Roddy Bogawa’s third feature reps the experimental filmmaker’s entry into the personal diary genre, though few helmers would delve so far into minimalism as to film themselves leafing through an old L.A. Weekly for lengthy minutes on end (the ’70s newspaper proving weirdly relevant somehow). Bogawa’s cinematic pilgrimage takes him from New York to Los Angeles to Hawaii and from the death of Joey Ramone to one of Joe Strummer’s last gigs, mapping out an idiosyncratic topography of punk rock. Unlikely to venture beyond fringe and/or Asian venues, “I Was Born, But … ” is a welcome addition to the underground canon.
In L.A., Bogawa’s static long takes unblinkingly record the exteriors of buildings where Bogawa and friends used to hang out to hear music; some buildings are still in existence, some are long gone, some are accompanied with anecdotes, and others with just a chyron to indicate their relevance.
Bogawa also watches his father swing at golf balls, over and over again, at a L.A. driving range; the father uninterruptedly and methodically attacks each ball with the same measured movements as his son, in voiceover, supplies his bio.
In New York, Bogawa sets up his camera outside shops in Chinatown for long unbroken stretches. His voiceover commentary is particularly rich and wry as he recounts the anger of a restaurant employee who is tired of being stared at: He agrees to be filmed only to later pour pig’s blood in the exhaust fan to vengefully splatter Bogawa.
In Hawaii, our intrepid filmmaker goes skeet shooting at a friend’s house in the mountains, and ponders John Ford’s ersatz recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, now taken as undisputed documentary truth. Bogawa shoots skeets instead of airplanes against the identical mountain backdrop.
Snapshots from his own childhood, photographs of ’70s punk bands, random pages of the L.A. Weekly, all stubbornly inserted in context, somehow bring to mind the navel-gazing stare of Yasujiro Ozu, the title of whose silent film about childhood Bogawa has appropriated as his own.