November 6, 2007

Film Comment Nov/Dec 07.

Kent Osborne, Greta Gerwig and Andrew Bujalski of Hannah Takes the Stairs It's the South By Southwest 2007 issue of Film Comment!

Not really, of course. But my own two favorite viewing experiences at SXSW back in the spring were Hannah Takes the Stairs and The Whole Shootin' Match, two American independent films achieving uniquely impressive ends with the barest-bone means of their respective eras. And it just so happens that the two features online from the November/December issue of FC are Amy Taubin's "Adieu" to "mumblecore, the indie movement that never was more than a flurry of festival hype and blogosphere branding," and Daniel Stuyck's retelling of the tale of Eagle Pennell, whose "first two efforts - the short Hell of a Note (77) and the feature-length The Whole Shootin' Match (78) - coincided with the emergence of 'regional cinema' in the US, a forerunner of today's American indie."

Updated through 11/12.

Taubin, an early champion of Andrew Bujalski, really lays into Joe Swanberg. Hard. The "mumblecore" backlash was always a given, but who knew it'd be so damn personalized? In Aaron Katz's Dance Party USA and Quiet City, she finds "a lyric beauty rarely associated with digital cinematography." Ry Russo-Young may be the bunch's "token female director," but Orphans, "with its heavy-handed visual metaphors and anguished examination of the symbiotic bond between two sisters, seems closer to Bergman than Bujalski." Ronald Bronstein's Frownland "is both an unnerving literalization and a clammy slap in the face of mumblecore, although Bronstein began production in 2002, three years before the word was uttered." But all that's off-putting, maybe even offensive or just downright wrong about "mumblecore" finds its corollary in the work of Joe Swanberg.

"That Swanberg believes that his life and those of his friends are separate from the war or the global meltdown that is upon us seems to me reason enough to bring back the draft," writes Taubin. Yikes. Presumably, we would be spared such "smug and blatantly lazy" movies by a director "(I employ the term merely as a description of function)" whose most infuriating affront seems to be that "women [are] ever ready to get naked for his camera." She neglects to mention that there are just as many dicks flopping around in Joe's movies as boobs; that'd be a minor point if it weren't seemingly so important for Taubin.

Look, I have tremendous respect for Amy Taubin, whom I've read and learned from over many years. It takes well-seasoned smarts to suggest that "one might think of mumblecore as an update of the 'New Talkie,' the strand (not quite a genre) of no-budget indies that emerged in the early 90s with such landmark films as Richard Linklater's Slacker, Kevin Smith's Clerks and Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner's Go Fish. Within a broader history, one might trace it back to Warhol's The Chelsea Girls and his related 60s talkies." But I'm taken aback by the suggestion - from, again, a Bujalski fan - that anyone who picks up a camera is morally obligated to use it to issue a state-of-the-world manifesto or to be thematically strapped in any other way. Mostly I'm surprised, though, for how little consideration is taken for the way Joe's films are made, shaky cameras and nude scenes aside. Does Amy Taubin know that Hannah, for example, was co-concieved by a woman playwright (Greta Gerwig) or that the entire cast and crew has emphasized again and again, in countless interviews, that Hannah could hardly have been a more collaborative effort? Many of the criticisms leveled over this entire year at the loose bunch of films tumbling, willingly or not, into the "mumblecore" bucket are well worth taking seriously; that won't happen if we go rushing out into the night, torches held high, looking for a straw man.

Lou Perryman and Sonny Carl Davis of The Whole Shootin Match At any rate, Eagle Pennell's life was as meandering as his films, and Stuyck not only captures the tragic appeal of both but also finds a center of gravity, noting that his "biggest cinematic influence" was John Ford. But: "For everything Pennell has in common with Ford (a populist faith in individuals, a classical, space-oriented mise en scène), he is about 30 years too late, existing at the losing end of the Fordian equation. The communities that form to solve conflict, absolutely central to Ford, are unattainable for Pennell."

Chris Chang's call for a distributor this month is devoted to Jia Zhang-ke's Useless.

Rob Nelson on Paul Schrader's The Walker: "Original, no. But this movie's strangeness is in full bloom."

Then, the online exclusives. Phillip Lopate's review of Chris Marker's Staring Back runs here in an "extended version," quoting Bill Horrigan, who curated the original exhibition, which we can now hold in our hands in the form of a book, "an image archipelago, dispersed over continents horizontally and demolishing time vertically."

Graham Fuller interviewed Joe Strummer for the July/August 1987 issue, and he "might just be the best thing in Straight to Hell, which in itself isn't much of an achievement, although he personally emerged from the shoot a 'natural' actor."

