The latest technology doc from Australian filmmaker Matthew Bate (Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure), Sam Klemke’s Time Machine documents the personal journey of its titular figure, over nearly four decades of personal progress. A selection at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, premiering a year after Richard Linklater’s Boyhood was praised for its encapsulation of childhood and adolescence, Bate’s film focus around the struggles of maturity and carving one’s path out in life. The film opens in 1977, with a skinny, optimistic, nineteen year old Klemke relaying to his Super 8 camera a desire to provide annual personal status reports, to enable his growth as an individual, and eventually realize a dream of becoming a filmmaker. Yet as later reports come to fruition, his life takes on a very alternate path, beset by shortcomings over success.
Bate’s involvement in the film is decidedly more of a curator than director, wading through an assortment of clips from Klemke’s archive, selecting the most pivotal moments of his endeavours. In 2011, Bate contacted the titular figure after he became a viral sensation through posting a heavily condensed version of the footage on YouTube. While belonging to the recent trend of self-documentation in popular culture, Klemke’s initiative predates others efforts by nearly a lifetime, while at the same time acting as a precautionary tale for younger, more impressionable adults who feel their online footprint won’t outlast them.
Interwoven into the primary narrative, Bate includes footage from the NASA Voyager 2 mission, which commenced in 1977, alongside Klemke’s recordings. Juxtaposing a smaller, intimate journey against this vast undertaking of humanity creates a compelling, albeit futile rendering of life’s pursuits. The key aspect of the mission, in which phonograph records were placed onboard the unmanned planetary probe, with sounds and images about the versatility of Earth and life, holds much in common with Klemke’s own goals of amassing a substantial documentation of human experience. Were it not for the invention of video-sharing sites as a popular medium, Klemke’s archive may have been doomed to be lost in the vastness of time and space, much like NASA’s spacecraft.
As such, Sam Klemke’s Time Machine is a reminder of mankind’s obsession with memory, experience, reflection, and desire for self-improvement. The vicarious nature of directly experiencing Klemke’s viewpoint ultimately connotes a varied portrait of life, while representing the commonalities of the human condition.What could have amounted to nothing at the hands of Klemke has been resuscitated by Bate, into an absorbing, yet candid take on one individual’s development and the surprises that emerge along the way.