‘Instant Dreams’ Review: Polaroid’s Too-Secret Ingredient

It isn’t often that one watches a film, particularly a documentary, and thinks, “I wish this was more conventional.” Yet that may be your experience of “Instant Dreams,” a picture directed by Willem Baptist about the end of the Polaroid camera and the “instant film” it used.

Baptist’s film begins with full-frame images of bubbling, swirling color, reminding the viewer that photography used to be an analog, chemical process. “The digital dark ages took over our lives … the perfect formula was lost,” one of the film’s human subjects says in a voice-over that sounds ominous indeed. The last portion might be literally true: Edwin H. Land, who founded the Polaroid Corporation, invented the process for instant film but never shared it with anyone. When he died in 1991, the formula went with him.

One of the personages here is Stephen Herchen, a former Polaroid scientist who is now working to replicate that “perfect formula.” Another subject is Christopher Bonanos, who wrote a book on Polaroid; in one scene, which could have come out of a Noah Baumbach movie, he demonstrates the camera to his writer and editor friends at a party. Then there’s Stefanie Schneider, a German photographer who is using her remaining instant film stock to make art stills in the American desert; a couple of her models philosophize nude in a bathtub the shooter has placed out of doors. It’s all a bit eyeroll-inducing.

Baptist’s approach, treating his subjects like characters in a drama, is ultimately frustrating. What kind of corporation was Polaroid, exactly, that it entrusted its most crucial component to a single man? Answers to such questions are not forthcoming. A little more journalism and a little less impressionism might have been called for here.

Instant Dreams

Movie data powered by IMDb.com

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 31 minutes.

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