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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mumblecore I

I've been starting to immerse myself in the world of "mumblecore," a contemporary American film movement fronted by, among others, Andrew Bujalski, the Duplass brothers, and Joe Swanberg, and I have to say, I'm rather elated by it.

Now, not every moment of this stuff is great. In fact, sometimes it's hard to watch. But it's only because it reminds me so much of myself - my own boredom, my own anxieties and lack of direction. It is the stuff of my life. In particular, tonight I watched Mutual Appreciation, and when the credits came on, I had a huge grin on my face.

Bujalski, himself a rather awkward fellow (or at least he plays one in this and Funny Ha Ha, the other of his I've seen), somehow manages to have an extraordinary knack for dialog. The most impressive part of all is that this dialog, for all its natural presentation and realistic flow, is largely scripted. This is a phenomenal feat in and of itself. Throw in the fact that he uses non-actors (Justin Rice is the lead singer of Brooklyn band Bishop Allen, Bill Morrison is the experimental filmmaker behind the awesomely gorgeous Decasia, and others) and his films are an absolute wonder.

Mutual Appreciation manages to tap into the real conflicts of day-to-day life without the fanfare that often accompanies the popularized indie flick. No one is crying, there are no grand gestures. Everything is very well-contained within the canon of realistic poses. These performances seem so vividly real, and so easy to relate to, that you almost hate Bujalski for making these people so real. And at the end of the film, you don't even realize you've been taken for a ride. Like life, the thing seems to simply be one big plateau. But then you realize you've developed attachments, and you have your own motives, your own desires for the future of the characters and their relationships.

One thing that makes Mutual Appreciation really exciting is its lo-fi, but 16mm, picture. This truly embodies the Cassavettes style, and makes Bujalski most worthy of the mumblecore syno-moniker "Slackavettes." What I found so hard to relate to in Cassavettes, though, somehow becomes my raison d'etre in Bujalski - people talking. Obviously the talking heads approach is not a new one, nor is it specific to these kinds of film movements. The mumblecore predecessors, like Richard Linklater, have mastered this talent as well. But somehow, the awkward charm in Andrew Bujalski's films, embedded in a real desire to portray the culture of which I am a part, is something truly magical. And at the end of both of his films that I've seen thus far, I have laughed. Not because of the moment, but because of my moment after the last moment. His films are, in short, endearing.

As I say, I've been on quite the kick. So far, of the "mumblecore" movement, I've seen:

The Puffy Chair - The Duplass Brothers
Funny Ha Ha - Andrew Bujalski
Mutual Appreciation - Andrew Bujalski
Kissing on the Mouth - Joe Swanberg
Young American Bodies - an internet series by Joe Swanberg

And, as a bonus for me, I'll tell you that you can see me in a single frame of the Bishop Allen music video for Click Click Click Click, which they shot just outside my apartment here in Williamsburg. I'm at the 1:44 mark in the white t-shirt, trimmed beard and hair. Woot!

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