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January 22, 2011


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I'm pretty sure that I turned forty on my 34th birthday--at least that's when I had my first severe back injury--and can relate to the subsequent misery. Autobiographical film reviews are a favorite sub-genre of mine, so thanks for posting this. Glad the yes vote won the poll.

Matthias Galvin



Hey, this is great. Funny, touching, personal. I expect that ART HISTORY and SILVER BULLETS, the other two legs of the Swanberg 2011 Trifecta, will inspire you to post similarly thoughtful recollections.


In a different reality, this would be make very interesting copy for the liner notes if 'Uncle Kent' were ever packaged on DVD in such a way. I doubt JS would go for it...

For me, 40 is literally right around the corner. Beautiful piece, very glad you chose to post.


Well, what is the exact difference between a Phillipe Garrel movie and a Joe Swanberg movie that makes one less trivial than the other? I remember watching Birth of Love and being bored out of my mind, but this may be because there were language/cultural barriers that only subtitles and Wikipedia could alleviate.

Richard Brody

Swanberg is not the new Pialat, he says that he's influenced by Pialat and this makes sense. Swanberg is pretty hard on Kent Osborne too, despite his tenderness. (For instance, the poignancy of the "Uncle Kent" video is intensified by Swanberg's dark sense that Kent has painted himself into a corner.) But I guess it's enough to declare that one director has "sensibility" and another doesn't—again using the dead to club the living.

Tom Carson

We've all probably made fun of Facebook's "Like" option, but sometimes it's a useful way to signal admiration without getting dragged into the argument (if any). Going personal in a rave review is bathetic and easy. Going personal in a pan is guts ball, and salud.

Kent Jones

Richard, I wrote that I regretted the name simply because...well, not hard to figure out. Doesn't have anything to do with the movie itself, which I have yet to see.

Regarding the Criterion notes, let's cut the guy a little slack on THE RED SHOES and assume he's just fishing for some terminology when he writes about "silent film technique." On the other hand, while it too has no bearing on the question of his films, I have to admit that what he writes about Brakhage gives me pause. "What was the point? And what could anyone possibly see in the work? Those questions are still worth asking, but I’m asking them with an open mind now, and it’s thanks to filmmakers like Brakhage, who were brave enough to experiment." Gee, what a "refreshingly honest" tribute.

Glenn Kenny

@ Richard: Well, I figured you wouldn't warm much to my observations, but come now; I detect a little goalpost shifting here. No, you do not say that Swanberg's the new Pialat, but I figure almost any reader can at the very least infer that that's a bit of flippant exaggeration on my part. (And I don't expect it's too much to assume that any reader interested in Swanberg's work would be following your writings on it.) But the comparison to Pialat has been made, both by you and, if I recall correctly, Dan Sallitt. (Who I just saw last night! But this topic didn't come up.) So when you make the comparison in a positive way, it's, what, articulating Swanberg's worthy antecedents and making him part of their legacy? Whereas, if I make the comparison negatively, I'm "using the dead to club the living." Uh-huh. Also, Garrel ain't dead, last time I checked.

And while the "no sensibility" charge is, I admit, a little amorphous, and likely difficult to prove in critical court, the citation of sentimentality still holds. And may be harder to refute, as I see you left that alone.


Has anyone introduced Chuck & Buck, (which I thought to be pretty damn good), into this particular conversation?


Joe Swanberg is an incompetent sitcom director. Give him some industry backing, a few bucks to play with, and some c-list stars are he's got about as much potential as Ken Kwapis.

Pialat? Garrel? Richard Brody needs to lay off the pot for a while.


I'm Uncle Kent's age, I was raised and educated in *Louisiana* and I have no trouble with references to Beethoven and Sappho. In fact I was surprised that more people don't know who Wallis Simpson was, after hearing folks talk about it around the office and the gym, etc. in relation to THE KING'S SPEECH. (No one even remembered her name.)

One of the difficulties I had with some of Joe Swanberg's previous films was that I felt too old to care about some of the plights of the younger characters, so I'm interested to see UNCLE KENT and find out if that feeling still holds. Assuming I'll be able to catch it at SXSW.

That Fuzzy Bastard

The world's biggest fan of MAKE WAY FOR TOMORROW (a lovely, moving film, but about as overdetermined as a Red Chinese opera) is complaining about a director's sentimentality?

Glenn Kenny

I'm hardly the world's BIGGEST fan of "Make Way For Tomorrow." And you're confusing sentiment with sentimentality. It's all up there on the screen—look at the parting scene in "Make Way," thoroughly straight and straightforward and economical, and then look at/listen to the "I was a better person when I wasn't trying to score chicks" near-wrap-up to "Uncle Kent:" Osborne's face going all "poignant," and the reverse shot of the video he's looking at on the computer, the tinkly/treacly piano music courtesy of "Kev." Uh-uh, pal. You're not getting me on this one. (And overdetermination, such as it is, isn't the same thing as sentimentality either.)


Having now seen UNCLE KENT, I can say that as a very basic idea, even with the music, I don’t object to the “Uncle Kent” scene. What I do object to is that, contextually, it doesn’t mean anything. Obviously, Swanberg and Osborne believed it was a pretty big deal, since they named their movie after it, but, I mean, I have nieces and nephews, too. Where’s *my* movie?

Stylistically, another thing that sticks in my craw is that UNCLE KENT seems to want to be one of those fake documentaries, except when it couldn’t justify the conceit. Kent is a guy who takes his camera everywhere, and records everything, but any time he needs to be in the shot, which is often, the first person is dropped for the third person, so that as a construction the film plays really half-assed. In this sense, there are rather surprising parallels with DISTRICT 9. Also, Swanberg sure seems to favor the medium long-shot, doesn’t he?

Tom Russell

I know it wasn't your intention, but your review really makes me want to see the film. I don't mean this in a snarky way; the emotional subject matter you describe sounds interesting to me[*]. I realize of course that you don't think the film is particularly successful in how it explores that.

In general, though, as I've said before, I enjoy Joe's films-- more-so than Glenn, certainly, if not quite so much as Mr. Brody and others. I still like LOL the best-- I've seen it maybe eight or nine times, and it really holds together as an entire film. HANNAH and ALEXANDER both have moments and sequences that I've found interesting or note-worthy amidst other moments I've found less interesting.

I'm curious: is Swanberg's presence as an actor a supporting role, or just a single-scene cameo? I've found him to be very funny in small cameo-type roles-- in QUIET CITY, for example, or (um) SON OF A SEAHORSE, which the Scrappy Lil' Indie Filmmaker in me feels compelled to mention will be available in a new cut on a commentary-and-extras-laden DVD sometime this spring, and wow, that was a flawless segueway and in no way forced, right? :-D

[*]-- My wife, who gets less mileage from Joe's films than I do, is interested in this one too, solely because there is a cat in it. And apropos my astonishing partner in life and in art, age-appropriate relationships are vastly overrated. :-P


@Tom - I'll give the film this: the cat is good.

Glenn Kenny

@ Tom Russell: Swanberg's just in the one scene, but boy, he sells it! But seriously...he seems to be playing some iteration of himself, and, no, he's not...funny.

The movie's only 72 minutes, so every performer in the small cast makes an impression. Speaking of impressions: don't get the wrong one. It's not my mission in life to get people to NOT see Joe Swanberg films. You know, you're a free agent, do as you like, all that. Since my piece is likely best appreciated by people who have themselves seen "Uncle Kent," I can't see as the above writing is much use as a kind of consumer guide...

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