When Sam Klemke first started recording himself, he imagined that his tapes and yearly check-ins with his life would only be watched by himself and would eventually be thrown out. His recordings stretch back to when he was 19 in 1977, and display him at both highs and lows.
Sam Klemke’s Time Machine, directed by Matthew Bate, strings together moments that Klemke filmed with context, current events, and a juxtaposition of his record with the literal record aboard the Voyager probe. Made (nearly) entirely with archival footage, the film screened at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released On Demand this month.
It helps that Klemke is a talented amateur videographer, as many of the images are shot incredibly well for an artistic value. Bate does an impressive job of condensing endless amounts of footage into an easily understood narrative. The film follows Klemke from ages 19 to 56, capturing his life like a follow-up to Boyhood.
Bate finds a unique and undeniably real character in Klemke, and brings out a complete charization of a man. We see Klemke struggle to make it as an artist, deal with personal issues, fall in love, fall out of love, and handle loss. Some of the best moments involve Klemke commenting on his life when watching the tapes again, groaning at old mistakes and regrets. We see Klemke, warts and all, in this transparent look at life.
Although Klemke’s experiment is somewhat commonplace today on YouTube (in fact, Klemke made a viral video from cutting pieces of his footage together), it’s still a fascinating glance at an “average life,” especially when these depictions were rare. Klemke’s in depth record of his life is fascinating in how casual it seems. He records himself naked in bed, and with his girlfriends and other important people in his life. Some moments seem staged, but that adds to the “home movie” feel where people play to the camera.
The film adds context to Klemke’s life through showing notable events and drawing parallels to the golden record aboard the Voyager that presents humanity to possible aliens. The current events add a bit of context to the world Klemke lives in, but is mainly just sets the mood of the time period. However, one of the film’s best moments is a chilling recording taken at the Space Needle on September 11, 2001, as news comes in to Klemke and his girlfriend.
The final act of the film follows Klemke after his viral video takes off, and he agrees to give his footage to Bate. The film is still fascinating as Klemke continues to record his life, and included several “making of” moments, where Klemke records meetings with Bate and plans the film before handing the footage over.
Although the personal found footage documentary may not appeal to everyone, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine is a fascinating look at a normal life with surprises, sadness, regrets, and humor.
SAM KLEMKE’S TIME MACHINE directed by Matthew Bate will debut worldwide on Vimeo.com starting November 30th.