“It’s the 24th of July, and it’s the best day ever.”
When Kevin Macdonald – the acclaimed director behind Touching The Void and The Last King Of Scotland – decided to curate YouTube footage into a feature film, he could not have expected to receive over 44,500hrs of footage from 192 countries. People of all ages, from every walk of life, and from every corner of the world celebrated the idea of recording their daily activities and contributing to this time capsule for the YouTube generation.
That phrase, “YouTube generation”, carries so many ugly connotations – of twenty-something Western youths giggling at kittens in jars and strumming along to True Love Waits – but this film highlights how the farthest reaches of civilisation have embraced this unique phenomenon. Humble American families, Arabian bachelors, quiet African tribesmen, terminally ill housewives – thousands upon thousands recorded the trivial thoughts and activities of Thursday 24th June 2010. The resulting film, Life In A Day, is an astounding, baffling, and strangely moving tapestry of human civilisation.
Under Macdonald’s guidance, the film never feels incomprehensibly fast as the hundreds of clips flitter past. He avoids the obvious dichotomies (East vs. West, US vs. Islam, old vs. young, etc) and chooses simply to tell the story of a day, from 00:01 to 23:59. The resulting story allows for an almost tranquil rumination on the subtle differences between cultures:
How do you cook an egg? In a wok on a street corner? Carefully prepared in a kitchen? Hastily cracking shells over a fire in the Armenian forests? And how do you brush your teeth? On the toilet? In an old pewter mug? With your toes? And how do you get to work? Riding a Shetland pony? Jumping on the back of a Paris bus? Sharing a motorbike into Delhi with three other men? The film allows glimpses of so many ways of living, and the differences between them are more often funny and charming than ominous or sombre.
Macdonald also allows a number of threads to trail through the meta-narrative: an American mother suffering from cancer, a Korean man who has been cycling the world for a decade, a young Latino boy who shines shoes and obsesses over Wikipedia. These eclectic stories are never exploited for laughs or tears – there is simply no time for that here – but the emotional involvement we feel for this chorus of characters colours our understanding of the steady stream of images and clips that flows around them.
The film takes a dark turn with footage of the Love Parade Festival in Germany. The images of herds of innocent revellers collapsing in on one another in the unavoidable crush, while thousands of helpless onlookers watched, is painful and futile. From here the film delves into the Dionyson chaos that, some say, lies beneath the peaceful coherence of everyday life: street fights, baying crowds, Las Vegas excess, Football thugs, rockets and fireworks, bombs, darkness, fire and chaos.
The ending is purposefully trivial and remote: as midnight approaches, and the thunder and lightning envelopes her car in a parking lot, a young woman’s tear-filled eyes glimmer with pride and hope. She has been at work all day, and nothing of note has happened; but somehow she feels that something wonderful has taken place. A life shouldn’t need to be heroic, contr oversial, or glamorous for the wider world to take notice of it. Wonderful little things happen every day, and finally a film has come along that celebrates every single one of them.