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By Dan Fienberg | September 1, 2002

“ICANSTILLTELLYOURWIFEBILL.COM” isn’t quite a game and it isn’t quite a movie and it’s not quite fiction except that everything in it is entirely made up. The good people at Yardbird Inc want me to believe that this DVD represents the future of narrative storytelling. It’s full of text, graphics, movies, and hypertext links moving you within the story and around the World Wide Web (should you be playing the movie on a DVD-enabled computer with an Internet connection). And while Yardbird may, in fact, be right about the future of narratives blending computers, film, and audience participation, the technology simply isn’t up to par yet. “ICANSTILLTELLYOURWIFEBILL.COM” is more clunky than liberating and the story isn’t quite interesting enough to be worth the effort.
The conceit is a good one: Hartley (Deborah Makahra) is the jilted lover of a political lobbyist named Bill (Roy Werner). Using high-tech surveillance equipment and a knowledge of cyberspace, Hartley begins to stalk Bill and she creates a web site to post hidden camera footage of his encounters with corrupt special interests and a bevy of sexy women. Some of the stuff on the DVD was supposed to have been posted previously, but the plot explains that Hartley’s web host went bankrupt and now we’re seeing her private information including her diary and the contents of her hard drive. Now, viewers at home have access to all Hartley’s dirt on Bill and some dirt on Hartley as well.
In the real world, apparently fooled countless people into believing that it was a genuine revenge website, the Blair Witch Project of the Internet (besides the actual Blair Witch Project presence on the Internet). Presumably all of the material on the DVD was posted on the Net gradually, like a diary or blog.
And that’s probably the way it was meant to be seen. The DVD contains 99 video tracks most of which are very short, between twenty seconds and a couple minutes. Sometimes the tracks are just Hartley addressing the camera threatening Bill, but sometimes we see voyeuristic peaks of Bill canoodling with various partially dressed women in scenarios that are too brief to be more than a taste of titillation. There are few actual payoffs. And watching 99 consecutive teases in a row isn’t fun. It’s frustrating. If you were following the story on a week-to-week basis, you might eagerly await the next installment, but just navigating through the story in one sitting feels wrong.
Really the only reason to visit the site or watch the DVD is Deborah Makahra. She’s sexy and psycho and she has more than a hint of dark humor about her. It’s baffling that anybody would be fooled into thinking she was a real stalker, since there’s nothing natural about this performance. Makahra is an actress having fun with a juicy part. None of the other people featured in the clips are remotely interesting though its tough to tell, since everything is shot in high angles to suggest the clandestine camera. Makahra is the only performer who gets close-ups.
“ICANSTILLTELLYOURWIFEBILL.COM” is set in Washington, D.C. and makes reference to real events and scandals like Chandra Levy and Monica Lewinsky (both sordid stories that also involved politicos named “Bill”). The intersection with reality becomes a bit disturbing when you see the way Hartley’s diary views the events of September 11, 2001 as a mere inconvenience in her relationship with Bill. Although Hartley lives in Washington, her journal only makes reference to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, as if Washington hadn’t also come under attack. This is one of those instances where ignoring reality would have been a better idea than treating it with such callous disrespect.
Go visit the web site. If you find it fantastically interesting, maybe you’ll crave this DVD. For me? All the Hartley I needed was available for free.

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