And another "blast from the past": James Blue's interview with Pier Paolo Pasolini back in 1965, when it seemed to him that we were about to witness "the birth of two completely different cinemas. The high level of cinema - that is, the cinema d'essai - will cater to a selected public and will have its own history. And the other level will have its own story."

Update, 11/10: Making the rounds, I've come across some good commentary on Taubin's article from Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog, Vadim Rizov at ScreenGrab and ST VanAirsdale at the Reeler.

Updates, 11/12: A damn good entry from AJ Schnack: "In Defense of SXSW & Matt Dentler."

Notes Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay: "As reported on the Oxford University Press blog, 'mumblecore' is a runner-up 2007 'word of the year.'"

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Posted by dwhudson at November 6, 2007 7:47 AM


I know you're not going to post this comment because you never post any of my comments, but I just wanted to say that I'm glad there is a mumblecore backlash, as I find these movies to be as offensive as Taubin does, especially Swanberg's movies, for they are as insignificant as cinema can be, as if the love lives of middle-class hipsters is of any interest to anyone except said middle-class hipsters. The fact that they are commended for knowing how to work a camera and how to improvise (woefully, I might add; I've seen the exact same quality of acting in the myriad acting classes I've taken) singles out how cynical and debased the reviewers who champion these movies are. You want bargain-basement, kitchen sink, early 21rst century ennui? Watch some James Fotopolous. At least he's not smug, which is all the mumblecore practitioners are, Bujalski and Swanberg and The Duplass Bros being the main offenders. I can't wait for the next trend in AmerIndie Films, as this current one is truly heinous.

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 6, 2007 12:02 PM

Edward, I'm afraid I don't know of any other comments of yours that I've not "published," as the Moveable Type system puts it. Which isn't to say that you haven't tried to comment before; there's a "junk" filtering system at work here that, very unfortunately, sometimes files away perfectly legitimate comments that I never see. It's frustrating, particularly given the amount of spam that does get through (which is why you'll find most entries closed to comments after seven days).

At any rate, naturally I respect your finding "these movies to be as offensive as Taubin does," only, thing is, she doesn't. She finds plenty worth praising in all the films she mentions - except Joe Swanberg's. She lays all the supposed sins of the entire batch at Joe's feet. And that strikes me as a little too convenient, to put it, well, respectfully.

Posted by: David Hudson at November 6, 2007 12:17 PM

As I wrote on my blog, "with all due respect to Taubin and Film Comment, if a collection of films is so insignificant and unimportant... why dedicate so much of your space to it?"

Posted by: Dentler at November 6, 2007 1:00 PM

There are plenty of problems with Taubin's article, particularly its ill-thought-out feminism (such as complaining about Swanberg objectifying women without mentioning his films' male nudity except when she disapproves of it, as David points out), but the bulk of her arguments are solid. Can anyone deny that QUIET CITY makes more expressive use of DV than HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS? Or that IN BETWEEN DAYS is as accomplished as mumblecore films that got more hype? I think she's right about Andrew Bujalski's greater gifts as well - the mumblecore "movement" strikes me as one talented filmmaker and a group of his wanna-be friends. Bujalski's films simulate artlessness; HANNAH is the real thing.

Posted by: Steve at November 6, 2007 1:37 PM

I don't view the piece as a backlash against mumblecore at all. True, she has some harsh words for Joe ("Swanberg has an obvious future in TV." Ouch!) but nothing but praise for Katz. Placing Dance Party, USA in her "pantheon of coming-of-age movies" is pretty damn impressive!

Posted by: Filmbrain at November 6, 2007 2:51 PM

I agree, so maybe, though I sort of restated it in my reply to Edward, my original entry isn't all that clear. At the risk of over-generalizing: There are criticisms of the bunch as a whole (and again, more than a few of these are definitely worth serious consideration); there are, on the other hand, compliments paid to each and every film (I read the bits I quoted as positive takes) - except for Joe's, and at that point, all previous criticisms are sharpened, made concrete and specific, and hurled his way.

Steve, I think the look, and for that matter, the overall aesthetics of Quiet City and Hannah are appropriate for each film. And did In Between Days really get less "hype" than any of the films we're talking about here? Critical favorite at Sundance, then a distribution deal with Kino, then broadcast on the Sundance channel... Not bad, in comparison.

