Unless a person has been incredibly and ridiculously fortunate over the course of their life, almost every human on the face of the planet has experienced the death of a loved one. For a lot of people, myself included, the first death you experience is one of your grandparents’. I lost my first grandfather on my father’s side when I was five years old, I still remember bits and pieces of his funeral almost thirty years later. I now have no grandparents left, having lost both of my remaining grandfathers within a little less than a year of each other (I had a long time stepmother since I was eight, who also passed away last year, explaining the fact that I had three grandfathers).
The reason I mention all this is because 306 Hollywood, directed by Elan and Jonathan Bogarin, is a journey through the life and death of their grandmother, Annette Ontell, who in the final credits the directors dedicate the film, as one of their mothers (in addition to their mother Marilyn Ontell). I can also relate to this because my parents divorced when I was a small child and we lived with my mom’s mother and father on and off from the time I was five until I was about 13.
“…a journey through the life and death of their grandmother…”
The Bogarin siblings are part of a very close-knit family. They live in New York, as does their mother, Marilyn, but they lived close enough to their grandmother who lived in New Jersey on 306, Hollywood Avenue. Elan had been recording interviews with her grandmother, Annette for 10 years. We are privileged to see a great deal of this footage throughout the film. Unfortunately, we experience all the interviews and everything that takes place in 306 Hollywood after Annette’s death.
When Annette dies, her daughter Marilyn is tasked with the extremely difficult task of clearing out her deceased parents’ house (her father had died many years earlier) of over 100 years worth of stuff. Annette was of the mind to simply just throw everything away, but Elan and Jonathan had another idea. After hearing from funeral director, Sherry Anthony (who we see in the film), that a lot of the time after a person dies, their spirit remains on Earth, typically in their own house, for 11 months (you can come to your own conclusions as to whether or not this is true, of course).
Using this logic, Elan and Jonathan convince their mother to keep the house for 11 more months, so that they can go on an “archaeological dig” of 306 Hollywood Avenue. Their mother is seen on camera laughing and calling them “ridiculous” and “fucking lunatics”, but she lets the siblings do it. What follows is nothing short of one of the most magical, entertaining, and touching documentaries I have ever been lucky enough to watch.
“…a beautiful documentary filled with magical realism and most importantly the heart and soul of their grandmother.”
The siblings use a mix of narration, re-enactments, camera trickery, expert interviews, and more to bring us the lives of the entire Ontell family, but particularly Annette. She was a fashion designer who loved to hang on to everything, and deeply loved her family. We learn about her dearly departed husband Herman, an accountant who shared Annette’s love of stuff..including every tax book ever made, a saxophone, and a giant telescope. We also learn of the tragic life of Marilyn’s brother, David, who was a twice married schizophrenic who died at age 48. We are told all these stories not only by the directors, but mostly by things that still remained in the house.
In 306 Hollywood, we learn the importance of houses as historical landmarks for families, and also how the stories of everyone, not just those of the rich and famous, are invaluable to the history of humanity. We hear from several experts in their fields, including Robert Clark, an archivist for the Rockefeller family, who also shows us some of his families artifacts; Rita Fioravanti, a librarian at the Biblioteca Casantense; and MIT Physicist and novelist Alan Lightman. Everyone gives their own take on the importance of archiving and how to keep the past alive through the things that people leave behind.
The Bogarin siblings use many methods of storytelling to tell us the tale of their family, creating an atmosphere in 306 Hollywood that is Errol Morris-meets-Wes Andersen. It’s a beautiful documentary filled with magical realism and most importantly the heart and soul of their grandmother. It’s the best thing anyone could have possibly done in the memory of a loved one and a poignantly valiant effort. It’s easily the best documentary I’ve seen in quite some time and definitely the best of this year.
306 Hollywood (2018) Directed by Elan Bogarín, Jonathan Bogarín. Featuring Annette Ontell, Elan Bogarín, Jonathan Bogarín.
10 out of 10 stars