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October 28, 2010

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Tom Russell

"For the micro-indie filmmaker who's not promoting his or her work as a ticket into the mainstream... genuine audience-building remains a huge challenge."

Oy vey, you can say that again.

Ernie DiGregorio

Here's what might help some of the micro-indie filmmakers build an audience:

Make movies that aren't about you and your cadre of friends. Look out into the world for your stories and characters. USE YOUR IMAGINATION. Maybe even sprinkle in some humor. Direct your actors in a Non-Bressonian manner, since the whole dead-eyed and emotionless style of acting is for lazy directors and lazy actors. Use music as a counterpoint to a scene, not to underscore it, which means you might have to ditch the faux-Six Organs of Admittance/Bonnie Prince Billy noodling that seems to accompany most of your movies.

Just some ideas.

And remember: there are a lot of people out there under the age of 30 who didn't go to Brown.

Hollis Lime

I have barely any experience with "mumblecore" or whatever you'd like to call it, so take this with a grain of salt, but from my limited experience, the problem for me isn't that it depicts middle-class white people (Noah Baumbach and Wes Anderson do that and I find their films wonderful, though I found the former's "Greenberg" disappointing) or that the films are about self-involved young people ("The Mother And The Whore" is about self-involved young people and it's one of the best films ever made). The problems are that they don't seem to care to deal with the characters critically and when you strip satire from it, then you just have the characters, who all are basically seeking stability, and are therefor, extremely boring.

Throwing a grenade to stability should be the impulse of young filmmakers and artists, because stability=complacency, and complacency is the antithesis of revolution. The enemy of radicalism. It should be the impulse of the young artist (and artists of any age really) to strike an audience out of it's complacency, not compliment it, which is the last thing we need from cinema or art in these times.

But who knows, maybe I just haven't seen the right ones (I'm open for suggestions). I'm not in a rush though, I'll admit.

Tom Russell

@ Ernie: Well, some-- actually, I'd say "most"-- micro-indie filmmakers do just that, but still have an awful hard time finding, connecting with, and building an audience, as evidenced by the fact that no one's heard of most of these other films and their makers, but everyone has an opinion on "mumblecore" (which indicates just how much more successful those filmmakers have been at building some audience, however small). In fact, I've heard some fellow filmmakers argue-- how much of it is bitterness at being left behind and how much of it is objective analysis, I'm not sure-- that not adhering to the style/cliches of that particular indie scene of which you're not fond makes it *more* difficult to get critical attention in some circles and thus to build an audience.

I know I've been told by more than a couple critics that the films my wife and I make don't work because we don't use a faux-verite style of camera work, writing, and acting-- said style, or so the implication goes, being the only one that suits video and independent film. Critical support is a vital part of attracting what little audience there is for films made at this budgetary level, and when a certain strain of independent film is championed (or, yes, sometimes special-pleaded) to the exclusion of others, it results in what is, as you might gather, a rather frustrating state of affairs.

But setting aside that bag of apples, let's face a salient fact: it's challenging for any micro-budget no-name-actor American-made narrative film, to gain/build an audience-- doesn't matter if the films are mumbly-bumbly slices of life or straight genre pieces or avante-garde or whatever. I'm not saying it doesn't happen-- it does-- but I think the difficulty has less to do with whether or not the films are navel-gazers and more to do with certain apathies towards shoestring-budgeted films that don't hail from a former Soviet satellite nation.

Tom Russell

Wow, that came across a little harsh there in the end. Let me append that I've nothing against foreign-langauge films-- not in the least!-- but that ultra-low-budget films made outside the United States tend to be more warmly recieved-- not to mention distributed-- than American ones.

Ernie DiGregorio

@Tom Russell: You're wrong. They don't do any of the things I mentioned above. Which is why I mentioned them. Nice try, though.

Tom Russell

Ernie: If you're talking specifically about the filmmakers who make the sort of films you're decrying, then, sure, you're right, they don't. But if you're talking about indies in general working at a micro-budget level, which is what I was clearly talking about-- you're full of the worst kind of shit. I'm "wrong"? I don't know the films I've seen, filmmakers I've talked to, and the films I fucking MADE? Fuck you, man.

Glenn Kenny

Geez. I sweat blood coming up with gems like "rest-stop Arby's in a drainage ditch" and does anybody notice? No. It's all micro-indies-suck this and fuck-you that. It's enough to make a guy wonder why he bothers, sigh...

Tom Russell

"Rest-stop Arby's in a drainage ditch" does have a certain resonance, Glenn.

haice

Glenn: I'm still enjoying your comment a while back concerning pot brownies and Kimora.

I.B.

DRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINAGE!

I.B.

Huh, sorry...

D R

Another thing I don't get in the Wells piece is the stuff about money. The "humiliation" of having no money? In this film? Yes, the humiliation of having no money. That must be what this is about. Having to go back to live rent-free in your mother's giant Tribeca loft. The humiliation must be acute.

Should someone tell Wells about all those people in the world making $11 an hour, or even less? And they have to pay rent? And they're older than 22? And they're not wrapped up in multiple safety nets?

Let's not tell him.

I continue to be perplexed by the attention this movie's getting. The crowd I saw it with barely let off a titter...the whole thing's pretty shrug-worthy, and hovers around excruciatingly vague notions of Malaise and Pain. Factoring in the locations and the casting and the promotion: the narcissism's kind of startling, honestly. And Dunham's "acting" or "being" or whatever Wells would like to call it--perhaps I should apologize for failing to find it "compelling." I guess I'm just not real enough.

Glenn Kenny

I feel your pain, D.R. Even though I did like the film better than you did. And I can understand why it wouldn't necessarily make a big impression on an audience, and it ties in with what I said above about the inability to connect. I think Dunham's actually got some genuinely "marketable" "skills," and it will be those that she's gonna need to start honing if she's gonna make the successful leap into the world she aspires to work in. Because very few in the "real" world give a good goddamn about the "very very hard time" her Aura believes she is having. And also because there's no subtext to it—"TF" isn't like a Rohmer film where you can kind of look beneath a character's mask and motivations and find anything that relates to a larger pattern, aesthetic or (heaven forfend) moral. (Few of the people in either of Dunham's worlds, the fictitious or the social, have any conception of, or concern with morality. No, I'm not even kidding.) Someone on the thread at Wells' post mentioned Tamara Jenkins, which I thought was spectacularly unfair, not least because Jenkins' work in fact teems with actual subtext. In any event, we'll see what Dunham does with the train set she's about to get for Christmas.

Victor Morton

"And also because there's no subtext to it—"TF" isn't like a Rohmer film where you can kind of look beneath a character's mask and motivations and find anything that relates to a larger pattern, aesthetic or (heaven forfend) moral."

It's telling, and not in a way that reflects well on the persons Mr. Kenny describes, that he mentions Eric Rohmer.

That man began his career making movies with basically no money, yet almost 50 years later, SUZANNE'S CAREER remains a creditable achievement and THE BAKERY GIRL OF MONCEAU is stone-cold great, just 23 minutes long but still fully and no-allowances-needed in the same league as the masterpieces Rohmer would make later when he had full access to one of the world's top film industries.

What Rohmer did was express what he wanted via an aesthetic he could afford -- 16mm black-and-white with some sound but mostly copious post-synch narration/voiceover, which emphasizes the gap between what people think and how they act, and let him get into multiple characters' strategems. Exactly what many of his films to the very end were about. What he didn't do was try to be "real" as if that's either cheaper or easier to do than a stylized work like MONCEAU or CAREER.

Hitchcock, to name-drop another of film's great artists, was asked by Truffaut what he thought of the then-burgeoning film school movement, and he said it would be good only if the students had to make silent films. Not only does sound make films more expensive and difficult to make, but, as Hitchcock explained, a silent film-maker has to get images for everything he wants and there's just no better training than being forced to do without literature.

Glenn Kenny

@ Victor: Oh, believe me, I'm entirely aware of what I was implying when I brought up Rohmer. And I'm sure you're aware that I was aware and, etcetera, etcetera.

I think it was Soderbergh himself who said one undesirable side effect of advances such as the RED camera and other such devices was that it was gonna result in an initial wave of pretty professional-looking mediocrities, and what we're seeing at the moment is the critical and regional-festival-driven buttressing of a not-quite movement that may just wind up being the cynosure for such cultural production. I mean, "Open Five" looks pretty good, and it was shot by Joe Swanberg. To say that previous efforts shot by Swanberg looked like ass would be to insult ass. Is Swanberg learning, is the equipment he's using better, or is he just shooting so much that Audley could pick and choose from a variety of results? We can't say. Similarly, people talk about "Tiny Furniture"'s look and get all excited because it was shot by Jody Lee Lipes, who's a REAL cinematographer. Yeah, the stuff he's shot looks pretty damn good, but that doesn't make the guy John Alton, never mind Christopher Doyle. But I could see if you're some overworked underpaid digital-ink-stained boho striver pushing your mid-'30s with a bulldozer how you'd be impressed to be running in circles in which Lipes will gladly have a beer with you, and how this would make you wanna tell the world, via whatever doomed print organ will give you the space and crap money, that Jody Lee Lipes is a REAL cinematographer. Blah, blah, blah. Do I sound bitter? Because if I do, I don't mean to; I am kind of sad, but not for myself. At all.

Anyway. I remember reading a story about Clay Felker's tenure running the Village Voice, about him waving some article about Jimmy Cliff in Robert Christgau's face and screaming, why aren't we doing a cover story on this guy, this paper says he's going to be a superstar, etc., and Christgau says, "He's not going to be a superstar" and Felker screams "Why not?" and Christgau says, "Because he doesn't have enough TALENT, that's why." And what we're going to see next, really, is if Dunham has enough talent to stay at the place, or go beyond the place, that "Tiny Furniture" has brought her to. In any event, that place isn't anywhere near the one that Rohmer quite definitively staked out with his early work.