Posted by: David Hudson at November 6, 2007 3:20 PM

Wow, Matt Dentler really stuck it to Amy Taubin. That's a nice rhetorical weapon you have in your arsenal Matt, but I hope you have another one, because I watched Tully's Cocaine Angel last week and it has the absolute worst lead performance out of any movie I've seen since the last Henry Jaglom, not to mention its ugly, as are most all of the Mumblecore films, the exception being the two Katz films, which, in the end, may have more to do with the cinematographer than Katz himself. I think what Bujalski and Co. need to do is go back and watch George Washington one more time. None of these filmmakers have a fraction of the filmmaking talent that Gordon Green has, but I will hand it to them, they have double the publicity savvy that he does. I can think of a dozen young filmmakers who deserve the ink that's being spilled on the Mumble-lites, one of them being Travis Wilkerson, whose An Injury to One is everything the Mumble-jams are not: innovative, prescient, beautiful and put together with tender love and care. Maybe Dentler can get on the horn and toot some notes for the criminally ignored Wilkerson, whose last film, Who Killed Cock Robin?, has more to say about youth in America than Funny Ha Ha, The Puffy Chair, and LOL combined. And all of you can eat Taubin's article and taste whatever you want, but what I tasted was a cookie laced with arsenic.

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 6, 2007 4:55 PM

As for hype, I don't recall any ecstatic posts from indieWIRE-hosted/linked bloggers about IN BETWEEN DAYS. During the IFC Center's two-week mumblecore showcase, it felt as if the entire film blogosphere was gathering in unison to celebrate the movement, which it helped create and publicize. The only voices raised in objection were about the films' all-white casts, not their aesthetics.

Posted by: Steve at November 6, 2007 7:28 PM

Having attended SXSW every year that Swanberg's been there, I've seen all his features, and they're all terrible. Silly and whiny, go-nowhere 20-something relationship "stories." Bad dialogue. Bad production value. No visual talent at all. They're painful to suffer through.

And that holds true for most of the rest of the Mumblecore films too. How very sad that this is the most buzz-worthy happening in American independent film. I weep for the future unless something changes.

I'm actually sitting out SXSW this year because I've grown increasingly sick of their weak narrative programming, the mumblecore films a big part of it.

Posted by: Doug at November 7, 2007 1:19 AM

Well, Doug, mileage varies, I suppose. The late winter / early spring one-two punch of the Berlinale and SXSW, such delightfully different festivals, remains the highlight of my own film calendar.

Steve, point taken. As for In Between Days, I did what I could, but yes, you're right.

Posted by: David Hudson at November 7, 2007 5:56 AM

I just wanted to say that Greencine is the first place I go to every morning and has been for the last four years. I don't know how many movies I would've missed out on were it not for David and his wonderful site. That being said, I refuse to believe that the Mumblecore filmmakers represent the best and brightest. If all it took to produce lasting, influential cinema was to point a camera at your friends and let them riff then I think we would heard similar hype twenty years ago, as what Bujalski and Co. do is nothing new. I share with Taubin the belief that this is mostly hype and savvy networking. It seems that Bujalski was at the right place at the right time (and had friends in all the right place) and now we have been inundated with dozens who want to glom off his good fortune. That the movement mostly consists of smug, overeductaed, white guys with cool haircuts does not suprise me at all. What suprises me is how quickly a good portion of the American film community fell for it. I knew something was off when one of the first champions of Bujalski was Ray Carney, aka The Man Who Gave Birth To John Cassavetes. The next time, if I were you, I would think twice before being set up on a blind date by a stalker.

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 7, 2007 8:08 AM

Many thanks for the kind words re: the Daily, Edward. I guess we'll just have to respectfully disagree on these particular films, but I do hope to see more of your comments in the future- provided Moveable Type lets me!

Posted by: David Hudson at November 7, 2007 8:46 AM

Edward --

There's a bitterness to your comments that makes them seem less like actual criticism and more like a personal gripe. (Are you in fact Travis Wilkerson?)

Mumblecore wasn't created by the filmmakers. There's no secret cabal at work here. You group Michael Tully in with the rest of them, but by any definition of the term can Cocaine Angel be considered mumblecore? (For what it's worth, I couldn't disagree with you more about the performances in Tully's film.)

You can't even bring it over yourself to praise Katz, writing off Quiet City's success as a result of its cinematography alone. Please.

[Full disclosure -- I'm the president of Benten Films, distributor of LOL, Quiet City and Dance Party, USA on DVD.]

"What suprises me is how quickly a good portion of the American film community fell for it." This made me laugh. Would you care to qualify or quantify that statement? Who specifically makes up this "American film community?" Did any mumblecore film smash box office records? Has Joe, Aaron, Andrew or any of the others appeared on the cover of EW? For most of America, indie film still means Little Miss Sunshine.

I'll agree that there are plenty of other talented filmmakers who are being ignored, but that's always been the case. I'm doing what I can to change that (some big announcements from Benten are forthcoming) but bitching about those who have found a modicum of success is really kind of petty.

The artificial mumblecore moniker made it easier for journalists to find a hook. Fine. But now it's time to consider these films individually. Pointing out that Katz, Swanberg et. al. are white is tired, old, and pointless.

Posted by: Filmbrain at November 7, 2007 12:00 PM

I haven't seen all the films in question, but Taubin's biggest problem (whether she realizes it or not) with mumblecore is its self-cannibalizing subject matter. In other words, they haven't graduated from films about white middle class hipsters, they've just made more of them. LOL is the closest the bunch has come to making a movie of greater sociological worth, but the issues it addresses are still pretty specific to white middle class hipsters.

I don't mean to be pejorative, since the films are generally good and (within this group) varied in style. But they don't seem to have much interest in the world at large, and I think Taubin is correct in suggesting that artists lacking that burn out quickly.

Posted by: Steve M at November 7, 2007 2:12 PM

Mr. Yang,

It's nice to hear from you. I'm a huge fan of your film YI YI. The only thing is, I thought you were dead. Maybe that was someone else.

With regards to COCAINE ANGEL, I would just like to say that when I did actually sit through it at the beginning of its festival run (the thought of ever watching it again makes my skin crawl), there was one particular screening when I was embarrassed by it, yet there was also one when I was impressed by it. Which is to say that I respect your opinion, provided that it's coming from an honest, objective place.

Also, I would like to plead 100% guilty to the charge of not writing anything about IN BETWEEN DAYS on my indieWIRE blog. The thing is, I literally saw it on the last day it was showing at the IFC Center, and while I should have let the world know just how much I liked it, I didn't. Forgive me father, for I have sinned. For the record, I agree completely with everyone in their praise of this fine, fine, fine film. It reminded me of SHOW ME LOVE, and I mean that in the best possible way. There's a reason that film got somewhat legitimate distribution. I'll leave it at that.

I would like to conclude by saying that I am a self-deprecating dude, so while I don't want to go overboard here, I do want to confess that any positive attention I've ever received has made me feel uncomfortable (albeit thankful). But does that mean I shouldn't make movies because at least 94% of the indie filmmakers out there are more talented than I am? Probably, but all I'm interested in doing is expressing myself. Sometimes it's writing a song. Sometimes it's hitting a one-handed backhand. Sometimes it's making a movie. And for the record, all of that positive attention hasn't gotten me anywhere. I'm as far from making a "real movie" as I've ever been. So that should make you sleep more soundly tonight. Can't wait to see your next movie!


Posted by: tully at November 7, 2007 2:36 PM

Filmbrain, I enjoy visiting your site on a daily basis too. Your pleasure in seeing Deep End on the Sight and Sound list was mutual. And of course my comments are not of a critical nature; I'm not a critic, I'm just some random person who works in a generic city doing a garden variety job. I'm someone who loves movies, and no, I'm not Travis Wilkerson, although I admire his filmmaking greatly. I saw An Injury to One at BAM Rose and there were three other people in the audience. I never heard another thing about the movie, it's unavailable on DVD (although I did score a bootleg), and yet a few months later I saw Funny Ha Ha based on their reviews I read of it, which made it sound as if it was a revolution in American filmmaking, which I guess, in some weird way, it was. I found the movie to be ecstatically pedestrian and feared that every hipster with a camera was going to see it and try to emulate it, which is exactly what has happened, much to my disappointment. That all of these filmmakers are from the exact same demographic is precisely the point, as it is this demographic that is granted all of...everything; money, hype, print space. How many young, under 35 filmmakers that are being touted are women? Who? Sofia Coppola, Miranda July? It's all about the privileged space that the young, white male occupies, their point of view, and I'm sick and tired of it. It's old. it's dull. It tells us nothing about anything except what it's like to be a young white man looking for love. Maybe you could use your intelligence and drive to look around and find some filmmakers who don't fit into your pre-conceived ideas of what a filmmaker should be. There are plenty of them out there. Trust me. But again, I love your site and keep up the good work. You are obviously passionate about films and it's infectious. Cheers.

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 7, 2007 2:58 PM

But wait!! How come Quiet City gets all good reviews? THe cinematography???? The cinematography is only noteworthy in comparison to some of the other Mumblecore works. Swanberg's camerawork is direct and clear, not missing anything but not capturing anything because nothing ever happens, nothing is alive, nothing communicated. The Katz is painfully careful and cautious, his camera still, disciplined and the lack of ANYTHING AT ALL worth looking or listening to is so excruciating!! At least Joe gives us cheap thrills. Neither filmmakers bring any insight or experience to the films. I hesitate to call them movies at all.

Frownland on the other hand is definitely a movie! I am not sure why it is included in the article. In 20 or 30 years it might be interesting to look back and see some tangential connections, but it doesn't serve to do so now. I am afraid it diminishes Bronstein's vision to lump it in with these lumps. Frownland could have been the original Mumblecore film if the term hadn't been used already, the main character mumbles throught the whole film.

But what is the first Mumblecorp film? What really sets it up as a movement? Wasn't All the Real Girls sort of Mumblecorp? What about Eric Rohmer? He used to edit his films in seven days, maybe even quicker than Swanberg.

Frownland is a cut outside if not above the other films, even Bujalski who is already aging terribly. I have seen Frownland more than once and it has become a comfortable sock to me. I feel like I will always be able to rely on it, and it will live with me day to day. Not too many new films do that for me.

Posted by: JohnS at November 7, 2007 3:13 PM

Slacker is the ur-mumblecore film. George Washington is what all-regional filmmaking should aspire to in execution, and no, Mr. Tully, I'm not that Edward Yang. You see, on the web people like to use names that are not their own. Maybe this comes as a shock to you. I don't want to use my real name because my name is not important, unlike yours, which carries with it a modicum of credibility, seeing as how you are a charter member of one of the coolest cliques around. I am looking forward to your next movie. Cocaine Angel was number one on my queue when it came out. You are obviously a natural born filmmaker, and I had hoped that your movie would be a kindred spirit with one of my fave indies from the last few years, Trans. My only concern is that you will cast the actor who was the lead in Cocaine Angel in your next movie. Please don't. He is a chronic indicator. It was just too much, and ruined the entire movie for me. Maybe next time you can cast someone who doesn't need to telegraph every thing he's feeling every single moment he's in front of the camera. May I politely suggest that you visit any local acting workshop and point at random. I'm sure whoever you pick will do your next film justice. And I just know that you will make another film. I can feel it. You might have to wait until there is a wave of mumblecore nostalgia in the year 2027, but it will be worth the wait, trust me. Until then, keep honing your laconic prose and Godspeed You! White Emperor. P.S.: If I were you, or Bujalski or Swanberg or Katz or The Duplass Brothers, I would find the person who coined the term mumblecore and beat him with a pair of Chucks.

Posted by: at November 7, 2007 4:09 PM

You know, I'm really tired of hearing the charge leveled that mumblecore is nothing but a bunch of hipsters with cameras. (Oooh, hipster! How scarrrrrrry!) I have a couple of friends who are both well-rounded cinephiles and alpha male members of a fraternity, and while they sometimes want to beat the shit out of Bujalski and Swanberg's characters, they still dig the movies.

I mean, there's a bunch of other stuff going on here that I hope to address some point, but the ad hominem attacks on the filmmakers (and the implication that the audience for a film can be no more diverse than its subjects) is pretty ridiculous.

Posted by: vadim at November 7, 2007 5:10 PM

To play devil's advocate, the criticism that mumblecore = a white, middle-class male hipster POV is the most facile one that can be made. You don't even have to watch the films to make it. Yes, filmmakers of color and women deserve more press - Julia Loktev's DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT is my favorite American film of the year. However, if Joe Swanberg stopped getting press and distribution, that doesn't automatically mean that a talented woman and/or person of color would take his place. THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE is about white middle-class hipsters and still manages to say something about what it felt like to live in Paris in the wake of May '68. If only an American could make a narrative film that expresses what it feels to live in New York in the midst of the endless Iraq occupation. I'm waiting for the inevitable "first queer mumblecore film" and "first African-American mumblecore film" to come down the festival circuit; hopefully, the directors who'll follow Bujalski, Swanberg and Katz will have more curiosity about the world.

Posted by: Steve at November 7, 2007 5:42 PM

I'm just waiting for these guys to show me they can do anything other than improvised handheld cheapies. Because, basically, they're doing the easiest possible thing a feature filmmaker could do. And don't give me that no-budget-dictating-production values crap. Filmmakers can do whatever they want at this point, give or take, due to the technology. I simply will not take a filmmaker seriously if he boasts to using auto features on a consumer camera because he's not a good photographer. Then LEARN how to be a good cameraman, you lazy fuck. Telling me that, in the context of serious filmmakers who spend years perfecting their craft, makes me want to bitch slap that smirk off your face.

