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February 05, 2009


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Don, I assume this...

"Or worse, same commenters haven't even SEEN any of Joe's movies, got sick of reading about him and just jumped into the backlash for shits n giggles and some misplaced issues of inadequacy or artistic frustration."

...was a reference to the comments made by Keith Gow and myself. Have you ever commented on a blog post about a filmmaker with whose work you were unfamiliar, wherein you stated how you believed you would react to it? Never?? Really??

And I can't speak for Keith beyond this: his comments were hardly mean, and neither were mine. And we BOTH said that we were curious to check out Swanberg's films, despite what Glenn had to say.

Meanwhile, you throw out your own insults, based on what? What did I, or Keith, say that was so incredibly out of line? And use our words, don't try and tell us what we "really mean".

Oliver Drakeford

I don't understand why people should be given kudos for doing the minimum amount of work, as Swanberg does. He films improv acting exercises and then edits them together. So he works fast. So what? Maybe he shouldn't work so fast. That these movies are even talked about speaks to something larger that has happened in our culture, because movies like these have always been made. Most of them were ignored, though. And then something happened about six years ago, a democratizing of the means of production and distribution, which I think is wonderful. It's just that the people who are benefiting from this confluence are not really deserving, artistically. If Swanberg goes on to become a better filmmaker, someone who cares about the possibilities of the medium (as opposed to just caring about Joe Swanberg and Joe Swanberg's place at the table), then I will be happy for him. But I don't think he will, and why should he want this, when, in some circles, he is already spoken of as some kind of master filmmaker. Pialat? Ozu? I mean, okay. That's kind of like placing Ariel Pink in with Dylan and Lennon & McCartney. My biggest problem with Swanberg's and Bujalski's and The Duplass' (I haven't seen anything by the Bronsteins [Glenn: I know you are referring to Ron Bronstein when you mentioned John Connoly and Mark Ebner. I've heard the stories.]) films is the acting. I went to NYU, graduated with a degree in Dramatic Writing, worked with plenty of bad, mediocre, good, and great actors, and I can't believe how truly awful and just plain lazy the acting is in these movies, and how unaware the actors are of how bad they are and how smug they come across. If there was some acknowledgement of the smugness, if the subject of these movies was the smugness, then okay, now we have something. But these movies are not about that. These movies are about people who figured out a way to make movies. And that's not enough for me. That shouldn't be enough for anybody, but I guess it is. At least I take comfort in knowing that this type of cinema has been named, and as such, will eventually fade away (only to be reclaimed by cineastes in, what, 15 to 20 years, give or take?). Hopefully the next proponents of Minimum Exertion Cinema will take a little more pride in their work. Swanberg gets a lot more from making movies than the audience gets in watching them, which, to me, is just greedy. But when I think about it, that seems to be apropos for the time we live in. Maximum profits for almost no work.

craig keller.

Let me diffuse a couple milligrams of unbridled contempt for the Commenters on this thread who would believe that a still frame-grab, divorced of context or, y'know, movement and sound, can settle the case once-and-for-all for bad mise-en-scène, or the demerits of a filmmaker.

One can capture frames from any film, even one by a revered studio-based master like Ozu, which look like shit — F.Y.fucking.I. Setsuko Hara with her eyes half-blinky, maybe; Chishû Ryû seemingly captured mid-seizure but actually on the cusp of pronouncing, "Kono thread de hihan-suru hitobito wa, Kurosawa no hakuchi da yo." I suppose the points-scoring rejoinder to this will be, "Heh-um, [snark-expulsion of air from nostrils, accompanied by half-smirk similar to that castigated by GK above], of course, it's one thing to pull out an ugly frame from a film with so many beautiful ones, but try finding a single beautiful one in a place where there ARE none." To which I would respond that they exist in the films of Swanberg — who, by the way, shouldn't be induced to formulate a body of work that only justifies its existence by its degree of proximity to Ozu, any more than should Hollis Frampton, or Bob Clark — and I'll be presenting the evidence when I write about each of the films over the next week or two at Cinemasparagus + the Indiepix blog. At that point, feel free to take the — not a defense, but an elucidation — or turn and walk away. Just know that your glib little crowing on Internet comment threads smacks about five times more envacuumed, implicitly-'superior', and self-conscious+totally-unaware than any of the persons/characters in the films under discussion.

Let me also register my disgust at the prevailing viewpoint, which clearly exists, no matter how much you people (yes, YOU people) deny it exists, that the aesthetic value of a film is directly proportional to its budget or — how I coat this term with such bile-relish as I pronounce it — "production values." The entrancing waft of Mammon creates the thrall to everything from short works being considered "supplements" (or: "bonus features"), to the U.S.'s most popular films being reported by way of ticket-grosses, rather than number-of-tickets-sold. (The tallying itself being, obviously, absurd to begin with.) Couple completely independent filmmaking, shot ON OCCASION in spaces with white walls and dumpy furniture, like the kind that wasn't at all art-designed (because it's fucking REAL) (I would love to see any of you "art-design" that office from the temp scenes in Bujalski's 'Funny Ha Ha' and in thus attempting even get NEAR articulating both the warp-and-woof of the suburban world beyond New York City or metropolitan exurbs, AND a very particular and soul-crushing pathos of the American lower-middle-class) — with portrayals of sex, and the American public — those Pragmatic Purveyors of Proportion — really, REALLY get their dander up. The thought process, which might be titled "The American Anxiety Over a Perceived Discrepancy in Levels of Commitment to the Diegesis on the Part of the Filmmaker, or: The American Anxiety Over Perceived Way-More-Than-Any-of-Us-Had-Been-Expecting-Commitment to the Diegesis on the Part of the Filmmaker," goes something like this, as I see it:

-Look at Joe Swanberg's fuckin' FACE. With that fuckin' GOATEE. And his fuckin' MOUTH OPEN.

-Yeah. That dumb fuckin' MOUTH.

-I know. And he's getting written about (ugh, and by the way seriously I could do what he does and get written about, ugh it's so depressing), because there was like, this scene, where he came, right. And it was coming to other women.

-Other women who were IN the FILM? Oh my god. That's so phallocentric.

-I know. He must have had them hypnotized to agree to it. Didn't they realize they were being, essentially, RAPED?

-They were TOTALLY being raped! By proxy. Which is to say by the camera. Which is to say by what it filmed, which is what I was watching. Which is to say Joe Swanberg is making me feel like I've committed the raping.

-Ugh. What a creep. And he keeps puppeting them into doing this again and again in his movies. And you know what, if they're not, okay, being puppeted, let me just go on record and say that, if that's NOT the case? then these women are just LOOSE, I'm sorry. It's like, anyway, I'll take my movie-sex simulated next time, thanks, where it exists to mechanistically keep the story moving. Proxy-rape is only for behind the door of my own bedroom.

-Seriously. And okay, I'm all for "more mise-en-scène than there is story," I mean, SOMETIMES, but it's gotta have some punch — y'know, 'cause mise-en-scène as I understand it is really just vividness of colors, epic'ness of scope, and busy-ness of the flower-arrangements in the frame. Gloss.

-I don't want the dull-matte-finish that Swanberg's selling.

-I know. I want something saleable. Something that makes me feel like I'm getting my money's worth — I want to see a car-chase or at least some fuckin' velvet curtains, y'know, so I have SOME evidence that the filmmakers respected my spending my money on the price of the ticket/rental — which car-chase or velvet curtains would evince their concern and that they did put forth some effort here by at least finding SOME funds. If not ideas.

-Exactly. At least have the courtesy to give us signifiers.

And so on and so on. Hey, Commenters, we can agree to disagree — one man's Gerwig-looking-away-to-avoid-looking-at-the-camera-is-an-amateur's-botched-take, is another man's Gerwig-looking-away-to-avoid-looking-at-the-camera-is-touching-human-and-real. It just comes down to two different ways of looking at movies, to two different ways of looking at the world. And, apparently, to a difference in opinion over whether such twains as movies and life, must ever, ever meet — whether there must ever, ever exist a Cinema of Contiguity.

Since his name was mentioned once in a (tangential) comparison Dan made between the filmmaker and Swanberg, I'll shut off my vent's diffusion by reciting the words of Maurice Pialat: "Si vous ne m'aimez pas, je peux vous dire que je ne vous aime pas non plus."

Joe Bowman

I think you're right about Gerwig as well, Glenn. By association, I assumed that I disliked her (almost) as much as I disliked Swanberg's films, but in fact, after seeing both Baghead and Mary Bronstein's Yeast, I found that she's actually quite good. I guess it's about time for her to start working with some better directors.

Emilio Perez

Yeah. I agree with Craig Keller. It's all the commenters' fault.

By the way: Who is Craig Keller?

And, Craig Keller: the though that you may have hitched a ride with the wrong crowd is kind of scary, isn't it?


Jesus. A lot of people are putting a lot of words in the mouths of other people around here, aren't they?


Also, Craig, your forgot to add "I don't like Joe Swanberg because I like Michael Bay, or whatever!"

I can't believe you forgot about that one.

Bernard Lurie

Craig: who says we want car chases? I think you're at the wrong site. No one here wants car chases. But we do want something other than 90 minutes of auto-fellatio. But I guess that's really too much to ask, huh? How dare us. And it sounds like you're about to lose your shit, bro. Calm down. It's only movies. Go get a latte and read some Willa Cather. Jeez. You'd think we all just took a collective dump in your mouth. Are you that invested in these movies that you have to throw a public hissy fit when people don't like them, and for reasons that seem entirely, well, reasonable? Let's see:

1) The movies are ugly.
2) The acting is amateurish.
3) The production design is nil.
4) There is no script.
5) The "director" likes to show his cock. (Which isn't a bad thing per se; I think Brown Bunny is a great movie for precisely that reason, because Gallo exposed himself in honor of his characters sorrow and desperation.)
6) Everyone involved seems exceedingly pleased with themselves.
7) The only audience for the films is the people making the films, and their friends, thus leading to charges of hermeticism.

I don't know, Craig. Maybe people just don't like these movies because they don't think they're very good. Is that a possibility? Of course not. Because what the fuck do we know. We're just a bunch of losers living in our parent's basement.

Your contempt is palpable.

Alex Gregorianis

I think I can boil Craig Keller's rant down to this:






Well...to be honest, occasionally, I DO want car chases.

don lewis

I'm out the door and haven't fully caught up here but I will say...

bill- none of what I said was directed at you man. I respect you and your opinions and you're not an anonymous internet commenter either, So...sorry for the confusion. If I take issue with what you say, I will say "bill...I disagree" or what have you. I was talking to the anonymous trash talkers.


My apologies, Don.

Alex Gregorianis

Don: I don't see any anonymous commenters in this thread. I see a lot people giving their full names. Do you mean to say that because you don't know who any of these people are, they are somehow anonymous? That seems kind of snobby. Plus, I have no idea who you are, or if that is even your real name, so should I consider you anonymous too? My email is agreg200@hotmail.com in case you think I am an "anonymous." News to me.

craig keller.

@Emilio Perez: Is that like being on the wrong side of history? (And @Emilio Perez's Withering Snark: Who is Emilio Perez?)

@Bernard Lurie: We look at movies in two different ways. To wit: Any of your first five points could apply (a) in any combination; (b) as a whole; or (c) individually, to any given film — but in any of these hypothetical examples, this would have "nil" to do, at least for me, with contributing to how good or bad I think the film is, and whether it succeeds as cinema. Beyond that, "the director likes to show his cock" and "everyone seems exceedingly pleased with themselves" aren't even insights. Here's something else I find contemptible, since we're engaged in a serious stretch of cataloguing: The rhetorical 'tactic' of: "It's just movies, man, calm down." "They're just IDEAS, bro -- chi'zill out!" "It's just LIFE, dawg!"

Wake up. The cinema is as real as your latté. (Thought-experiment: What are the implications of pitting Plato's Cave vs. Lurie's Latté?)

Tony Dayoub

@ Craig,

I'm surprised by your reaction. Other than a few trolls trying to foment a snark war (and it's pretty obvious that they're being ignored), most of the commenters here have expressed a desire to check out Swanberg's work despite (and maybe even because of) Glenn's criticism.

The fact that Glenn is giving Swanberg such a long analysis (I've rarely seen a post as extensive as this one since he left Premiere) signifies that he recognizes that Swanberg has had some kind of impact, even if he doesn't agree with the nature of it.

And it looks to me like 1) the commenters who haven't seen his work are still open to viewing it, 2) those that have seen it either dislike it and are saying so, or 3) like it and are defending him.

So I think we all need to chillax a little bit. One can argue passionately without losing their grip on reality.

Alex Gregorianis

Craig, you should work in government. You say everything and nothing at the same time. That's quite a talent. You should put it to better use.


@ John Felice "I'm sure he's sitting in Austin right now, shit eating grin on his face, a UT sophomore pre-med hottie sucking his balls, saying to himself, Yes, yes, I am Joe Swanberg, motherfuckers, that's right, uh huh."

I love you.


I for one enjoyed Craig Keller's rant. The dialogue was a lot of fun. But I also liked this statement: "It just comes down to two different ways of looking at movies, to two different ways of looking at the world. And, apparently, to a difference in opinion over whether such twains as movies and life, must ever, ever meet — whether there must ever, ever exist a Cinema of Contiguity."

I think we're in the middle of a never-ending discussion of exactly how much "realism" we want, and how we should define it. There are vacuous people out there, and they do speak in vacuous ways and mouth cliches, and sometimes eliminating the "mise en scene" can give us the exhilarating sense of looking in on the real. But as Mr. Keller said, any two of us can vigorously disagree about whether the result is worth watching, let alone whether it qualifies as art. I haven't seen any Swanberg--and argh, after reading these descriptions, I don't think I want to--but I do think it's entirely possible that the filmmaker who makes us angriest could turn out to be the one the next generation will find to have been the trailblazer.

As for the non-simulated sex aspect, I would have thought there was no way to make that work in any serious film--until I watched Breillat's "Romance." But then, Breillat doesn't put herself in the scene humping anybody...

Thanks to all of you posters--this is the most stimulating exchange I've read in quite a while!

Claire K.

Actually, Craig, there's nothing much fucking REAL about sticking chairs in front of doors. It's not the absence of art direction or staging, it's an embarrassing staging *mistake*.

Unless, that is, we're supposed to infer from that small context clue that HTTS is actually secretly a movie about a bunch of people trapped in a room together, not through any catastrophic circumstance, but through their own tragic failure to recognize that they need only scoot a chair a few feet in one direction in order to achieve sweet freedom. God, Joe Swanberg is just like a po-mo Samuel Beckett, isn't he?

Alex Gregorianis

Ray: "I do think it's entirely possible that the filmmaker who makes us angriest could turn out to be the one the next generation will find to have been the trailblazer."

Uwe Boll?
Michael Bay?
Brett Ratner?
Or maybe Joel Schumacher? He makes me really mad.

I would argue that Swanberg's films aren't realistic at all. As a matter of fact, I find them totally artifical, and this is mainly due to their shoddy construction and aesthetics and acting, etc., etc. I never not know that I'm watching a movie, if that makes any sense. I find that I can't lose myself in the movie because there is no movie to lose myself in. I do think they're pretty good home movies, though.

Listen, this whole Austin/SXSW/Mumblecore thing has become a little industry unto itself. I totally get why the people involved are so adamant about hositing themselves up the art pole and proclaiming their worth. I would too if I was them. It makes financial sense. And they have the platform to shout those down who call them out as frauds. In the end, the only thing that's going to matter is whether or not the movies were any good, and I am of the school that believes that those who care, who pride themselves on attention to detail, who are specific, are the ones who will last. I have seen LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Nights and Weekends and a few episodes of Young American Bodies, and I would say that attention to detail and specificity are not Swanberg's main concerns. I think Swanberg will be an inspiration to those seeking a business model for how to make a film for nothing, quickly. But artistically? There's nothing in the movies to inspire anyone to do anything. And I find that the subject matter of his movies, how young people deal with each other in relationships, to be kind of quaint and inconsequential. But that's just me. Is there really any difference between Nights and Weekends and He's Just Not That Into You? I don't know. Part of me thinks no. But then again, I'm probably wrong because I don't have a blog.

If any of you are interested in watching a movie by a young filmmaker who does care about these things, and whose pretty humble to boot, you should check out Kentucker Audley's Team Picture. He's been lumped in with the whole Mumblecore crowd by some, but he shouldn't be. He's too good, too funny, and too humane. I think he stands on his own.

don lewis

First off, I'm dying to say, if I read Cinemasparagus will my pee smell funny after?

Claire-you absolutely can decide if you like a filmmakers work after 5 years worth of it. But when a comment like Glenn makes such as when he hears about a new Swanberg movie he wonders if he "shows his schlong in it?" as a means of pre-judgement, I find that trite and kind of lame. Are you telling me that a comment like that implies Glenn (or whoever else says that) won’t “dislike Swanberg’s films for infinity?” Or only if he shows his schlong will they dislike them?

All I was getting as was, Joe is exploring as he goes. I never meant to imply this was the correct thing to do for him and perhaps he should take his time. But, he's doing it this way. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Has anyone seen his doc on Ellen Stagg on IFC.com? It’s really good. That being said, I gave up on “Young American Bodies” into the second season and “Butterknife” after 2 episodes.

Alex- I agree that what I said about the perceived (by me) anonymity of people here could come off as snobby. However Swanberg has a bunch of bitter Betty enemies so I do tend to take names I've never heard of with link-free 'net handles with a grain of salt.

As for that "office scene" Glenn pointed out, those people in the film work in an advertising firm and the chairs and that room was set up for these brainstorming sessions they'd have. While I totally concur with Glenn that things have been set up in order to placate the scene and how the camera will be placed, it's a bit disingenuous to say he sets up “all” his scenes that way.

And along the lines of how his films look...the dude is shooting what he knows within the budget he has. Does it look like shit? Yeah, sometimes. The photos I’ve seen of his new one look a lot better and he has real actors in it (Josh Hamilton, Jane Adams, Jessica Weixler) so maybe the “acting” will impove.

As for the thus far “poor acting,” ummm….I could be wrong, but they aren’t acting. Aside from Gerwig, none of those people are really actors. I think that’s Joe’s point in a lot of ways (and I hope I can pull my later thoughts back to this) in that the camera is only capable of capturing truth and maybe the truth is, the camera makes you lie? Is it possible to NOT be conscious of the camera? I mean, isn’t this the question posed by several people over the years?


The case of Joe Swanberg is an interesting one, if only because the guy has had the balls to publicly show his films in the first place. As far as I can tell, KOTM was his first foray into filmmaking, period, and it's actually available on Netflix. As someone who went to film school, I couldn't imagine wanting to share my student films with anyone now. I'm 28, and it's hard to imagine what life would have been like if something I'd made at 22 premiered at SXSW.

I think filmmakers, compared to, say, songwriters or novelists, are at a disadvantage in a lot of ways, because once you make a film so much time and sweat has gone into it (often the product of many, many more brows than just your own) that you feel a sense of obligation to submit to festivals and the like, when maybe the best thing to do would be to just put it in a drawer and move on to the next one. In Swanberg's case, he got into a fairly major US festival his first time out of the gate, and I wonder what might have happened if the only people to ever see KOTM were his cast and crew.

The only reason I bring this up is because, largely by choice, it seems like Swanberg has really had to learn as a filmmaker in public, something I both admire and feel sorry for. It used to be, back when you had to shoot on film and get together a fair amount of money, that you'd already had some successes and failures before you made your debut... now with digital and the Internet, that's all changed.

I think the real enemy now is access - specifically, there being too much of it (and, yes, this is coming from someone who would one day like to make a film he'd let other people see). I also think, by and large, the only people really interested in Swanberg's films are other filmmakers (and I'm grouping critics in with that).

I'd also like to add that I don't think his films are entirely without merit, but that's not really my point here.

Jim Grau

My point here is this: there are scores of young filmmakers who put a lot more effort into their craft than Swanberg does, yet none of them get a fraction of the attention that he does. Why is that? How come the critical community hasn't rallied around the films of Travis Wilkerson? Or Jenni Olson? Or Mark Kneale? What is it about Swanberg and his cohorts that drives some of you to soapbox on his behalf? That's what I'm curious about.

And the whole, WELL HE HAS LIMITED MEANS SO YO CAN'T REALLY FAULT HIM FOR HIS AESTHETIC POVERTY is a cop out. Plenty of filmmkaers have made totally independent films with miniscule budgets that aspired to be more than stretched out student films. And how many movies is the guy going to make before he stops getting the benefit of the doubt? Learning on the job is one thing, but he's not in his apprentice phase any more. That seems kind of disingenuous. "Treat me as if I don't really know what I'm doing, but then, you know, treat me the other way when it serves my interests."

And Don: None of these people are actors? I don't understand. They're in front of a camera, making a movie. It's not like they work at the carwash and Swanberg has ambushed them, forcing them to act on a dime. That seems kind of like a strange thing to say. "They're not actors." My question to you is: who ISN'T an actor?


@Alex Gregorianis: Good point, and you made me wish I'd expressed myself better. I'll try again: I wasn't commenting so much on Swanberg--whose work I haven't seen, and so, I grant, maybe I ought to shut my fat mouth--but instead was commenting on the quality of reactions people seem to be having. Michael Bay et al. make some of us mad for very different reasons, I think. What I take to be Swanberg's drive is a greater realism--and that often involves seeking out an anti-aesthetic, some idiom that dynamically opposes itself to the prevailing one. Many times, that impulse leads to total failure, but sometimes it changes the aesthetic altogether. I do NOT want to suggest that Swanberg is some great artist like Ibsen, but Ibsen's work provoked reactions similar to what we've seen on this long thread--and we can all think of similar examples from the past. And I thought that was an interesting point. (And I apologize to the ghost of Ibsen!)

don lewis

@Ray re; actors..

Now you're getting it....

(I'd go on, but have thus commenced my Friday night beer drinking in which I pretend I write for an awesome site that makes me a comfortable living and allows me to go to film fests every weekend pro bono and behave like Jeff Wells while all the while not living in suburban hell ala April Wheeler sans blood)

John M.

@ don lewis: "As for the thus far “poor acting,” ummm….I could be wrong, but they aren’t acting. Aside from Gerwig, none of those people are really actors. I think that’s Joe’s point in a lot of ways (and I hope I can pull my later thoughts back to this) in that the camera is only capable of capturing truth and maybe the truth is, the camera makes you lie? Is it possible to NOT be conscious of the camera? I mean, isn’t this the question posed by several people over the years?"

This is just a fundamental misunderstanding of terms. What do you mean, Don, when you say they "aren't acting"? Of course they are. (Should I give you the benefit of the doubt with your "I could be wrong"?) They've been charged with forming characters, right? And those characters are not themselves, correct? Just because lines might be improvised doesn't mean this isn't "acting." It is. You say that Greta Gerwig is the only actor here--well, then what, pray tell, is Joe Swanberg? What would you call him? Andrew Bujalski? Kent Osborne? What are they doing here? (And now that we've brought these alleged "non-actors" up, if Swanberg has no interest in mumblecore labels, he sure does try hard to keep certain people in the fray--and for no discernible reason. Why cast Bujalski? Because of his emotional range? His training? Might there be, and I know this is SO CYNICAL, other motives?)

And your choose-your-own-adventure theories here--that it might be Swanberg's point that the camera "makes you lie" and maybe it's impossible to not be "conscious" of the camera is a kiddie's pool of sophistry that even Craig Keller, in his spitting-mad and semi-coherent voodoo diatribe, didn't bother to wade into.

I mean, after all is said and done, Joe Swanberg's films are really reflexive commentaries on the impossibility of a filmed reality? DO YOU ACTUALLY BELIEVE THAT?

Wow, I really should take another look at Butterknife. And bookmark Film Threat.

"Isn’t this the question posed by several people over the years?" Well, I should say so: how many goddamn filmmakers over the past 110 years have questioned the role of the camera, and its "reality"? Yeah, I'd say a lot. Porter, Godard, Maysles, Fred Wiseman, Straub-Huillet, DePalma, von Trier, Fincher, Dogme, on and on and on. So, I guess one more voice couldn't hurt? Except...he's not really doing that, is he.

Honestly, I'm trying to put my finger on the value here. Why one might find him a great filmmaker. Or good. Or particularly groundbreaking. And it's hard.

And as others have said, it is absolutely 100% bunk to defend a director's lackluster mise-en-scene--and such a thing exists, guys and gals, some directors have better eyes than others, please compare, say, Scorsese to Sam Mendes when you have a moment--by arguing that, well, all five feature-length films had limited means. "The dude is shooting what he knows within the budget he has." Well, thats a terrific defense. I won't even go into the obnoxiously narrow endeavor of "dude's shooting what he knows." (That is, five fucking films' worth of white people...in their twenties...who...are...really into their relationships...and don't, for some reason, stray from their own director-imposed demographic... Along with Cinema and Reality, Unmarried White People in Sexual Relationships is really an untapped region). But a budget has NOTHING to do with mise-en-scene. Yes, if you're making THE LEOPARD, there are certain, shall we say, requirements, but who couldn't instantly come up with films made on shoestring budgets that have a carefully considered mise-en-scene? (Let's start with, say, IN BETWEEN DAYS.) Staging don't cost nothing--angles don't cost nothing.

I should say, by the way, that I'm a huge fan of Bronstein's FROWNLAND, and find Bujalski's films pretty interesting. I'm very much looking forward to seeing YEAST and MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY and QUIET CITY. I have nothing against Realism or Truth.

But to be blunt about it, I don't think Swanberg's a very intelligent dramatist, and his visual style approaches worthless.

And I sincerely hope--and kind of believe--he'll get better.


I've always thought of Swanberg as someone who ripped the pages straight from Henry Jaglom's playbook - someone, basically, who has created their own personal, psycho-sexual playground and whose work ends up foisted on the world as "the epitome of indie auterism." However, even Jaglom has his editing work on Easy Rider in his back pocket. Swanberg's brief footnote, if he ever warrants one, will be that his work coincided with and epitomized the height of American narcissism in filmmaking, however accidentally it occurred.


Where's Swanberg or Ray Carney's defense?

Jared Fogel

in spite of my own misgivings, i can't seem to get as up in arms about swanberg's work as most. the movies, in their unabashed commitment to looseness, may not be built to withstand the kind of criticism directed at them. it's odd. critics want to keep calling him out for the lack of depth and incisiveness, even though his whole modus operendi seems to be the celebration of pure offhandedness for its own sake. does this approach yield anything of value? hard to say. at the very worst its just a harmless experiment standing at the very far end of the traditional mise en scene vs. verite spectrum. at the very best, he might manage to capture fleeting moments and gestures that a more structured approach simply could not. in the end, he's completely abandoned something that is considered essential to creating art. namely, premeditation. some people find that exciting, liberating, others think it a lazy walk down a dead-end. but either way, what he's doing is so specific and so small and so utterly bereft of attitude or pretense that it's hard to see getting too upset about it without projecting onto it. he'll keep working and mining this narrow territory, his output a reflection of his lifestyle more than anything else. good for him. it definitely seems more like an intense personal preoccupation than a careerist strategy. and maybe that's what bothers people so much about him. he's so hellbent on following this questionable path that he comes off as being arrogant. i get the sense the whole world could tell him he's wrong and he'd still be cranking these things out. i like that about him.

also, there seems to be a contradiction in the way you disqualify swanbergs freeforall approach while simultaneously tearing into the performances themselves. if swanberg has the audacity, confidence, balls, idiocy (you decide) to ignore the very notion of preparation then he's the only only one to blame for the appearance of "perpetual smirks" and "petulant sulks". it seems you are attacking the work from all sides at once and that's what gives the impression of a fuming rant.

Alfred Sloan

I don't give a fuck about Joe Swanberg. He's a fly buzzing around the shit-pile of lousy cinema that gets dumped into the street every year.

Let people start a fan club if they want. There are a million fan clubs for a million different people.

It's funny that some of you are talking about "honesty," as if there is such a thing and as if that is somehow higher up in the hierarchy of viable ways to represent the world, as if the possibility that Joe Swanberg is full of shit shouldn't even enter the conversation. Maybe Joe Swanberg already knows he's full of shit. Maybe that's what his movies are about. Maybe it's one of those things where you have to watch his movies over and over to parse the delicate touches. I'm sure someone will eventually do that and explain to all of us why Joe Swanberg matters. It sure isn't going to be me. The thought of watching his movies over and over does not sound like fun to me. It sounds like a job.

Maybe it's a job for Craig Keller. Probably won't pay very well, though, Craig, so you might want to really think about it before you agree to do it.

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