Last night HBO premiered its new video collage documentary Me @ the Zoo, a strange and depressing look at Mr. Leave Britney Alone himself, Chris Crocker. Crocker, if you are lucky enough to not remember, was a YouTube sensation who, in 2007, made an impassioned video plea begging all of us to stop harshing on Britney Spears in the wake of her disastrous comeback performance at that year's MTV Video Music Awards. It was eventually revealed that Crocker wasn't being entirely "real" in the video, he was instead giving a bizarre performance, but whatever his motivations, the video, both reviled and celebrated, made him instantly famous. For a few weeks, anyway. Me @ the Zoo catches up with Crocker in the less splashy present day, while also tracing his rise to the internet bottom.
The film, directed by Chris Moukarbel and Valerie Veatch, originally started as a look at the general idea of internet fame, specifically the kind found on YouTube, hence its title, a reference to "Me at the Zoo," the first video ever uploaded to the site. That was perhaps too grand an ambition for these untested filmmakers, so they eventually decided to focus solely on Crocker, while touching on the bigger topics of web infamy and the celebrity-industrial complex at various points throughout the film. So mostly we get shaky-cam shots of Crocker at his grandmother's home in Tennessee, where he lives like a kooky, cooped-up madman, recording videos that are all at once angry and vulnerable, nonsensical and biting. Due to the film's smeared, elliptical quality -- videos are strung together in seemingly arbitrary fashion -- it's hard to tell when in time the particular videos are from. But for the most part it seems like the more ebullient, manic Crocker — who contorts his face into anguished devil-clown rictuses and affects odd, screeching accents — existed before the whole Britney business, and then, in the deflating, tumbling years after, Crocker retreated a bit, grew older and, if not serious exactly, slightly more aloof. It was an interesting and strangely comforting transition to watch last night, even though Crocker's recent life seems a bit off-kilter.