Art Doc of the Week | Loss of Nameless Things

One of the most difficult things about being a documentary filmmaker is having the courage to accept that the movie you set out to make – the one you fought for, struggled to raise money for, and roughly sketched out in your head before shooting even began – is not quite the movie you’re meant to make. It’s the willingness to let the story tell itself to you, and for you to not shape the story to fit preconceived notions of what it should be. In 2002 director Bill Rose set out to unpeel the real-life mystery surrounding playwright Oakley Hall III, a man with the charisma and powerful sex appeal of Jim Morrison who was once positioned to be the crown prince of American theater. On the cusp of breakthrough success, an unexplained fall from a bridge in 1978 left 28-year-old Hall with brain damage that robbed him of his artistic gifts and profoundly changed his personality. The events around the accident have always been murky, and Rose initially thought his movie would clear up what happened (what ever became of the stranger Hall was drinking with just before he fell?) and perhaps finally tie a neat bow around the story.

Instead, Loss of Nameless Things (named after a line in one of Hall’s plays) foregoes trying to clarify what happened the night of the accident, and instead focuses on who Hall was, and the rewarding life he painfully carved out after the tragic event. The film quietly becomes a moving, philosophical work about who we really are beneath the gifts and strengths we think define us at our core.

Delicately, leisurely unfolding the incredibly rich life Hall lived ore-accident (he died in February 2011) and the impressive life he mapping out after, the film initially pulls you into a feeling of heady ascent and endless possibility: Photographs, old home movie footage and endless glowing testimonials paint a young Hall who was gifted, physically gorgeous and clearly destined for greatness. When his story twists darkly, you feel it viscerally and Loss becomes an often painful meditation not only on the natures of art and creativity, but humanity itself.

What makes us who we are? If we’re stripped of the very qualities and assets we thought were the foundation of us, then what is left? The film ends on a grace note that answers the question with a simplicity that is humbling and inspiring.

Top photo: Oakley Hall III, in Lexington, NY in 1978. Courtesy the filmmaker.