An artist making an autobiographical documentary is a bold and, quite frankly, strange move. But in the case of Moby Doc, this choice is on brand for enigmatic electronic musician Moby. Early into the movie, even Moby acknowledges how seemingly unconventional this choice is. This doesn’t excuse the odd conception of Moby Doc but, at least, it gives us an idea of how self-aware the musician is. However, a detrimental line is crossed when Moby also acknowledges how funny and clever he thinks he is.
With Moby Doc, the musician reflects on past trauma in his immediate family as well as his personal rags-to-riches arc. The story of how Moby became a European sensation and how that transitioned into a global phenomenon is really interesting. He’s telling us the broad strokes of his rise to success, but the retelling is encouraging nevertheless considering how much effort Moby put into his work when he was commuting from his homeless lifestyle in Connecticut to rubbing elbows with music producers in New York City.
During these reflections, Moby sounds like even he’s in disbelief as to how he pulled everything off, and perhaps this documentary was a way to further convince him. That theory would also fit in with the film’s initial mission statement of finding the road to success by following precise steps in an existential journey. Although, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow when Moby is pitching us on this existential journey and wondering if he was doing everything “right”, when the immediate edit afterwards is the musician playing to a sea of enamoured ravers at a music festival.
The more personal matters involving family is where Moby Doc really waffles. The audience is unsure of what Moby wants to express with this project. After losing his father at a young age and having to live out his childhood with an emotionally unstable mother, Moby alternates between ridiculing his mother’s poor parenting and forgiving her. Moby Doc is at its finest when the musician is peeling back layers of his songs to show there’s a family connection underneath the dance beats. Moby playing an absolutely beautiful acoustic cover to “Porcelain” is the best example of this. But then, he wants to make full use of the film format and experiment with different techniques and genres. The movie’s reenactments are especially wrongheaded. In an awkward sequence, Moby directs actress Julie Mintz playing his mother. “You have to be sadder,” he directs without an ounce of empathy. Moby Doc’s director Rob Gordon Bralver, a frequent collaborator of Moby’s, doesn’t do anything to intervene or compromise with the film’s star.
Moby and Bralver often interrupt the flow of their movie with these lame spurts of levity in a way that still protects the musician. Despite opening himself up for this project, Moby is still very much a calculated individual who doesn’t want to appear too vulnerable. But then again, I think he is still working out and addressing these issues; such as his on-again-off-again addiction to fame and the struggles he has with negative criticism. A reenactment featuring Moby locked up in a medieval pillory having vegetables thrown at him while we hear echos of Eminem’s diss from “Without Me” reveals that Moby is still reeling from 2002.
Moby Doc is an ambitious albeit uneven hodgepodge. Given how unpredictable his power moves are, maybe he’ll re-release this movie when he’s truly come to terms with his ongoing struggles. Maybe then Moby Doc will have a more realized vision.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie