Spread it or ignore it?
Moby doc (VOD) mixes confessional navel-gazing, career retrospection, and soaring animation and illustration to tell the personal and professional story of how Moby became a thing. And what has become of him? He’s a guy who says, “As I get older, I’m not as interested in the world of people” in a documentary he made about his own life.
MOBY DOC: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The essential: Veteran musician, animal rights activist and famous vegan Moby is no stranger to offering his life as water for the mill of self-reflection. After all, he has published two memoirs that look at his past, a place full of enduring trauma as a child from a broken home, his longing for a mother’s love, the sense of community he discovered in music, especially punk rock, and celebrity absurdism corruption. Oh yeah, and there’s also the question of whether or not he dated Natalie Portman, eighteen, as a drunk musician in her thirties. The social media fallout from that last part canceled Moby and his 2019 book tour, and he took time to step back, record ambient records indebted by Brian Eno, and continue to focus on vegan activism. But with a new album released – Reprise offers highlights of his career in orchestral and acoustic form – Moby looks once again on where he came from, how it all happened and where it all fell apart. Enter the world of Richard Melville Hall’s Moby doc.
Maybe that’s because he publicly revisited his life’s material before Moby and director Rob Gordon Bralver chose a freestyle for Moby doc, a movie full of manipulated movies, expanses of abstraction, mouse puppets, animation, illustration and even a segment with the blinking title card “The Childhood Trauma Reenactment Players”. This mishmash of mediums revolves around bursts of storytelling from Moby – “If I find my perfect existential wallet, then I’ll find perfect human happiness,” something he says he has tried and failed – and a multitude from musical selections, everything from splashes of vintage ’90s MTV rave and stadium-sized electronic music to Moby performing 1999s heavyweights To play with a live orchestra and female singers. David Lynch also spends time to say things like “the negativity suffocating rubber clown costume dissolving and pure gold coming from within”. Ultimately, Moby doc probes the weight of psychic damage – the broken personal stories, the fleeting satisfaction of gambling, the poisoned mental cocktail of addiction and fame. As he goes through career turmoil and sudden fame to global adulation, drug addiction sinking into oblivion and recalibrating toward activism and healthy living, Moby’s final look at his life finds him both perplexed, self-effacing, and consumed with narcissism, someone who feels free to pet a cow or strike up a polite conversation with the Grim Reaper.
What movies will this remind you of? David Bowie, whom Moby calls his favorite musician and with whom he has come to know and collaborate, has been the subject of one of the most extreme examples of excess and dependence on musical creation in the 1974 BBC Television documentary. Cracked Actor. And for another look at the arc of art, performance, sudden fame, mental spazzing, and visual experimentation, there’s Meeting people is easy, Grant Gee’s 1998 Grammy-nominated documentary about Radiohead in the Age of OK Computer.
Performances to watch: There’s a lot of Moby going on here – Moby relaxing at home, Moby talking on the phone, Moby pontificating on stage, and Moby appearing in the VHS archives with long hair and tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses. But when his friends and collaborators express themselves on the spot, they prove to be quite engaging. There’s Lynch, of course, but also musician (Significant Moby) Julie Mintz playing the dual role of performer and player in a celebrity therapy sketch, and artist and illustrator Gary Baseman, who is a endearing lunch companion.
Memorable dialogue: “The animal is almost like an emissary from the vast existential void that we are all so afraid of.” You see, it’s not just about the environmental stress of animal farming, or the tally of health issues associated with eating meat. For Moby, everything, even the docile gaze of the buffalo, is truly existential horror.
Gender and skin: Moby’s mentions of his stripper banter during his days of rockstar excess are accompanied by quick cuts of salacious footage – women in lingerie, greedy stares. An illustration shows him in bed with a naked companion.
Our opinion : “I was thinking To play was going to be a complete failure, you know, because it was a weird, poorly mixed, poorly produced record that I made in my bedroom, mostly involving voices of people who had been dead for forty or fifty years. But then things changed a lot. This is how Moby sums up his experience with the end of century album that would establish boffo sales figures and become a key example of the now constant wake between music licensing and advertising. And that’s typical of the tone he sets throughout Moby doc, where the musician and activist ruminates on his successes and failures with the same luster of grimacing recoil mingled with artistic whimsy. Some facts about the creation of To play, or how its marketing was deployed, would be invaluable. But Moby doc presents this chapter only through the prism of its subject’s memory banks, and describes another part of his life, the cries of excess and rights of the 2000s which, according to Moby, “completely corrupted me and ruined ”, but it was also very good. He’s happy to take his pieces alongside acknowledgments of his success – in one streak, Moby appears in stocks as enemies toss rotten veg and chant “Techno sucks!” – but this success, for the Moby of this doc anyway, seems to manifest itself in a way that is both physical and ephemeral. The flashy animated visuals and self-mockery of the film are therefore part of this version of events.
Because of its construction and the way it relies so heavily on the abstract, Moby doc Rarely engages directly in the performing arts. There are snatches instead, here a solemn and hymnic version of “Natural Blues”, there the singer accompanying himself on the acoustic guitar for “Porcelain”, which becomes an elegy to his deceased mother. But it still contains a load of music and even culminates in a chaotic race through Wayne Coyne’s “Perfect Life” collaboration with the man himself and a cast of merry gonzos. Moby has now remembered another chapter of his career. But Moby doc is probably the best that this permutation of her character has ever looked at.
Our call: Stream it. Moby has always been a pretty cerebral cat, and Moby doc is no different, happily breaking the framework of the traditional musical documentary form to freely associate with its life and heritage.
Where to stream Moby doc