“There’s something really refreshing and nice about giving up any sense of significance,” says Moby towards the end of his new film. The idea that us tiny humans don’t actually matter within the grand scheme of things, and that we’re all the better for realising it, is put forward time and time again in Moby Doc. It’s done without the hindrance of subtly, too, with numerous shots of our vast universe and all the planets within it making things pretty obvious.
But then, you do soon realise: Moby is telling us this, repeatedly, during a 92-minute documentary that he wrote about himself. “As I’ve gotten older, the world of people just doesn’t interest me as much,” he says at another point. Right. So how come this documentary is so interested in why he and others have chased fame to make themselves feel worthwhile — a thoroughly human pursuit, surely?
It’s just one of the many maddening contradictions that riddle the film. He could, he says at the beginning, just have made “another biopic about a weird musician”, and to be fair to Moby, he certainly has the source material. It’s desperately sad to hear about his neglectful childhood, and “the stain of inadequacy” he felt growing up poor in a rich Connecticut neighbourhood. Tales about how he wrote his breakout hit Go while squatting in an abandoned factory are about as folklore-ish as musician origin stories get. And the recollection of his newfound superstardom, which enabled the unchecked hedonism of drink and drugs that would “corrupt and ruin” him, is the kind of thing that makes a Hollywood film exec see dollar signs.
It’s just that the way in which it’s all told means that it exists in a baffling middle ground. Some of the darker moments, like when he remembers missing his mother’s funeral because he was blackout drunk at home, are told with a movingly melancholic soundtrack. But then there are other bits, like when he reenacts some painful childhood memories with a knowingly amateurish cast of friends, or when he’s talking to an uninterested pretend therapist. Are we meant to be taking this all seriously, or are we being smirked at for doing so?
Moby is commendably honest, and does seem entirely sincere, when talking about the times in which he’s felt close to taking his own life, but the fleeting montage of celebrities such as Anthony Bourdain and Robin Williams earlier in the film feels like cheap appropriation at best. That said, for every egregious editing decision, there’s a nice touch. We see black and white footage of him backstage before coming on to play a gig, and when he walks out, it turns to colour — a clever nod to the redemptive power of music in his life, it seems. There are some pretty notable omissions from the narrative, too (though he calls out his own narcissism and entitlement, there’s nothing further on the Natalie Portman controversy).
So, to recap, by the end we’re left with what feels like three major conclusions. Fame doesn't necessarily make you happy. Humans aren’t as important as they think they are. And we should be much, much kinder to animals - the way in which the film shows us how Moby, now an avowed animal rights activist, has found solace in these creatures at times when humans have let him down is, without doubt, touching.
That last point, about the future benefits of veganism and abandoning animal cruelty, is certainly valid. The first two? We’ve heard them quite a few times before, in much more convincing ways. This is a film as confusing as the man who made it.
In cinemas on May 28