Documentaries are tricky to make, but they’re also a bit more challenging to review than your standard and more conventional type of movie. That’s due to the fact that you really don’t have characters, performances, or anything else to really judge. Yes, you have people in documentaries, but it’s not like their performances are what’s going to get your attention. Documentaries have one specific and major goal compared to more traditional type of films, and that’s to really emphasize perspective in the most impactful and unique way that leaves audiences with something that will have a forever long impression on their daily lives. The best kinds of documentaries are those that leave you with something you will forever think about, both in a positive and in a negative way. Blackfish, the documentary that was detailing the killer whale captivity in SeaWorld, specifically with the whale named Tilikum, was very well made and was expertly detailed, but its impact on the whole notion of the dangers of animal captivity surrounding SeaWorld changed people’s perception on even going back to the park. The job of any great documentary is to change or improve society in any way possible. In the case for White Noise, the goal is to confront the alt-right movement and to showcase the repercussions of their actions and what it then reflects for the party they support. Considering the climate we’re currently living in, White Noise is a disturbing and engrossing documentary that manages to effectively draw in audiences much closer to a group of people that comes across as a bit distasteful and disingenuous.
Instead of a documentary detailing every crucial moment with subject matter like this, White Noise focuses on three different individuals: Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who is known for his activism during the Unite the Right rally in August of 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia; Lauren Southern, a political activist and YouTuber who has also been described as a white nationalist; and then you have Mike Cernovich, a social media personality and men’s rights activist who has been categorized as part of the “alt-right,” but not in the way he believes, or even what the media believes.
Director Daniel Lombroso (with this being feature debut, has a great sense of pulling no punches on subject matter that audiences might get uncomfortable with. His approach to this documentary is quite entrancing because he’s able to capture his subjects (whether it’s Richard, Lauren, or Mike) in vulnerable and defenseless situations. This could have been a situation where Lombroso wanted to bash the media or ignore any counter argument from any news correspondent or someone with an prestigious academic background, but what he does is he effectively showcases the true terror and uncomfortable vibes with his three subjects, whether it’s the scary and unnerving scene during Richard’s conference in Washington, D.C., in November of 2016 or the footage of the hundreds of people standing around Robert E. Lee’s stature during the Unite the Right rally. With Lombroso behind the camera, all of these moments feel chilling and eye-opening.
One of the best aspects of White Noise is that it not only shows the downs of being associated with the alt-right movement, it also shows the ups that are involved as well. In the case for Lauren, there are moments where she’s being positively greeted by random strangers who want to show their appreciation for her and work. On the other hand, you have someone like Richard who is, at one point, completely shouted off stage before he could even get a full sentence out. Mike, who seems to be wild canon, really never took responsibility for his words or actions, especially for the Unite the Right rally movement. Lombroso beautifully and hauntingly demonstrates who these people are because Richard, Lauren, or Mike are as they appear in the documentary. The true message of this documentary that Lombroso is trying to convey is really how Richard, Lauren, or Mike reveal themselves to the public, whether it’s in the context of social media clip or a face to face interaction.
White Noise might be a hard sell for people and it’s completely understandable. The use of the same footage utilized by writer/director Spike Lee in the final moments of BlacKkKlansman kind of makes the events of Charlottesville and BlacKkKlansman more impactful by association. That being said, White Noise wonderfully and powerfully showcases the ideas of hatred and that having them mixed in with the need to have attention is what made Richard, Lauren, or Mike dangerous and harmful people to the public, depending on your position on the political spectrum. Daniel Lombroso displays his perspective in a way that feels honest, raw, and totally his own. It casts a spotlight on an issue that shouldn’t be ignored, even if the times we’re currently living in are a bit uneasy. As stated earlier, the great documentaries are the ones that bring light or justice to a specific issue or subject matter and White Noise does that tremendously.
In select theaters and on VOD on October 21st, 2020
Final Score: 4 out of 5.