It was 11:59pm on June 4, 2011 when Annette Ontell passed away in a Newark, New Jersey hospital.
Does the name sound familiar? Probably not.
She had lived in a modest house at 306 Hollywood Avenue for right around 70 years, marrying her husband Herman raising their two children while amassing the kind of nostalgic clutter that one might expect from a life fully lived in mostly one location. From those two children, two grandchildren were born and it is those two grandchildren, Elan Bogarin and Jonathan Bogarin, who serve as the co-directors for 306 Hollywood, a magical-realist feature documentary set to screen during the 2018 Indy Film Fest to be held at Newfields from April 26 - May 6, 2018 with the film's screenings scheduled for Sunday, April 29th at 3pm in The Toby and on Wednesday, May 2nd at 5pm inside DeBoest Lecture Hall.
After inheriting their grandmother's home, and ultimately all her "stuff," the siblings are at first overwhelmed by the prospect of dealing with it all before coming up with the idea of undertaking a sort of archaeological dig of their grandmother's home with the sort of attention to detail very seldom ever afforded your ordinary average joes of society.
When 306 Hollywood is at its best, the life of Annette Ontell comes vividly to life as the objects of her past help to make us realize that her life, a seemingly ordinary one, is worth remembering.
To say that the Bogarin siblings approach their film with a sense of whimsy would be an understatement. Vibrantly illuminated and masterfully designed, 306 Hollywood at times feels like a fairy tale come to life in Newark. Approaching their project with painstaking detail, the Bogarins find glory and wonder in even the most mundane items such as six cans of Band-Aids that are left behind filled with pennies. I write this statement even as I'm looking up on top of my desk at an Easter basket filled with pennies that I've always meant to cash in but never gotten around to doing it.
I have a feeling Annette would say the same thing.
The siblings, perhaps subconsciously aware that a project might develop in the future, had begun recording their grandmother ten years before her passing with conversations that are simultaneously weird yet revealing and intimate. At times, they seem innocent and curious enough...even when they boldly ask the elderly, widowed grandmother if she misses sex. Other times, and in easily the film's most bothersome scenes, their innocent inquiries seem exploitative of the woman such as when they ask to try on one of her old slim dresses that it's perfectly clear won't possibly fit...it's an extended, uncomfortable scene that nearly turned me against the film's otherwise seemingly good will.
For the most part, however, 306 Hollywood is a beautiful revelation of a film. If Wes Anderson were to make a documentary, admittedly a more disciplined one, one could imagine him approaching much like the Bogarins approach 306 Hollywood. There are little moments of wonder in 306 Hollywood, mostly when those tiny little slivers of personal history reveal themselves and the Bogarins find themselves discovering new facts and old history about their grandmother that is new to them. If you've seen photos from the film, then you already have a good idea of the kind of whimsy to expect but it's rather delightful watching it all unfold.
306 Hollywood has remarkable moments of emotional profundity, though they are too often followed by mind-numbing exercises in visual gimmickry that, even when effective gimmicks, ultimately dilute the film's emotional and intellectual impact. The moments when the Bogarins truly explore Annette's continued presenece in the world through her belongings are genuinely involving, though one wishes the Bogarins would have focused a little more on authentic and genuine and a whole lot less on maudlin.
Ultimately, when the scene that sticks out in a film does so because it exploits rather than celebrates the memory of a loved one, one can't help but think that 306 Hollywood is a bold, interesting experiment that never quite satisfies.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic