Sunday, 31 August 2008


This is in reference to a new indie American film-making movement, shot on DV cameras, with natural sound. As I shot my film The Arubian Nostalgic that way, of course I'm interested in this development.

I have seen three films so far, The Duplass Brother's The Puffy Chair, Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA and Joe Swanberg's Lol. Its one of those movements that works film to film, until you hear its a movement. Then you think its just no-budget indie. How is it different from what's been going on since the 1960's? To be honest its not that different. DV instead of super 8. Its young so far so no-one has O.D'd (that I know of), no director has stabbed an actress in a bizarre love declaration (if anything tied to mumblecore ever reads this, hint hint). None of the interesting things that the 1970's maniacs were up to (my favourite Schrader proposing to two different women at the same time). So to conclude on this area, private life scandals are letting the side down a little.

But the films are pleasingly neurotic. The Puffy Chair and Dance Party USA, while having a few slow bits that most indie films typically display, are excellent. They truly have awkward bastards at their centre. Dance Party USA has a teenage guy who sleeps with lots of girls, who had sex with a 14 year old girl who was sleeping at the time (he's relieved to find out she never remembers it). It's not a plot heavy film, is more about conversations getting slowly off-key, human interaction having dark undertones that are not viewed as entirely unhealthy, as it addresses darker aspects working within the average human. While the characters are capable of doing horrible things, making comments that are obnoxious, the film seems to view these aspects of character as a true portrait of human beings, as something to be worked with. It's a quietly optimistic film within unsentimental terms. The good thing also is that once the film gets going, the conversations, while never always expressive, are fascinating to follow, always going for odd looks, have psychological stutters as character beats, so the film always feels to be intriguing. Film also has some terrific shots of people wandering around.

The Puffy Chair is also about inexpression, although its more structured towards plot. Its about two brothers and one of the brother's girlfriend going to collect a puffy chair that resembles one the brother's father once had. The brother with the girlfriend is a bit of a dick really. He causes problems by being cheap, has violent tendencies once pushed to a degree, cannot express himself very well, to a childish extent when dealing with simple emotions, is self-pitying and crude. Says dude a lot (never a good sign, check for syphilis). The other brother is a bit of a flake who gets married for a night then walks away, gives a lot of new age ramblings. He does very irrational things through-out, is likely a cause of agony within the family due to the fact he simply will not grow up. Essentially, in a horror movie, he'd be the first one murdered brutally. The girlfriend is a bit self-delusional, romantic, is in some ways the least fleshed out as she isn't as unpleasant as the two brothers. Its got that distance that some male directors have when they have a female protagonist, that they don't want to be called a misogynist. Despite this, she and her boyfriend have some pretty good fights that are far more interesting and honest than you normally get in film, is about their frustrations with what the other isn't. It's a very good film despite this flaw. The reason I bring it up is that it separate a good film from something that could have really been wonderful. The film flows in interesting ways while sticking to the point of three people on a journey, has a nicely downbeat ending.

Lol is the problem film as it has lots of dysfunctional males and sentimental females (in the same let's not be misogynist fear vein) but is a lot less interesting. Its all about technology and how that distances us from emotions but is basically its not got interest with characters. The point is made then remade that technology can take over people, make them flat and disconnected. The characters meander through scenes that have obvious conclusions and very little analysis. There is a character who makes odd music sounds, with on-line girlfriends all over the country, that is interesting but he is seen but never developed to the depth that could have done something new. He's taken to the point you'd expect in a indie film. There's a character played by the director (Swanberg) who is annoying throughout, without ever being interesting. Again does everything you'd expect. I read a lot was improvised and you sense that. There's no pleasure that a proper written scene could give you, yet the film is visually dull so no-one wanders through intriguing landscape, have interesting interaction, even awkward talks, even focused sub-textual purpose. Problem with the film is it's the indie version of watching an action movie where you know the cliches, which are played out to rote. There is little life to it, being far the dullest of the three. It's watchable but that's about it.

So to conclude, mumblecore is showing signs of life, is less sentimental than the indie films we've had the last ten years. Now its a case of keeping it up and not getting into the coke and whores (unless the DV camera is turned on and pointing in the right direction of course)

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