A legend in his own mind

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images -

Point and Shoot, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 2.5 chiles A self-im­age is a care­fully crafted thing. We spend our ado­les­cence and beyond ag­o­niz­ing over what to wear, how to act, what af­fec­ta­tions to af­fect, un­til fi­nally it all sorts it­self out into some­thing that some­how be­comes who we are.

For Matthew VanDyke, the sub­ject of Mar­shall Curry’s doc­u­men­tary Point and Shoot, that se­lec­tion process plays out on film in a very pub­lic fo­rum. He’s in his late twen­ties when he de­cides to throw off the traces of a pam­pered up­bring­ing and find the self of his fan­tasies. Declar­ing that “ev­ery­one cre­ates their ide­al­ized im­age of how they want to be seen,” VanDyke leaves be­hind the com­forts of home and goes look­ing for a grand ad­ven­ture. He rein­vents him­self as Max Hunter, swag­ger­ing child of des­tiny. He sets out on an over­land-motorcycle odyssey across North Africa and the Mid­dle East, and he brings along a video cam­era to record him­self do­ing it, lest the tree should fall in the for­est with no­body there to film it. It was, he re­flects, “a crash course in man­hood.”

And while there’s un­ques­tion­ably a broad streak of nar­cis­sism at work here, there is also an ad­mirable de­ter­mi­na­tion to act, to put Wal­ter Mitty day­dreams to the test. He even­tu­ally cov­ered some 35,000 miles over some­times pretty rugged ter­rain. And he did this car­ry­ing, along with his back­pack and his cam­era, the added bag­gage of an ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive disorder that had him wash­ing his hands ob­ses­sively and deal­ing with as­sorted other foibles. “Part of my OCD,” he says, “was a fear of do­ing some­thing that will ac­ci­den­tally harm some­one else.”

As a boy, VanDyke dreamed of be­ing a spy. He lived in video games and ad­ven­ture movies. Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Ara­bia was a key role model. In a clip from that David Lean epic, Sherif Ali shouts at Lawrence that the rag­tag army of crim­i­nals and mis­fits he has as­sem­bled are not or­di­nary men, and Lawrence replies, “I don’t want or­di­nary men!”

If Lawrence had had ac­cess to a dig­i­tal video cam­era, he prob­a­bly would have be­come the sub­ject of his own doc­u­men­tary. What VanDyke recorded, as shaped by Curry with added in­ter­view footage of the sub­ject and of his girl­friend Lau­ren, wait­ing for him back home in Bal­ti­more and keep­ing in touch via Skype, is no T.E. Lawrence. But he does get off the couch and live his own ad­ven­ture, and he does don a head­dress and get in­volved in an Arab war.

When the up­ris­ing against Qaddafi broke out in 2011, VanDyke, who had just re­turned to try on a nor­mal life again in Bal­ti­more, packed up his cam­era and headed for Libya to fight along­side friends he had made on his trav­els. He was cap­tured by loy­al­ist forces, and spent nearly six months in a dark filthy hole of soli­tary con­fine­ment in a Libyan prison, a pe­riod dra­ma­tized by Curry in this film with some im­pres­sion­is­tic an­i­ma­tion. VanDyke seems to have been re­leased when the rebels lib­er­ated the prison, although how he got his cam­era back we’ll never know.

When he re­joins his Libyan com­rades-in-arms, he is told to shoot a sniper, and he has him­self filmed as he takes the shot. “I had my­self filmed try­ing to take another hu­man life,” he muses. “What does that say about me?”

What this doc­u­men­tary says about Matthew VanDyke, aka Max Hunter, is com­pli­cated and not al­ways flat­ter­ing. But th­ese are things he re­ally did, not just the fan­tasies of a Bal­ti­more couch potato. It’s all there on film.

— Jonathan Richards

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