Video pioneer Michel Auder’s The Feature manages to fulfill the holy trinity of experimental “diarist” home movie tendencies: narcissism, exhibitionism, voyeurism. These don’t have to be pejoratives — such elements can fuel the perversely intimate treasure trove allure of this subgenre — but Auder’s approach is often needlessly obscure and oblique, revealing their potential downsides.
Tumultuously married to Warhol star Viva, love-triangled with Larry Rivers and his spouse, pulled out of heroin addiction by second wife Cindy Sherman, Auder has spent the last four decades wedded, figuratively and literally, to NYC’s art scene. A three-hour autumn years reckoning, The Feature spans the graduating evolution of video technology — from ancient vapor trail Portapak footage to the crisp hi-def of a nostalgia-tinged present — and makes good on Jonas Mekas’ concept of catching “brief glimpses of beauty” with saturnine, faded familial and road trip recordings. Equal emphasis is placed on uncomfortably candid and taboo personal moments that become fictionalized in the attempt to capture their immediacy: Auder and Viva using cameras as interrogative weapons during an argument, Auder and junkie friends combing bombed-out Reagan-era Alphabet City for a fix, Auder secretly filming himself bedding a hooker.
Yet the whole is near demolished by Auder’s maddening voice-over, a bored third-person muttering intoned in an impenetrable French accent. Along with pseudo-documentary scenes from 2007 that fail to satirize the project’s veracity and self-indulgence with Hemingwayesque moments of outsized machismo (Auder blows up a car with a machine gun — no joke) and a terminal condition frame story, the director/star’s remove from his own powerfully observed stories frequently makes us windowlick a glamorous, out-of-reach bohemia as much as relate us to its ostensible universality.