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January 19, 2011


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This common ground gives me hope that you two crazy kids can work it out. :)


I should really watch one of this guy's films so I can confidently comment on this bullshit.

But still: a while back on SCR, an image from one of Swanberg's films was posted that featured Greta Gerwig (a fine actress) apparently crammed into the corner of a utility room next to what I think might well have been a giant box of paper towels, like you'd get at Costco. And all I can say is, that image in no way corresponds with what I've read of David Foster Wallace.

Claire K.

"My work has absolutely nothing in common with that of Anton Chekhov or David Foster Wallace, but I figure that if I just repeat their names enough, you'll start to associate us in your mind. David Foster Wallace. David Foster Wallace. Joe Swanberg. David Foster Wallace. Anton Chekhov. Joe Swanberg. David Foster Chekhov. Joe Chekhov Chekster. Anton Wallace Swangull. Jonathan Livingston Wallsterkhov. I think you can see my process, here."


^ That's very funny.

Joe Swanberg is about as far from a maximalist as you can get. Joe Swanberg, were he a writer, would be the type who self-distributes 30 page chapbooks comprised of diary entries about how many times he masturbated and who he masturbated to. Or maybe even that's too interesting for him.

Of course, Craig Keller and Richard Brody would disagree. They would say that Swanberg is nothing less than this generation's Flaubert, or maybe Proust.

A giant box of paper towels from Costco = madeleine dipped in tea.

Chris O.

I applaude your restraint, Glenn. Sort of.

Brian P

swanberg is indefensible. anyone who's seen hannah takes the stairs will concur

Chris O.

Dilute that with this, Glenn:


Another thing, because I was just wondering: in this new movie that was inspired by the writings of David Foster Wallace and Anton Chekhov, is Swanberg going to show his dick, or what?

James Keepnews

I, uh, geez, am I really gonna be the designated Swanberg defender here? Actually, the only thing I can defend is HANNAH, which -- consitutionally inclined as I am to stoop to concur with BrianP -- I found quite disarming, and possibly wouldn't have but for the undeniable charms of La Gerwig, the Anna Karina of mumbley-peg or whatever the hell the kids call it. It hardly encouraged me to run out and be all completist about his work, but I enjoyed it considerably more than I expected. It also suffers from the obvious flaws of the, >ahem<, "movement" -- post-SLACKER stasis substituting for drama, an approach to cinematography seemingly greater influenced by security cameras than by Murnau, Kurosawa, pick 'em, &c. -- and I guess I'd call it about the furthest one could get from Chekhov or Foster Wallace.

So: range! :}


I have never seen a Joe Swanberg movie so I cannot comment on his abilities as a filmmaker. However, as a Chicagoan, I can tell you that his wife is a truly excellent ice cream maker.


So far, what little I've seen of ol' Joe's work (NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS, and some of the stuff he did for the IFC website) hasn't led me to seek out much more, or left me with much enthusiasm. Knowing the general attitude of Glenn (as well as several other regular commenters), I get that this is a volatile and amusing little quote, but isn't some of the snark becoming unfair and excessive? Nothing from that excerpt seems wrong to me, in the sense that he's expressing inspiration from two excellent sources. He might never achieve the caliber of DFW and Chekhov, but that shouldn't mean he isn't allowed to mention their names, or that doing so makes him a subject of derision. Making mediocre movies is more than enough for that.

One hallmark of both writers is their accessibility - two very sophisticated artists who could capture the imaginations of a wide array of people - even Joe Swanbergs. His work and theirs being stylistically divergent shouldn't make any difference. I guess it would seem more like pretentious name dropping if he said he'd been reading a lot of Robbe-Grillet and Gaddis.

*On re-reading before posting, I realized that this is supposedly an excerpt from a "director's statement." That makes it a bit more lame, I'll admit. But, I mean, it's a press kit, right? As in, who cares?


Might be a good time to point people to his Criterion Top Ten, which begins with the preface "It’s worth noting that I have not seen the majority of the films in the collection" No shit.

His description of The Red Shoes makes me think he fell asleep 20 minutes in. Not to mention the "silent film techniques" line.

For those who dare: http://www.criterion.com/explore/66-joe-swanbergs-top-10

The Siren

Have no comment about M. Swanberg, aside from having laughed very hard at this thread, but had to ask: Do the words "I ran across this today and thought of you" put dread in the Glenn Kenny heart? Because at this point I think they should.

Ian W. Hill

I really wanted to stay out of the whole Swanberg thing, other than being amused at the fine fine superfine humor being made out of his lack of anything resembling talent -- I watched three of his movies to try and find the "there" there, and didn't, and not through any lack of relating to them, as they all seemed to be about people pretty much like all of my friends, only with everything interesting about them and their lives stripped away. They also reminded me of rather similar films made by classmates at NYU Film in the 80s, only with far worse photography and dialogue and (admittedly) better acting. So I was trying to ignore them henceforth.

However, the most recent salvo from Richard Brody (who I normally like okay, and whose Swanbergaphilia makes me just blink in confusion) opens with a classic:

"The gnashing of teeth and spewing of vitriol that reliably accompany every new film by Joe Swanberg are as much a sign of his artistry as the enthusiasm expressed by those of us who recognize it. "

As someone who finds the "he upsets a lot of people, so he must be doing something right" argument not only merely unpersuasive, but really fucking stupid, my mind begins to wonder what the gnashing of teeth and spewing of vitriol that we could also say reliably accompanies every new film by, say, Uwe Boll would indicate about HIS artistry.

Victor Morton

"the 'he upsets a lot of people, so he must be doing something right' argument [is] not only merely unpersuasive, but really fucking stupid"

All else said about Brody would be mere footnotes to that.

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