• [The Daily] NYFF 2017: Kane and Koury’s Voyeur

    By David Hudson

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    This is the documentary that put an end to Steven Spielberg’s plans to produce a narrative feature—to be directed by Sam Mendes—based on Gay Talese’s book, The Voyeur’s Motel. Spielberg had bought the rights after the New Yorker ran an excerpt in its April 11, 2016 issue, but by November, when Mendes caught wind of Myles Kane and Josh Koury’s Voyeur, the project was called off. He and screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns watched Voyeur “and looked at each other at the end and said, ‘we can’t make our film,’” Mendes told Deadline’s Mike Fleming Jr. “It’s difficult to talk about it without giving away what is so wonderful about the documentary, but it has so many things that are wonderful and can only be achieved by a documentary.”

    Before moving on to all that wonderfulness, one more wrinkle. At the end of June 2016, just weeks before the book’s publication, Talese disavowed it. As Paul Farhi reported in the Washington Post, The Voyeur’s Motel “chronicles the bizarre story of Gerald Foos, who allegedly spied on guests at his Colorado motel from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s. But Talese overlooked a key fact in his book: Foos sold the motel, located in Aurora, Colo., in 1980 and didn’t reacquire it until eight years later, according to local property records. His absence from the motel raises doubt about some of the things Foos told Talese he saw—enough that the author himself now has deep reservations about the truth of some material he presents. ‘I should not have believed a word he said,’ the 84-year-old author said.”

    The very next day, July 1, Talese changed his tune, telling Alexandra Alter in the New York Times, “Let me be clear: I am not disavowing the book, and neither is my publisher. If, down the line, there are details to correct in later editions, we’ll do that.” Alter also spoke with New Yorker editor David Remnick: “The fact that [Foos] could sometimes prove an unreliable and inaccurate narrator is also something that Gay Talese makes clear to the reader, repeatedly, and is part of the way Foos is characterized throughout the article.”

    “Was this ardent Peeping Tom, asked Talese, ‘a version of Hitchcock’s Norman Bates?’” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. “Or was he, instead, ‘a harmless, if odd, man of “unlimited curiosity”?’ The article, and the controversial book from which it was excerpted, hammered on that question in a fearless, probing way. It was an intimate feat of journalistic daring—a high-wire study written by a master reporter-observer. But Voyeur, the new documentary about how Talese came to write that story, isn’t nearly as provocative. It offers a sprightly glimpse of Talese’s life and career, and it lets us spend a fair amount of time with Gerald Foos, who turns out to be a friendly bearded Middle American galoot who comes off less as a poster boy for perversion than as a stubbornly ‘normal,’ rather unyielding customer.”

    Voyeur is “a fascinating accounting of a journalist’s process, detailing the push-pull of patience, resistance, and resilience in his decades-long attempt to get Foos on the record, and how that exhaustion may have led his famous instincts to fail him,” writes Flavorwire’s Jason Bailey. “But the filmmakers also resist the urge to tsk-tsk, acknowledging the structure and artifice in their own work, while following this bizarre and often riveting story down its many blind alleys.”

    “Setting aside its glossy production values, which nearly make it too much of a visual confection to take seriously, Voyeur is complex and well-researched, with several formal surprises,” writes Cosmo Bjorkenheim at Screen Slate. “From Gay Talese’s Batman Forever-style gearing-up montage (‘dapper’ would be a serious understatement) to the painstakingly constructed models of affable scopophile Gerald Foos’s infamous Manor House Motel, Voyeur makes a banquet out of—let’s be honest—very dry material (it’s really just Talese and Foos reminiscing, after all).”

    Talese’s “dedication to the subject clouded his judgement over clear discrepancies in the work,” writes Craig Hubert at the Literary Hub, “and watching him bounce back and forth between defending and disavowing the story is a painful lesson for any writer in pursuit of the truth.”

    Update: “Making the thematic point that Talese and Gerald Foos, the subject of his book, are not so different in their obsessions, Voyeur emerges as a provocative portrait of a journalistic train wreck,” writes Frank Scheck in the Hollywood Reporter. “Despite its many fascinating elements, the film doesn’t succeed in fully exploring its subject matter. . . . Ultimately, Voyeur feels very much like the book that inspired it. It’s compulsively fascinating, but it doesn’t dig deeply enough below the surface . . . and it’s creepy.”

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