'Point and Shoot' an intriguing profile of 21st century adventurer
By Robert Horton
3 (out of 4) Stars
Maybe each generation gets the Lawrence of Arabia it deserves.
T.E. Lawrence was a childhood hero to Matthew VanDyke, the subject of the documentary “Point and Shoot.” Growing up in a sheltered existence in Baltimore, VanDyke was a big fan of the British adventurer — or at least he liked the idea of Peter O'Toole riding on the back of a camel.
Steeped in that image, and mixed up with video games and reruns of an outdoorsy TV series featuring a rugged Aussie swashbuckler named Alby Mangels (Google him to discover a pre-Crocodile Dundee crazy man), VanDyke decided he would find adventure himself. Socially awkward and afflicted with OCD, VanDyke nevertheless set off for Arabia with a motorcycle and a camera.
His footage ended up with Oscar-nominated documentarian Marshall Curry, who added interviews with VanDyke and his very patient girlfriend to fill out the story. The result is intriguing: Although VanDyke initially comes across as a poster boy for a privileged Westerner inserting himself in cultures he's utterly clueless about, his months-long journey from Morocco to Iraq does give us glimpses into what it looks like at ground level.
Eventually he cruises into Libya, where he makes friends — the best friends he's ever had — with a group of anti-Gaddafi rebels. Which is how he ends up in jail for a few months, and later serves alongside the rebels — in actual street-by-street fighting — when the tide began to turn against the longtime Libyan dictator. VanDyke even powers through his obsessive-compulsive fears, nervously sharing a communal bowl of Libyan stew with his comrades. He looks queasy, but he does it. Through all of the strangeness, we are constantly reminded that VanDyke is doing this for the camera — laboriously setting up shots of himself riding his chopper heroically into the frame, or handing off the camera so a fellow soldier can film him firing his rifle at a Gaddafi sniper.
VanDyke has no grand philosophy about any of this, or any apparent view on Middle Eastern events; he's just trying to get the shot, and further his “crash course in manhood,” as he describes his quest. (If you're flashing back to the ill-fated Timothy Treadwell in “Grizzly Man,” you're not far off the mark.)
For all that, because of Curry's curating eye, “Point and Shoot” is an actual character study. Lawrence of Arabia, who had the erudition that VanDyke lacks, knew how to ham it up for the camera too.
Maybe 21st century vanity just looks less grand because of cheap video and the hero's suburban drawl. And maybe it's a good idea to be skeptical about guys like that these days. Article at The Daily Herald