Life in a Day is a self-proclaimed ‘historic global experiment’, commissioned by Google, who asked YouTube users to ‘capture a glimpse’ of their everyday lives on 24th July 2010 and send it in. The resulting footage (over 4500 hours of it) was sifted through by a team of eleven editors and finally moulded into this 90-minute feature by Kevin Macdonald, a director laden with accolades for previous documentary work including One Day in September and Touching the Void.
Given the amount of potential material, it’s perhaps no surprise that many of these clips are well worth the admission fee alone. Some are genuinely poignant: a Japanese father in a cluttered flat, trying to coax a prayer from an uncomprehending son at his mother’s tiny shrine; an American teen on the phone to his grandma, tentatively revealing his homosexuality. There are laughs: an elderly couple’s rather suggestive wedding-vow renewals; a caesarean birth whose filming is cut short when the cameraman-father finds the moment is too much for him, and promptly faints.
So far, so YouTube session, right down to the arbitrary themes linking each clip to the next (for people falling over, see ‘what’s in your pocket?’). Can Macdonald conjure the whole into anything more? The aim seems to be some kind of one-world humanism, and arc of the passing day does give some sense of narrative – but alongside a similar project like Marclay’s The Clock (admittedly a work of genius) this ends up looking meek in comparison. Without any of Marclay’s extremely restrictive parameters, Macdonald has virtual licence to do as he pleases – but if anything his collection is too multifarious, too random, to build up any real head of steam.
Curiously, the final clip is something of a dud: a girl sits in her car as midnight approaches, telling the camera that she wanted to take part in Life in a Day but didn’t come across anything worth filming. Then she says: ‘But even though nothing happened, something… happened’. It’s quite meaningless, but an appropriately empty strain for profundity with which to end this film. I felt like I’d been gently nudged in lots of interesting places – but never really moved.