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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hmmm, I don't think Mumblecore filmmakers are to film what the Beats were to literature

As the name of this blog indicates, I am a big fan of ultra-low budget real indie filmmakers, including Mumblecore filmmakers, getting press, getting their movies out, building careers, etc. But I was slightly bothered by the following quoted statements (from Spout blog) by Benten Films co-owner Andrew Grant about the Beats, 80's & 90's indie filmmakers, in relation to Mumblecore filmmakers. Here is the comment I left at the Spout post:

"A lot of what Andrew Grant says in the following quoted paragraphs seem like just hype by an owner of a DVD label, a label that is about to release several Mumblecore (M-core) DVDs; questionable hype that plays with facts. Might not be a big deal in the course/history of film publicity & sales, but I was bothered by it, so here's my dissection & response to it (my thoughts in parantheses (sp?)):

"ANDREW: I think there’s a natural inclination to group artists under a single umbrella."

(OK)

"Mumblecore is to film what the Beats were to literature."

(not true - On The Road was highly unusual in form - none of the M-core movies are, Allen Ginsburg was a protest artist & activist (Howl is a protest poem), none of the M-core filmmakers are, William Burroughs was highly experimental - M-core filmmakers are not; they, for the most part, make minimalist relationship movies, and where is the Amir Baraka/LeRoi Jones (name sp?) of the goup? All M-core filmmakers are "white")

"They know each other socially, occasionally work together, but unlike, say, the Dogme crowd, there’s nothing like a manifesto tying them together."

(OK, however, the existence of M-core owes a large debt to Dogme 95 making digital production acceptable as a professional format)

"Mumblecore even lacks a solid definition, so it’s terribly imprecise as a moniker."

(except Grant's, Hillis's, Dentler's & other's M-core press often lists which filmmakers belong to the movement - so, who belongs is clearly defined)

"For instance, Todd Rohal’s The Guatemalan Handshake shares virtually nothing in common with Joe Swanberg’s films, yet Todd has been grouped into the fold because he has a role in Hannah Takes the Stairs."

(OK)

"There are stylistic similarities between Aaron Katz’s first two films, but thematically, they’re like chalk and cheese."

(maybe, have not seen Quiet City yet, from the trailer it seems similar to DPUSA)

"So perhaps it is just an easy hook, but when somebody writes a revised History of the Independent Film in 50 years, there’s something to be said for their loose collective."

(we'll see)

"Having spent time with quite a few of the Mumblecore set, I’m really taken aback by how non-competitive they are, and how they take great pains to help and support each other as filmmakers, unlike the me-centric ’80s."

(OK, except friends have always worked on their friend's movies in indie film, Jarmusch uses Spike Lee's brother Cinque, Tarantino & Rodriguez work together, etc.)

"In the ’90s, the American indie world was full of Tarantino rip-offs and quirky rom-coms that functioned as little more than calling cards for studios, and that’s just not the case with these new directors."

(some M-core movies have also served as calling card for studios - as the Puffy Chair makers & Mutual App maker works for studios now, and, 80's & 90's were the start of the indie film movement as we know it, and a lot of great indie films came out in those decades - Jarmusch, Spike Lee, Hatley, etc.)

"Advances in technology have made it possible to make great-looking films with very little cash, and some of these filmmakers are creating powerful works that act as polar opposites to the dreaded “high-concept film.”"

(i don't dread high concept films, neither do a lot of other people, high concept films are very popular)

"At a relatively young median age, they’ve found the critical distance in which to observe and comment on their world, and there’s none of the narcissism that was a staple of the last decade’s indie culture (see also: Ed Burns and Eric Schaeffer)."

(m-core stuff is definitely observational, not sure how much useful commenting they are doing, and not that this is a bad thing for artists, m-core is highly narcisstic)

"It’s just impressive and extremely refreshing. It’s also the first wave of American cinema that I can think of that is neither New York nor L.A.-based; it’s scattered throughout that vast area between the coasts."

(m-core is not an entirely unique & separate wave in american indie cinema, it is just a few out of hundreds of indie filmmakers who are making & releasing ultra indie movies in this post-dogme 95 age)
::
aside from all that, it is however very cool that two film critics have started a DVD label (Benten Films) for low budget/no-star indie films."