The problem with the Mumblecore or Slackavetes hype is that it was premature ejaculation. It wasn't like Sundance in the late-80s/early-90s where these independents were breaking out from nowhere and proving themselves on the world stage. For the most part, these movies haven't gotten distribution -- or, where they have, it's been predominantly untraditional. There's a reason for that. They're not good enough to play in theaters nationwide. A friend and I Netflixed The Puffy Chair. We both enjoyed it, but had the same conclusion: neither of us would ever have ever paid to see it in a theater.

So, instead of jerking these guys off, I propose the film community impose tough love. Until they grow the hell up.

Posted by: at November 7, 2007 10:36 PM

As someone who helped make one of these movies (and helped program IFC's 'New Talkies' series), all the attention and analysis and debate going on here and elsewhere sure is flattering (and fascinating), but I have to ask -- are y'all REALLY still talking about this?! Who knew that $3000, a DV camera, and some non-professional actors (used to make such modest, low-key movies) could get the online film community so riled up? Despite my connections to the "clique," I'm no mumblecore apologist (my feelings about the movies themselves actually align pretty closely with Steve Erickson's; I'm self-hating, what can I say?), but I'd wager even the detractors have to admit that Joe, Aaron, and Andrew's (et al) films have touched some kind of nerve; like 'em or not, they've at least sparked plenty of interesting arguments.

But, guys, is there really nothing else out there right now for us to talk about? I mean, New York has Sembene, Skolimowski, and Pasolini retros coming up! Mumblecore is certainly worth of discussion (and there has been plenty), but I think it's about time to move on. Until we get BAGHEAD, PRESENT COMPANY, NIGHTS AND WEEKENDS, LUKE AND BRIE ARE ON A FIRST DATE, and the new Bujalski next year, that is...

Posted by: wells at November 8, 2007 8:41 AM

I love these people who think that ten people talking about these films in the comments section means that these films are somehow important. Get over yourself. The reason some of us are saying what we're saying is because we're tired of hearing about these half-ass, poorly acted films. Your argument is as recess-time as ours. These movies, in proportion to how much effort and care was put into them, have been publicized way too much already. But I suppose the people who champion these movies go by the maxim that any pub is good pub, which seems to be what this whole thing is about, which is par for the course for a bunch of navel-gazing, whiny liberal arts yahoos. Just go and make your movies. It looks like Bujalski and Co. have been given a pass anyway, as they will be allowed to make movies until the day comes when they finally figure out how to make a movie, which should be about seven or eight movies from now. The problem with this whole clique of people and those that love them is that they want to be congratulated for doing the absolute minimum, which is what gets me all riled up. It's like a child who brings home a fingerpainting and then wants everyone to tell them that they're a genius. So can someone please go find Michael Tully or one of the Duplass Brothers and pat them on the head and tell them what a good boy they are? That's all they want. That's what I get from these movies, which is why, with the exception of Frownland (which actually looks interesting), I'm not seeing any of these movies ever again. I don't think people should be praised for filming rehearsals. And that should be the title of the next Bujalski film: The Rehearsal.

Posted by: at November 8, 2007 10:00 AM

I love these people who think that ten people talking about these films in the comments section means that these films are somehow important. Get over yourself.

They've gotta be somewhat important if you're getting all hot and bothered about them. Personally, I don't think this is nearly as big a deal as, say, the fact that many people in this country think Paul Haggis is a Thought-Provoking Auteur. Now that's a problem.

But how ironic is it that the least confrontational, wimpiest pseudo-trend of recent years is generating all this hate.

Posted by: vadim at November 8, 2007 2:18 PM

I don't think most people know that Joe Swanberg's latest film, "Hannah Takes the Stairs," was financed/budgeted at $100,000.00. I'm not sure where the money actually went (taking Joe to all those film fests?) but it's hardly a "no budget film." The interesting thing will be to see how Matt Dentler (who Amy T. nails correctly as they lead hype-master of this whole "movement") will program the next SWSX festival in 2008. Will it feature more Mumblecore? More Swanberg? (Joe is kind of like the Joyce Carol Oates of indie film...all he needs is a long weekend to create his next opus...only she has something to say about society and he doesn't). How will critics/audiences react if it's another SXSwanberg fest? Finally, Joe may not realize it, but he's become a gay icon for gay viewers of indie films. How many other indie film directors can you identify that have masturbated onscreen to ejactulation in one of their films? My gay friends love watching "Kissing on the Mouth" just for that one scene....

