his sanity, and he declares that he had seen the effects of the exponential growth of the Internet in the form of social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and MySpace, where any person joining such networks, regrettably, have to give up privacy in return for trying to create their own fame.
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A Very Interesting One to See
dallasryan28 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A documentary about a man who indeed did foresee and pave the way for what was yet to come. In a lot of ways his projects were kind of like The Real World meets the Internet meets Big Brother. In that sense he didn't think of anything new as The Real World had been around a bit. But he did foresee what we now know as Youtube which is amazing on his part.

Whether he knew it or not, his project that was underground did speak volumes to what we watch on the internet today which is porn, outrageous/funny scenarios and conflict. Millions of people watch porn, outrageous/funny scenarios and any story with major conflict every day. And for all that, he is a genius in many ways.

I like how he stated as he was being watched with his girlfriend by viewers on how his viewers were the subconscious such as they would criticize him on not washing his hands, etc. When it all comes down to it that's why most of us prefer to not live in public as we don't want to be criticized for being ourselves and all the peculiarities that make us, well, us.

As human beings, unfortunately the majority seems to want to castigate a person than praise a person. It's a sad but true fact that he found out and pointed out when he was being watched by viewers. A very interesting documentary, one to be seen and not forgotten.
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A little intriguing but mostly depressing and way too dark
Robert_duder28 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
You can find a documentary about nearly everything. That certainly doesn't mean a documentary is necessary regardless of how interesting the person place or thing might seem to be. We Live In Public is a documentary about Josh Harris, seemingly a pioneer in the field of internet. According to the film it would have us believe that Josh Harris foresaw things on the internet that all came to fruition, things such as streaming video and internet television. The problem with the film is that Josh Harris is someone who stumbled a lot on his road to creation on the internet and the film is more depressing and disturbing then anything. His cutting edge visionary reality show was to have over 100 people move into a small building where they would be watched on the internet every second of every day. Eventually his project is shut down as being a millennial cult so he turns to turning his own life into a reality show in his apartment with his girlfriend and their relationship crumbles into shards. Its almost difficult to watch this 'mad genius' who has these brilliant ideas continually sink his fortunes into projects that go belly up.

Director Ondi Timoner certainly has a lot of experience in film making. I have not seen any of her other work but I have no doubt that she looks for something captivating and interesting and the film is put together in a very interesting manner. In some ways you won't even feel like you're watching a documentary because there is a lot of captivating information. Where the film stumbles is that this could have made in a half hour biography and many of the projects he takes on just go down in flames and it isn't exactly fun to watch at times. If you like documentaries but you're tired of the same old thing then you might really enjoy We Live In Public because it is certainly a stretch from other films in the same genre. But the tone of the film is just far too dark and depressing and leaves you feeling unfulfilled. 6.5/10
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In Dreams
valis194910 April 2010
WE LIVE IN PUBLIC charts the career of a man who not only embraced, embodied, and celebrated the World Wide Web practically from its inception, but was able to guess certain directions that this phenomenon would take. However, the premise of the film is that Josh Harris is a genius because he was able to develop internet social networking years before anyone else, and I find this to be a kind of false assumption. Granted, he might have had the original idea, but what good was the notion of a 'real time social networking system', if the internet had not evolved enough to support this activity. The bandwidth simply was not there! Many ideas are marvelous in the abstract, but if these concepts cannot be brought to fruition, what good are they? A true genius not only develops the concept, but must make it work in the real world. Timing has to account for something, and I think that this was Mr. Harris's Achilles Heel. WE LIVE IN PUBLIC is a great look at an era in the development of the Computer Age, and certainly documents Josh Harris's many accomplishments. but the film fails to make the case that this man is as much a pioneer as he would have us believe. The reason that he is not in the same league as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, is that they successfully accomplished 'real things', whereas Mr. Harris came up with a major idea which was not really supportable at the time.
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The entire crowd was trying to get the scoop on which film won the award by texting, using Twitter, etc. How ironic that "We Live in Public" was indeed the winner.
h-two-oetry25 January 2009
What a documentary. I was first in line for ticket holders to the Grand Jury Prize: Documentary showing at the Library Center Theatre, not knowing which film would win the award until the crowd was seated. The entire crowd was trying to get the scoop on which film won the award by texting, using Twitter, etc. How ironic that "We Live in Public" was indeed the winner. What a captivating depiction of the intense influx of technological advances and the people behind the scenes in the process. I had never heard of Josh Harris, his vision of the future, or his antics on camera before. MySpace, Facebook, Youtube and every reality TV show ever created seemingly owe Josh Harris for the implementation of his visions of the future of technology.
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