We Live in Public begins with a title card that announces "This is the story of the greatest Internet pioneer you never heard of." Maybe. It's the story of Josh Harris, a webcasting visionary who was worth $80 million at one point. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, he lost it all.
Director Ondi Timoner, who made the terrific DiG! five years ago about the tumultuous relationship between indie-rock bands the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, unravels We Live in Public in a similar manner, with quick edits, flashy visuals and compelling storytelling.
In 1984, Harris went to New York to work in the fledgling tech industry. Within a few years, he was a millionaire, thanks to being several steps ahead of everyone else. He once told a visiting 60 Minutes reporter, "I'm in a race to take CBS out of business." He was arrogant. He was brash. But time and time again, Harris backed up his words with innovative projects.
He first founded a data-crunching company for big businesses; after that, he formed pseudo.com, one of the first live webcasting sites. He had tons of money lying around and was itching to spend it. Harris threw lavish parties, as one fellow web mogul recalls, with "supermodels wearing close to no clothes, sitting on the laps of nerds playing Doom."
Another colleague compares him to Andy Warhol. You can see the connection, especially when Harris tossed 100 people into an underground bunker at the turn of the millennium and filmed every move — the sleeping, the eating, the shitting, the fucking. It's essentially the birth of reality TV.
Like many early Internet entrepreneurs, Harris was a nerdy glasses-wearing kid who felt alienated from other people. So he turned to TV for friendship. "I was emotionally neglected," he says. "So I absorbed the electronic calories of the world inside a television." He was a visionary but also kinda crazy, showing up at business meetings dressed as an androgynous clown (who everyone onscreen tries to psychologically dissect).
Timoner throws images at you as fast as the web churns them out. She started shooting Harris more than a decade ago, so there's plenty of great footage in her captivating documentary. We Live in Public is flashy, stylish and in your face, just like its subject. It's essentially the history of the Internet: the rise, the fall, the rebirth. (And in typical Internet fashion, it's behind the times: A MySpace CEO is interviewed, but there's no mention of Twitter.) It's a fascinating look at the past and possible future.