Posted by: James at November 8, 2007 2:45 PM

I read the Swanberg budget and thought it had to be a misprint.

Gaspar Noe depicts himself masturbating in IRREVERSIBLE, but the erection is digital, and he doesn't bring it to completion. Perhaps Swanberg has a future in gay porn.

Posted by: Steve at November 8, 2007 3:41 PM

Amen, Vadim. The ones spewing the most vitriol over the amount of mumblecore press are only serving to spotlight these movies even more!

Posted by: wells at November 8, 2007 3:42 PM

I guess, another important question (again, connected to artistic growth) is: will SXSW remain a progressive independent-minded film festival, or will it become the mumblecore film festival?

I think it would be kind of neat if indie film diversified by necessity due to all of its geographic strongholds pigeonholing themselves to death.

Posted by: Steve M at November 8, 2007 4:42 PM

Digital erection? Ah, technology, how far we've cum, er, come.

I love this discussion. Any group of films that touches a nerve positively or negatively deserves some attention, certainly, though I agree with Senor Wells, that it's time to move on. I know that my folks, who are both fairly film literate (especially my dad) had no idea what I was talking about when I used the term "mumblecore" when mentioning one of these films. And the filmmakers probably want it that way; I don't know how many of them actually set out to be part of a movement or like being lumped together like that. And listen, so they're white male filmmakers making hipster-ish films. They seem to give equal time to women and not in a patronizing/on a pedestal way, either (at least in the films I've seen). They just depict things as they see it, the people they know, the stories have heart. They're not all great films, in my opinion, I find them a mixed lot, but each one seems to have come from the heart. But yes, there are plenty of other indie films of late that deserve attention, too, and Julia Loktev's is one of them (it's starting to gain a cult following, however).

Again, I wonder how much of this debate is detached from the greater reality of how much notoriety any of these films really have outside of our fairly insular film-geeky world. I guess I understand the disagreement about the quality of these films, but don't quite get the hate about it, either.

Posted by: Craig P at November 8, 2007 4:45 PM


No they're not. The people spilling vitriol are doing so in the discreet comments section of this blog. Aside from the fact that a few other blogs picked up Amy's original item.

Anybody who believes there's no such thing as bad press is naive.

Posted by: at November 8, 2007 6:52 PM

this is so fun that i had to post one more time! i promise, this is the last one. seriously, "Edward Yang" (i'm using quotes because apparently THAT'S NOT YOUR REAL NAME?! now you're gonna tell me that the hot 14-year-old goth chick i've been e-chatting with is actually a fat, hairy man--yeah, right), you need to start your own blog. i would read that mugg like a mugg. show your true face. the world needs you right now!

here's my problem--and it is also why i have made a commitment to myself to not make another movie CA-style...

here's my list of the best three American independent films of 2007:


can any of you cinephiles figure out what these three things have in common? can ya, hotshots? how about you, "Edward Yang"? the answer is quite simple:


this doesn't clarify anything, necessarily, but it's a very important point to me. i'll stop writing now.

Posted by: tully at November 8, 2007 7:51 PM

"They've gotta be somewhat important if you're getting all hot and bothered about them."

this is kind of a tired argument, don't you think? using this logic, ann coulter must be the most important american pundit since she always incenses such a large swath of the public. also, paul haggis really *is* important, since he gets you all "hot and bothered". right?

Posted by: aaron at November 8, 2007 8:48 PM

As I've mentioned before, these films make up maybe 5% of the feature programming at SXSW over the last three years. There are plenty of viable, exciting, indie-minded films making their debut or getting a boost, at SXSW each and every year.

I think these films get such vocal attention on blogs because they share a similar demographic, both by the creators and the spectators. Meanwhile, in other film circles and other demographics, SXSW is known as a place for terrific documentaries or fun midnight movies or the occasional studio hit ("Kocked Up" being one last year). I know this may be hard to believe, on a film blog, but some people know SXSW very well and have never even heard the word "mumblecore." Crazy, isn't it?

The truth is, the SXSW lineup is often a pretty diverse slate of American and international indies as well as blockbusters. Thinking that all we do is "mumblecore" is obviously a lazy analysis that most often comes from people who have never actually attended SXSW or only attend at a glance. The same could be said for making generalizations about any of these filmmakers. Swanberg's filmmaking is only slightly similar to Bujalski's, and so on and so forth.

None of them only do one kind of filmmaking. Wait till you see the Duplass' BAGHEAD or Swanberg's upcoming Web series BUTTERKNIFE. To continue with artifical labels about what their work is or what it does, is a pretty bland way to approach film "criticism." People should really challenge themselves more. Myself included.

