Michel Auder is dying and his life is flashing before our eyes — that’s the premise, at any rate, of “The Feature,” a video diary by the former Warhol Factory associate and a probable must-see for collectors of Warhol ephemera. It is a profoundly indulgent work — what three-hour filmed memoir wouldn’t be? — but the memory of Auder’s memory will linger on for the handful of resilient experimental-film fans who see it. Escape from the artiest of art cinemas seems unlikely. Pic opened March 16 at New York’s Anthology Film Archives.
The film is a bit of a slog, although there are payoffs for those with enough persistence to weather Auder’s vanity and a considerable amount of dead space between the startling moments — which, of course, makes those moments all the more startling. The first of these is Auder’s diagnosis: A physician tells the filmmaker he has a malignant brain tumor that will, very shortly, kill him, unless radical measures are taken. Auder, who has had the foresight to bring a cameraman to his doctor’s appointment, says no, he’d rather go his own way. But as all of this has been preceded by an onscreen disclaimer — “This narrative is not a true account” — one assumes the cancer story is a sham.
It well may be, but it’s also an intelligent device, given Auder and co-director Andrew Neel’s choice to Ping-Pong back and forth in time between contemporary Auder and the past: his marriages (to Viva, the Warhol “Superstar,” and photographer Cindy Sherman), his fatherhood, artist-hood, junkiehood and days in various other ‘hoods, from the ungentrified East Village to Paris.
Pic uses Neel’s contemporary footage to knit together 40 years’ worth of compulsive shooting by Auder — clearly an attempt at an oft-sought literary/cinematic goal, the emulation of human consciousness. Auder’s narration is low in the mix, a mutter, a virtual conversation with himself; there is an almost logic-free pattern to the transitions between past and present. Sex is ever-present — real and/or hoped for, and reflected in the younger Auder’s penchant for crotch-level shots –and seems perfectly in keeping with the randomness of the male brain.
Once the viewer get oriented to this, “The Feature” — which is, paradoxically, premeditatedly random — makes certain sense. It may not be any more palatable, but it has a process behind it.
Production values are low, much of the shooting having been done on the fly and in a variety of media, but editor Luke Meyer does a terrific job of tying loose ends together in a film that is a snarl of old memories, motives, regrets and some degree of satisfaction.