Filmmaker and Harvard professor Richard P. Rogers died in 2001, leaving behind him a couple hundred hours of unused footage, much of it labeled "Windmill" and relating to an unfinished film about his own life. Rogers' wife, photographer Susan Meiselas, asked Alexander Olch, a filmmaker and former student of Rogers' who moonlights as a designer of fancy ties, to sift through the footage. Olch emerged with The Windmill Movie, much more than a dutiful reconstruction of a long-gestating project or a student's letter of appreciation to his teacher, though in small ways it is also both those things. Olch quite miraculously weaves Rogers' beautiful, often forlorn filmic record of the Hamptons in with various other sources-including Super 8 shot by Rogers' father-to create a surprisingly uncompromising and moving picture of Rogers' life.
Very conscious of people's likely limited patience for hand-wringing over a privileged Hamptons-Dalton-Harvard upbringing, but nonetheless fixated on examining the things that left him most dissatisfied (his sex life, his parents' wounding disapproval of his choosing creative endeavors over profitable ones), Rogers apparently agonized for decades over what form to give his introspections. The Windmill Movie offers an intensely private and sometimes unflattering, though never quite discomfiting, view of its subject. Taking cues from his teacher's relentless self-criticism and keen interest in what it meant to dramatize aspects of his own life, Olch incorporates voice-over readings of candid journal entries he wrote from Rogers' perspective and also scenes in which character actor Wallace Shawn plays Rogers. These fictional elements, particularly the Shawn reenactments, are the film's least satisfying parts, but they do allow Olch to foreground his own struggle to give the material a shape without becoming a more distracting first-person presence.
As it did at the New York Film Festival last fall, Rogers' 1970 short Quarry precedes The Windmill Movie on the Film Forum bill, a marvelous bit of programming that exhibits Rogers' continued fascination with the atmospherics of formative summertimes. (It's also a merciful reminder that Rogers took on subjects other than himself.) Olch's film absorbs and affects, and Quarry adds to the program a sense of genuine discovery for those unfamiliar with the late filmmaker's work.