In a documentary style that adroitly switches between between a film about a delusional homeless man named Augustus Gladstone (played by writer and director Robyn C. Miller) and a film about the team making a documentary about Augustus, The Immortal Augustus Gladstone alternatively intrigues and bores with its uneven pace and over-reliance on first-person interviews in lieu of narrative.
Augustus claims that he’s about 150 years old and that his youthful appearance is because he’s a vampire. But is he? A gentle man whose home is tucked in the middle of a condemned hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon, he doesn’t appear to eat or sleep.
As he shares tales of his adventures in the early 1900s, the film crew (Mischa Jakupcak and Matt Daniels, playing themselves) becomes unsure whether they’re making a documentary about a homeless man in Portland or whether there’s more to the story, whether Augustus might just be what he casually suggests is the case: a vampire.
The blurring of lines between the ostensible hands-off approach of a documentary filmmaker — though no documentaries are objective and unbiased — and the gradual emotional engagement that the crew has for Augustus is terrific. At times I couldn’t help compare it to the fabulous tall tale movies The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Big Fish, except as a lower budget indie production, Augustus feels much more like a stage play with claustrophobic interiors dominating the production other than a few location shoots in and around Portland and a muddled scene set in Las Vegas.
It’s hard to know what to make of The Immortal Augustus Gladstone. In many ways, it seems like it would be a better graphic novel, thoughtful and philosophical, than it is a movie. But there are also scenes such as when Augustus is reminiscing about the time he visited the Paris exposition of 1900 that are powerful and provocative, offering a glimmer of what this film could have been with a better script and edgier take on its major theme.
As a faux documentary, the film works well, though the genre is saturated and the bar for making a believable “mockumentary” that has viewers wondering “wait, is this real?” has raised quite high in the last decade. And yet, Augustus has a blog and there are videos from him on YouTube. Or from the film’s production company. Or Robyn. Or something like that. The Immortal Augustus Gladstone is an interesting puzzle that would be a good addition to a film festival, sure to produce an interesting post-screening discussion.