Pretty much everyone gets unsolicited calls from telemarketers, surveyers, or politicians, and I think most people would think they know how their phone number got from point A to point B: you filled out a comment card, you entered some contest, it's on your voter registration, etc. But think about it further; isn't there something slightly insidious about how easy it is for someone, be it a person, organization, or company, to get information you probably wouldn't give them if they asked you to your face? And if they have that information, what other information do they have?
Erasing David begins when David Bond recieves notification that some of his information has been lost in some sort of data crash. The news harps on his nerves: what information do they even have? In one of the film's most spooky segments, right at the beginning, David goes about filling out "subject access requests" with any organization he interacts with: his bank, his credit cards, online retailers, and more. What he gets back is fairly astonishing, ranging from government data about all the times he's driven his car into London (an anonymous phone representative says it's monitored in case police need to know where someone's been recently) and even a almost ream of paper from Amazon, which has records of all the items David has purchased or sent. Even creepier is the information he discovers about his daughter; the passport office keeps bizarre records including a biometric image that shows a silhouette of the top half of her head.
Eventually, Bond comes up with an experiment. Armed with cash, his BlackBerry, and camping supplies, he'll try and vanish for a month while a professional private investigation duo known as Cerebus tries to track him down. The material edited into the film is chosen quite well, spotlighting everything from the nuts and bolts of how Cerebus picks up David's trail and their travels to find him, to David discussing with his pregnant wife about whether she even wants him to vanish for a month (specifically during one the baby might be born). It also does a good job of illustrating how the whole experience of having to hide affects Bond's mental state, which doesn't quite collapse but certainly feels aggressively heightened in situations where there's probably nothing to worry about. If there's a criticism to be lodged here, David does plenty of things that essentially put him out in the open: visiting his father, posting a video blog (albeit three days later), checking his email via BlackBerry. Then again, even these fairly obvious maneuvers reveal such a wealth of distressing information that it's hard to imagine how much one would be able to find on a person that isn't actively hiding.
As a persona, Bond has a good amount of self-deprecating humor and a sense of self-awareness, and as a filmmaker, he avoids overly politicizing his desire to make the film and deftly sidesteps any overwrought, manufactured drama. It'd be easy to deliver a more stilted, calculated experience with too much emphasis on the wrong parts of David's story or over-sensationalize the "twists" and "turns" of David's hiding. The only thing that doesn't work so well is the intercutting between past and present; the jumbled timeline doesn't really add much to David's journey, even if it doesn't necessarily detract either.
The film is intercut with interviews from scholars, authorities, and the people in David's life, who make compelling observations about paranoia, privacy, and personal data, and generally pose the question of why people feel the need for increasing amounts of surveillance and documentation when none of it seems to overwhelmingly affect how private one can keep their life. David talks to a psychologist and mentions that one day he counted 200 cameras within a 10-mile radius of his home, and it begs the question: what are these cameras accomplishing? Does the crime rate go down? Do people feel safer? The documentary doesn't have a specific answer, but it's okay. Erasing David is less trying to solve a problem than it is illustrating a cautionary tale about where, how, and why someone would want to access your private info.
Erasing David has eye-catching artwork that highlights the intriguing title and illustrates the concept in a pretty exciting manner. I might've selected different photos for the back cover, but it's a nice package. The disc comes in a transparent plastic Amaray with nothing printed on the inside of the art and no inserts.
The Video and Audio
About half of Erasing David seems to be shot on average consumer-grade HD cameras, but much of it seems a bit more detailed, colorful, and stable than I expect the average digital footage to look. Maybe technology is evolving, or maybe some of it is just shot on better equipment, but the good stuff looks very good, exhibiting lots of fine detail, strong contrast, appealingly natural colors, and no digital ghosting. Even the harsher stuff is quite solid, without any noticeable artifacting or compression issues. Dolby Digital 2.0 is clean and clear, reproducing music and dialogue quite faithfully. The only complaint I have is the lack of any subtitles or captions, which becomes a problem occasionally when the participants mumble, or when the audio is a recording of someone over the phone.
A series of interviews (7:51, 3:56, 3:13, 2:06, 2:06) are first. They're inadvertently organized in order of interest; the first clip interviews the investigator team Cerebus on how people get caught and what they thought of David's attempt to stay hidden, and the second has an amusing idea about how to thwart the system. The others are a bit more vague and philosophical or overarching, and are less interesting as supplements to the film than they are to the general idea of surveillance and/or information. Next, a post-screening Q&A (10:07) finds David interviewing some of the experts who appear in the film on what they thought of the finished film. The three most interesting ideas floated here are how nobody "vets" Cerebus (i.e., although their investigation of David is innocent, there is no system preventing someone else from using that power for malicious reasons), that the investigation would actually be even easier if the investigators were police with access to other things like security cam footage, and finally that David is a middle class white man and therefore not even necessarily the person who needs to be afraid of all of the data and information being collected about him. Extras are rounded out by five quote-unquote short films (5:05, 5:59, 5:28, 5:56, 6:07), which are less like actual shorts and more like unused and/or extended footage from the movie. The most interesting of these clips has David going to interview Paul Rusesabagina, whom many people will recognize as the real-life subject of Hotel Rwanda. He talks about the part identification played in the Rwandan genocide.
Nothing -- nothing at all! -- plays before the main menu. The film's original theatrical trailer is also included.
During a visit with his wife, David and his doctor look at and discuss the information the hospital has, and the doctor insists that the information is protected and won't just be given out, but in the next scene, one of the investigators poses as David and manages to suss out David's wife's appointment date. That kind of thing could easily make someone paranoid, but Bond takes time to detail the nature of paranoia and over-reaction without losing sight of how information can be misused. As a whole, the film may only feel like the beginning of a discussion rather than the end, but it's a brilliant opener, striking a balance between honesty and paranoia that promotes a healthy level of caution, and even though the documentary has a strong focus on the state of life in Britain, there isn't much being dissected here that doesn't apply in America as well. Highly recommended.