- Sujewa

8 comments:

Andrew said...

Sujewa --

As someone who has written kind words about Benten in the past, I'm scratching my head wondering what triggered your excessive diatribe. Was it my dig at Ed Burns that set you off?

My likening of mumblecore to the Beats has nothing to do with their aesthetics, approach, technique, etc. As I said in my first sentence, it has to do with the tendency to group artists under a single umbrella, thereby making it easier for journalists (and others) to proffer generalizations about a "movement" without actually digging deeper into the individual works.

I find it both disrespectful and presumptuous (not to mention a bit silly) of you to assume that my "questionable hype" (??) is motivated by anything other than sincerity.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Andrew,

Questioning things is not disresptful, to ignore things (as I do with like 90% of film promo pieces I read every day) would be, perhaps, worse. Also, Mumblecore & related stuff is not a sacred topic, nothing is over here at this blog, everything is open for discussion.

I read you saying Mumblecore = Beats as you saying you believe the two groups are similar, not that you think journalists think that Beats and Mumblecore are the same, or same kind of thing with many artists grouped under one umbrella term. Regardless of who thinks it, I definitely don't see a significant similarity between the two groups.

Also, I am a fan of a lot of good 80's indie film, the Beats, some Ed Burns movies & his career (if you have not listned to any of his DVD commentary tracks, you are missing out on a lot of great low budget filmmaking tips - specially on Sidewalks of New York), and Dogme 95, your statements in the Spout blog interview came off as if Mumblecore filmmakers just magically appeared out of nowhere and eclipses all the remotely relevant people who came before; as if they appeared with no help from the significant "genre" building done (creating & selling the idea of alternative culture to the masses by the Beats - the cultural & commercial space that indie film exists in/comes out of, Burns & other 90's, also 80's, indie filmmakers who made America & the industry take indie filmmaking seriously, Dogme 95 paving the path for digital production) by all of the people mentioned at the top of this paragraph. That seemed a little silly (though normal in promo speak for films/filmmakers) for someone like you - an indie film fan & a critic/reviewer who probably knows pretty well how things in this area of the art/industry came to be.

No doubt your enthusiasm for Mumblecore filmmakers is sincere.
I just had some objections to what I read, so typed them out, got them out so we & others can discuss it if needed - pretty much the usual that happens on film blogs.

I wouldn't worry too much about my objections, the 10 people who read this blog regularly are probably all big fans of Mumblecore movies.

I am of course still a fan of small film labels, Benten, etc. Just pointing out some things that I did not agree with in your public statements re: film & M-core at Spout.

- Sujewa

rick m. said...

sujewa, i don't think you're being very smart. that guy wasn't making comparisons at all to the beats, it makes sense... i've never seen a m-core movie yet but i totally get what he said--kinda weird that you don't.

The Sujewa said...

your point has already been addressed in comment above "rick m."

name? said...

Interesting take on the article about Mumblecore. I've seen almost all the films (except Quiet City). Where did you see Hannah Takes the Stairs, LOL, Kissing the Mouth, Handshake, etc, etc, etc? I've got my own critiques of the films, but it has nothing to do with their race. Thanks for the postings.

The Sujewa said...

to "name?":

i've seen several m-core movies on DVD (screeners & retail) & at theaters. have not seen Hannah & QC yet. have seen previous two by swanberg, 2 by bujalski, DPUSA, Puffy Chair. have not seen Handshake. so far, Puffy, Mutual & DPUSA are my faves, in that order.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I can't wait to see your review of Hannah Takes a Shit... Ummm, Stairs. I'm anonymous because to critique Mumblecore is tantamount to expulsion from the "indie film community." Puffy Chair and Handshake are incredible and have hearts.

Anonymous said...

Saw Funny Haha in the theater. Nice film and I was glad he shot it on film. But I will have to agree with the blog -owner. The films are all about educated, white middle-class 20 something frustration and angst. That subject gets old real quick. Another question: Can these guys make genre films and break away from the artsy stuff.

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