Wednesday, November 10, 2010

[some notes from October]

It's good to watch an American independent film that doesn't make you feel as though you're doing the filmmakers a favor by staying through to the end—but then that small pleasure gets soured by the realization that you're watching the sort of movies where the ability to hold your attention is a virtue and not a given, and you begin to wonder why it is that we ask so much of Hollywood films and are always disappointed and ask so little of independently-financed productions and then condescendingly pat them on the back.

I've got a little too much respect for Aaron Katz's obvious intelligence to think too much of his films, though it's been fun watching him continuously defer his ambitions, cutting himself off whenever the screen might reveal what exactly it is that he thinks is profound. After three features, it's evident that he has convictions, though he seems to be ashamed of them. Cold Weather is a slight, arty, funny, vaguely entertaining detective movie.

For all of their particular pleasures, the problem with too many (though not all) of the mumblecore films has been their reactionary approach to filmmaking.

The film movements of the mid-20th century defined themselves through the addition of new elements; the Novuelle Vague, for one, attacked the Tradition of Quality by expanding on it, not by reversing it.

Contemporary film movements have defined themselves largely through the subtraction of old ones, and mumblecore—maybe in the footsteps of Dogme 95, the ultimate reactionary film movement, parading a self-loathing distaste for aesthetics as "anti-bourgeois" radical asceticism—has followed suit by building itself on certain absences instead of particular presences (there is a fundamental difference between "our film will have no script" and "our film will be improvised"), and for the most part Katz has followed the trend.

The case against Katz remains this: his films are conceived in terms of what they lack, not what they offer.


Greg Afinogenov said...

See also: most contemporary experimental fiction, language/L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry.

Anonymous said...

This is a pretty astute way of getting at part of what ails American Independent films. The question shouldn't ever be: "What kind of story can we tell with these limited means and against such monolithic competition as Hollywood?" But something more like: "What kind of story must we tell? What do we have to offer an audience that's unique and compelling and how can we tell those stories in spite of our limited resources?" It's the lack of ambition and the fear of conviction that allow so many tiny films to remain the equivalent of grad school short stories. True and amusing and life-like enough--but nevertheless unnecessary. The last small American film that really mattered to me was PRIMER. I'm still waiting for the next one.