So much for Netflix’s new documentary “Britney Versus Spears”: It certainly wasn’t made to remind her fans.
Directed by Erin Lee Carr, the documentary is aimed at exploring the pop star’s current struggle to escape the conservatism run by her father, who controls her life. On the way there, though, no aspect of Spears ’story can be portrayed as too uncomfortable or personal. The dock has turned its wheel to reconsider Spears’ divorce from Kevin Federline and his time as a tabloid interest, completed in 2007 with vague paparazzi video footage of Spears in an unstable moment. Lutfi and the paparazzo give preference to former Adnan Ghalib, and Spears text messages delivered in Ghalib’s production are run onscreen. At one point, we heard a late-night voicemail message in which Spears hired a lawyer in 2009 to ask for help to ensure he would not lose access to his children.
This amorphous dock is only felt for more than a minute, as it is not clear what Car and collaborator Jenny Eliscu Spears want to say about it. In contrast to the title of the film, the focus of the film sometimes seems to be Car and Eliscu. The pair, a skilled documentary and a journalist who profiled Spears, both appear on camera, and their work of searching for Spears’ story is dramatic by clicking on hidden files or jumping through documents. Eliscu in particular is obviously very emotionally involved by the Spears case, but, more often than not, the interactions between Car and Eliscu are so focused on the thrill of discovery that they lose sight of people trying to help them through their work.
But in creating their own characters in the story, the two journalists end up emphasizing how much new information they finally got. It may not be true that although they started working on the project many years ago, they were beaten by the “Framing Britney Spears” produced by the New York Times, but that’s the reality; The Times documentary, and a brutally effective follow-up this past weekend, helped bring the story to public awareness and, as a result, Carr’s work only enhanced or added to the details of what was known. What’s more, “Framing Britney Spears” was created with a subtle sensitivity to Spears’ plight and with real insights into how she was abused by culture before her conservatism began. An exemplary moment in “Britney vs. Spears” comes when Eliscu expresses her hatred of Spears’ condition: “She gets an allowance, she gets a chance, and her father is in charge.” Whose answer? “That’s masculinity.”
This is certainly not untrue! But it’s the first and most immediately clear idea that a female superstar will live under her father’s thumb. And the desire to make simple decisions about the documentary’s Spears story means that it understands difficult things – as it means, for Spears and all of us, discussing his current lack of freedom. (Spears himself says that the documentary coverage of his life makes him uncomfortable, which is not the only consideration for a journalist. There seemed to be little obvious embarrassment in running Spears’ electrical testimony, where he pleaded, “I just want to get my life back.” If this documentary plays any role in speeding up that process, it also insists that the way to get his life back is to go through Netflix, Car and Eliscu and get a bite of it first.
The temptation to dig deeper into the fall of Spears is understandable enough. Her story is doubly interesting – for both possibilities it gives great insight into our culture as well as details about a particularly charismatic, talented and endless abusive woman. Computing with what has been done with Britney Spears means, presumably, that the two threads cannot be unchanged.
But the story, as it exists so far, has already been effectively told. And watching the culture industry try to bring new ways to package and profit from Spears ’humiliation and suffering very vividly reminds her of 2007 and 2008, where she was metabolized for more content than she could hear. (Many eyewitnesses and commentators were very good at the time.) Netflix adds little to our understanding of Spears’ narrative কিন্তু but for a renewed awareness from viewers, his plight beyond what is known so far, even the biggest media players Can’t resist trying to extract some juice from the inhuman story. Does Netflix think we should release Britney? Sure. But only if we can use Brittany first.