Home Video Hovel- Ben Lee: Catch My Disease, by Sarah Brinks
The documentary about Australian musician Ben Lee is titled Ben Lee: Catch my Disease. To quote Battleship Pretension’s own Tyler Smith, “No thank you!” Although appropriately I think Lee’s disease is: pretension. I had never heard of Ben Lee before this movie. He is a talented musician and an interesting character but is seriously over opinionated and I found myself more then once rolling my eye and sighing with exasperation during the film.
The film was shot over a ten year period by Amiel Courtin-Wilson. There is footage of Lee as a little kid, his first gigs with his first band Noise Addict, through his career and personal highs and lows. You see Lee find Hinduism, get married, become a step-dad, and eventually become a father himself. Wilson makes some interesting choices with what he chooses to show. He doesn’t seem afraid to let Lee get his thoughts out at any moment on any topic. This is both smart and exasperating. You get a no-holds-barred look at Lee from both his perspective and the the perspectives of his friends. You also get eighty plus minutes of a whiny, pompous pop star telling you his theories about life, the universe, and everything in between.
There are a lot of interviews with celebrities including Winona Rider, Michelle Williams, and Jason Schwartzman talking about how difficult it was to be a young celebrity on the rise. I don’t mean to be cynical but it is very difficult to have sympathy for young celebrities with the world on a string, but without the maturity to appreciate it. In the late 1990’s Lee started a six-year-long relationship with actress Claire Danes. There is a lot of footage of the two of them clearly enjoying young love and celebrity. Danes talks openly about their relationship and what they were both going through as teenagers in love and dealing with fame at such a young age. Lee seemed to have a video camera with him nearly moment of his life because there is footage of the two of them cuddling in bed, kissing on the beach, and traveling together. They each say that they were each others family at the time. Eventually they broke up, but Danes’ openness about the relationship was refreshing and felt honest.
I know great art comes from great suffering, but apparently Lee gets great art from great pontificating. To be fair Lee has been famous since he was fourteen years old and his band Noise Addict was signed to the Beastie Boys’ music label. I do not envy child stars- growing up that way must be difficult- but at the same time that doesn’t mean that they have any real answers or insight into the world.
The film does give momentary glimpses into the monotony of fame. You see him sitting through a string of interviews being asked the same questions- and often stupid questions- over and over again. You see him at a photo shoot and how stagy it is. There is also a great montage of Lee recording radio tags for a bunch of different stations and DJ’s. He also spends a lot of his time sitting around waiting. One idea that he ponders briefly that I found interesting was when he talked about the times that his music wasn’t popular and had “gone out of fashion”. In the end he realizes that is the nature of fashion, it is constantly changing and often recycles itself. I think that must be something that every artist has to consider at some point in their career. Ideas like these are engaging but if the film had taken a handful of these ideas and explored them in context to Lee’s life and career that could have been really affecting. Instead Lee just throws out a million unpolished ideas at the camera with a quirky smirk leaving you unsure if he even buys all the crap he says.
More then once I found myself distracted during the film. Lee bears a strange resemblance to a cousin of mine and when I got bored with listening to him prattle on about the world and fame and ego I would think about that or about why anyone on the planet would wear a suit jacket with t-shirt length sleeves over a long-sleeved dress shirt… Needless to say I did not enjoy Ben Lee: Catch my Disease. Ben Lee fans or music fans might enjoy it more then me, but I can’t get on board with eighty minutes of hipster ponderings.