Jeff McMahon

"Throwing a grenade to stability should be the impulse of young filmmakers and artists, because stability=complacency, and complacency is the antithesis of revolution."

I just wanted to agree with this statement from earlier, and answer it by saying that few of today's 35-and-under generation(s) have any interest in revolution whatsoever. And if they do, they tend to make well-meaning, slightly patronizing films about the plight of immigrants working in meat-packing etc. which tend to provoke their audience more less towards outrage and transgression and more towards smug nods to each other.

Victor Morton

"And if they do, they tend to make well-meaning, slightly patronizing films about the plight of immigrants working in meat-packing etc. which tend to provoke their audience less towards outrage and transgression and more towards smug nods to each other."

I'd go farther than that. Saying bomb-tossing and audience provocation is the point of art (or even a virtue at all) is a per-se intellectual mistake, for it relies on a reaction which is historically conditioned (i.e., accidental) and becomes impossible in a society where the bourgeoisie prides itself on its bohemianism, on its (intellectual at least) radicalism and on not being epatered.

Hollis Lime

Never said it was the point of art (if there's one unifying point to art, I'd probably say it's to find or seek truth, though that, in and of itself, is pretty vague), I said it should be the impulse. And automatically putting all provocation under the same umbrella is a mistake. Provocation can be good, as long as it isn't empty. Not all provocations are created equal, and sooner or later, a filmmaker(s) will come along and have something to say that is vital, something that a lot of people won't want to hear or won't know how to comprehend aesthetically, but it will be great. You have to have this faith or just give up on the art entirely. And if the bourgeoisie turns it into fashion, which is what generally happens, then so be it, but it doesn't take anything away from the work itself.

"I don't want to produce a work of art that the public can sit and suck aesthetically…. I want to give them a blow in the small of the back, to scorch their indifference, to startle them out of their complacency."

-Ingmar Bergman (coincidentally enough).

Victor Morton

"Never said it was the point of art (if there's one unifying point to art, I'd probably say it's to find or seek truth, though that, in and of itself, is pretty vague), I said it should be the impulse."

Rather than attribute let me ask whether you accept the conclusion these two statements imply -- that provocation produces and/or is a path to truth -- as empirically true itself. (All vague terms I realize, but that pretty follows from those words.)


"And automatically putting all provocation under the same umbrella is a mistake. Provocation can be good, as long as it isn't empty. Not all provocations are created equal..."

Why is it a mistake? Particularly if it's an impulse to art rather the point of art, all provocations pretty much ATE equal and always have some substance underlying them. One might not like the provocations of Ann Coulter or Luis Bunuel (or Leni Reifenstahl or Lenny Bruce), or substantively dislike the ideologies that animate them. That doesn't make either empty.

Victor Morton

And I just realized BTW that the Bergman quote pretty much DOES say what you say you don't -- that we wants to produce in the audience a substantive effect -- to scorch their indifference or startle their complacency as it were.

Which underlines my point -- art becomes pointless if the audience decides (and this is not at all the same thing as "turning into fashion") that it's bad form to be provoked and that it's their role to accept being provoked. (That is, what bobo art-houses today in fact believe.) It turns the whole artist-audience dynamic into as much a "provocation" only to the extent that the Globetrotters and the Washington Generals play a "basketball game."

Glenn Kenny

Victor, darling, I love you, but switch to decaf or something. You just wrote "ATE" where you wanted to write "ARE" (I think; I hope), and I'm not going into comments editing to correct it because it's kind of funny, how it looks. Maybe you were rushing to get to the really exciting, dare I say it, provocative part of your comment, where you seem to equate Ann Coulter and Luis Buñuel, which is something I don't even think Coulter would have the gall to do. And, you know, intention DOES count for something...and whatever "Triumph of the Will" was intended as, a provocation wasn't one of those things. So we're getting into categorical errors here, too.

In any event, I don't see anything terribly awful about artists wanting to look at their products as cudgels against "complacency," but of course it all comes down to how you define "complacency." Few are the works of art that are gonna move you to "change your life," like the Rilke poems says. Many, on the other hand, are the Buñuel films that have moved me to look at certain situations, certain practices, certain existential quandaries, and so on, with fresh eyes, as it were.

Victor Morton

I don't even like coffee.

Glenn Kenny

Good one.

Apropos of not very much, La Coulter used to make semi-regular appearances on 1633 Broadway's 41st floor, where Premiere shared office space with John F. Kennedy Jr.'s brainchild George. This was way back in '96, before she really "blew up," as they say, and before age began to wither, and custom stale, her variety, such as it was. She was a pretty lively presence, I must say, and it wasn't as if John-John wasn't bringing scads of famous people up there every other day...

Furniture Stores

What do 20 something's nowadays know about anything anyway? Seriously...

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