Wednesday, November 06, 2019

DOC NYC ’19: In Bright Axiom

If you ever find yourself wondering “hey, am I in a cult,” then dude, mostly likely you are. Still, it is understandable why it would be hard to tell in the case of the House of Latitude. Secrecy was supposedly their watch word, but everyone was perfectly willing to participate in director-editor-co-writer-co-cinematographer Spencer McCall’s documentary, In Bright Axiom, which screens during DOC NYC 2019.

The origins of the House of Latitude go back to a fantastical era never documented in official human history. It had been dormant for centuries, but it rose from the ashes in the back alleys and brew pubs of San Francisco.

Just what is the House of Latitude? Essentially, it is the Jejune Institute 2.0. That is why those who have already seen McCall’s previous (and superior) “documentary,” The Institute will quite likely be a bit disappointed in Axiom. It is an unusually slick and stylish hybrid-doc-thingy, but The Institute maintained a greater sense of mystery. Frankly, the Latitude backstory is not as compelling either.

Maybe it is somewhat unfair to consider Axiom under the shadow cast by The Institute, but that film is out there in the world and part of the public record. Clearly, this is what McCall does. Indeed, he genuine has a knack for creating or discovering (whichever) urban lore that explores the intersection of secret societies, conspiracy theories, and new age self-realization double-talk. The quirks and trappings of Latitude are definitely interesting, but there do not seem to be any real stakes at risk in this narrative.

Regardless, Axiom is an endlessly intriguing film on a purely visual level, thanks to McCall and co-cinematographer Colin McAuliffe’s frequently eerie and ethereal lensing and Jeff Hull’s richly detailed art direction. It is never dull, but viewers fascinated by secret histories will find more to chew on in The Institute or Jon Foy’s Resurrect Dead. As for In Bright Axiom, it earns conflicted feelings and a mixed recommendation when it screens tomorrow (11/7), as part of this year’s DOC NYC.