- Ghosts of Empire Prairie (2013) Review

Title: Old Man

Also known as:

Year: 2014

Genre: Independent / Documentary

Language: English

Runtime: 170 min

Director: Daniel Schneidkraut

Writer: Daniel Schneidkraut & Andrew Schneidkraut


This documentary takes us through the life of the Schneidkraut family, the cultural history of their home town and its last record store - owned by Andy Schneidkraut.

Our thoughts:
You wouldn't think of Dan Schneidkraut as a maker of easy movies. He proved straight away that he made challenging cinema when we saw his first feature film "Seeking Wellness". It seems to be in his nature to either disturb or challenge, and often both. We left "Invincible Force" as exhausted and beaten as its main character. His newest film is "Old Man". It's a documentary at a massive 170 minutes, and its style is far from easy.

With a poetic narration, long stationary shots, and a wide range of focus, it's actually quite hard to get into "Old Man". The movie is narrated by Dan Schneidkraut. He tell us about the store that his father owns, the last record store in Boulder, Colorado - called Albums. He tells us about his father, about his love and appreciation for his father, stories from many of his family's members, the cultural journey's shared by him and his father, the many times he's been in trouble. At first it's hard to pin point exactly what Dan wants us to take part of, but the longer we watch it becomes clear that it's about the whole of it. As single parts they're all rather trivial, but together they make an extensive history of the culture and people of Boulder. The record store, Albums, and his father are put in center of attention, and everything else builds around them.

It was a bit daunting to take upon such an epic of a family documentary. 2 hours and 50 minutes is a lot almost no matter what you are watching, let alone a documentary about the themes in "Old Man". At first I struggled quite heavily to stay sharp and take everything in. Luckily you eventually sink into the movie, you're mentally in Boulder with Dan and his father. You get to know the town, the cinemas, the hotspots for rock concerts. As the movie progresses you also find all the humanity and personality that originally put me off because of the stale, poetic approach. It becomes easier and makes more sense as time passes - and I'm glad, because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to sit through it all. But the movie grew fast and after this nearly 3 hour documentary was over, I wasn't bored in the slightest. It left me feeling very satisfied because of how it balances interesting trivia, fun anecdotes and personal conversations between people who love each other.

Another part of "Old Man" that makes us feel right at home in Boulder is the cinematography. While nothing fancy is done, it shows us a large variety of real places, similar to those in everyone's own home town. The shots are either extremely pretentious in their stationary voyeuristic ways, or the complete opposite - just serving the purpose of showing us the place, like living photographs. In the end, it doesn't matter if it's pretentious or not because the movie doesn't care. It's essentially about artists (and I mean about people who live their lives with and around art, not those who specifically work with art) so why shouldn't it have its own persona as a poetic documentary? Again, it was hard to begin with, but once it finds its groove I had no problem with its style at all.

It seems to me that with "Old Man", Dan wanted to show a person he thinks very highly of (his father), while also dealing with some of his own past. Maybe not as a way evaluate himself psychologically, but still shed a light on who he is and where he comes from. Both for himself and for his audience. At times it seems odd when the documentary is aimed at his own shenanigans from his youth, but at the same time it makes complete sense. As much as this is about his father and the store, it's all about how Dan sees it and thinks about it. He is the narrator, after all, and he doesn't narrate with straight facts, he does it with nuance and personal opinion.

"Old Man" isn't your typical documentary. It dances around its subjects and paints a picture of a town that we all feel at home in once the movie has passed. The Schneidkraut family prove to have a lot of interesting anecdotes, whether they are funny or sad. Andy Schneidkraut is a lovely man with a ton of stories to tell. He seems to genuinely enjoy life around art and meeting people, and it's very contagious to watch. I'm not sure who would like and dislike this, but odds are that if you grew up being a bit odd, enjoying music and art in general, getting into trouble and had a somewhat rocky childhood, then this is a documentary that will give you a sweet throwback. I mostly had fun with it. It's not pessimistic in the least, but it also doesn't shy away from bad memories and parts of growing up. For a documentary that has a stale, artsy approach, it's refreshingly personal and relatable. Definitely something I would recommend, but I think you should pick your time of watching it very carefully.

Note: I decided to take away the ratings below for this documentary due to its approach.

Positive things:
- Despite being nearly 3 hours long it rarely felt that long.
- Personal and interesting nostalgia.
- A lot of interesting trivia.
- Dan Schneidkraut definitely made it his own.

Negative things:
- Some pointless trivia. I guess it came with the style.
- It's hard to get into at first.
- Even though Andy is the main focus, it's sometimes a bit too free.

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