All Light, Everywhere (2021)

It’s been a popular meme among online movie-nerds in recent years to declare “All movies are bad” in self-deprecating irony.  The latest experimental essay from Theo “Rat Film” Anthony actually makes a sincere case for that exact sentiment, damning its own medium as a tool of police & military violence since the moment of its invention.  All Light, Everywhere broadly details the weaponization of motion picture recordings in our racist surveillance state, but it extends that critique to the very first examples of motion pictures, underlining that “All movies are bad” – at least on a moral, political level.  It’s one of those philosophical nightmares that makes you bitter about being born on this miserable hell planet (or at least makes the cinephile in you want to find a new hobby).  It’s also a great movie, even if it is anti-movie.

It doesn’t take much effort for All Light, Everywhere to make a modern audience feel sickened & infuriated by police bodycam tech.  The breezy, self-protective training that cops receive when equipped with bodycams and the smug self-satisfaction of the tech’s biggest manufacturer Axios advertising their wares is difficult to stomach.  Memories of Black citizens murdered by the police state without consequence for the cops who pulled the trigger—thanks to the intentional limitations & biases of surveillance tech—lurk just outside the frame, souring every chipper onscreen boast about its profitability and illusion of accountability.  Anthony even threads those memories into his larger thematic preoccupations with his home city of Baltimore by citing the murder of Freddie Gray as a specific example of bodycams protecting cops instead of citizens.  It’s all emotionally raw, morally corrupt, and worthy of documentation.

Where All Light, Everywhere excels is in connecting that modern weaponization of the motion picture camera back to its earliest uses & abuses.  Early movie cameras were typified by designs like “the photographic rifle” and “the photographic revolver,” leaving behind a language where cameras still “shoot” their subjects.  There’s a hypothetical version of this movie to be made where each new development in motion picture tech was used to further the art & distribution of pornography, but instead Anthony focuses on how they were used to afford the illusion of unbiased automation to morally bankrupt police & military systems.  Police body cameras are just the next logical evolution in a long history of supposedly “objective” motion picture recordings reinforcing the biases of the inherently violent political institutions behind them.

If you’ve seen Rat Film, you know that Anthony does not lay out this political history of the weaponized movie camera in a linear, easily digestible argument.  Instead, scientific explanations of the camera’s “blind spots”, the philosophy of its place in modern culture, its effect on human perception of the world, and the racial politics of Baltimore as a microcosm of the US at large are all loosely mixed in an open-ended visual essay that’s heavier on atmospheric dread than it is on declarative statements.  Still, the movie leaves you disgusted with the motion picture as a medium, no matter how open its arguments are left for interpretation or how much Anthony strives to leave on a moment of hope in the epilogue.  It turns out all movies really are bad.  Bummer.

-Brandon Ledet