Now, granted, few other independent films from our slate this year have been featured in lengthy Sunday New York Times pieces or on a full page of Rolling Stone magazine. But to criticize both SXSW and these filmmakers, seems a bit incorrect. These filmmakers are a talented bunch, and sure maybe not all of their work will be loved by everyone, but to punish artists because of a hype machine is perhaps not the best use of time.

These filmmakers didn't create "mumblecore," neither did SXSW. The most amusing and disturbing part of all this backlash is quite simply the fact that "mumblecore" doesn't even exist. It's not a person, place, or thing. None of these filmmakers are trying to use the term for any sort of gain. And, neither is SXSW. No one is raising any "mumblecore" flags, creating any mumble-merchandise, or even using the term, period. In fact, the only people who actually use the word "mumblecore" are often doing it out of disdain for the label and as a sense of self-parody.

I could go on, but I'd rather sort through the thousands of SXSW 2008 submissions, in hopes of discovering more talented newcomers. And you know what? If the filmmaking is good, I could care less about what they call themselves.

Posted by: Dentler at November 8, 2007 9:00 PM

Aaron - well yes. Anything that gets a wide reaction is automatically "important." I just happen to think in this case the movies are both *good* and important. Haggis is important because, in someone's warped world, he's brilliant, which affects the quality of my life.

Posted by: vadim at November 9, 2007 5:21 AM

Great World of Sound is one of my favorite films of the year, too. It's also a film that not one of the mumblejohns could make if you put a gun to their head.
"Make a movie just like this."
"I don't, uh, that's not really, I guess, what I, you know."
"Grab that camera."
"That camera."
"That one."
"Uh, it looks kind of heavy."
"I said grab it."
"Turn it on."
"Ouch. I think I tore my rotator cuff."
"Do something. Make a movie."
"Okay, well, let's see, I've never, uh, like, I don't think that, you know, I can work this thing."
"Then point it at me."
"I can do that."
"Give me some direction."
"Okay. Well, why don't you just say whatever's on your, uh, mind, I guess, and like, just talk and stuff."
"Give me something to talk about."
"Do you have a, uh, girlfriend?"
"How about a job. Do you, uh, like have a job you don't like, you know, like something you do that you think you're too smart to do. And stuff."
"This is my job. To point this gun at you until you make a movie as good as Great World of Sound."
"I, uh, I don't think that I, just, kind of, like, you know, uh, I don't really feel that well."
"You're sick."
"Uh, I guess. Yeah."
"So just say that. Say I'm sick."
"I, uh, I'm, you know, I'm like, uh, sick."

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 9, 2007 6:52 AM

Now I know what it is that bothers me so much about these movies. It's the supposed lack of style, which, of course, is a style, that is perceived as having some kind of authenticity. That's what I don't like. These movies are as fake as 300, yet there's something about them that allows people to convince themselves that what they are seeing is somehow the unvarnished truth, or as close to the truth as a young filmmaker can get with such limited life experience. And I'm not buying it. Because nothing is authentic anymore, not even people, like the mumbledicks, who make what are essentially cinematic diaries. In other words, Bujalski and Co., and the films they make, are just as fake and contrived as everyone elses.

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 9, 2007 7:05 AM

Edward, sweetie...

You're spending too much time by your computer. PLEASE...go outside and get some exercise. Take a walk around the block. Leave the kids alone.

I'll cook you some soup, tonight, okay?

Please come and visit me. Please.

I love you,


Posted by: Edward Yang's Mother at November 9, 2007 7:53 AM

Dear Mom,

I'm doing all of this because of you. You were a whore, mom. I'll never forgive you for having sex with Loggins and Messina during my weekends with you. Joint custody meants you had to spend time with me. Although I always secretly liked the dick sweater you knit for Kenny.


Posted by: at November 9, 2007 8:02 AM

Well, this is beginning to sound like that point in the evening when the first round of guests clear their throats, mention an early start in the morning and politely excuse themselves. Understandably. Before everyone tunes out: I do think a few of the films mentioned here will stand the test of time and I look forward to future work from their makers. Thanks, Matt, too, for that sneak peek.

Meantime, anyone going to the Berlinale and/or SXSW, drop a line.

Posted by: David Hudson at November 9, 2007 8:33 AM

vadim, i think you're confusing popularity/controversy w/ importance-- mtv would find you useful.

my beef w/ "mumblecore" is that it mistakes narcissism for art. the lack of "others" (read: minorities, working-class persons, etc.) per se in "mumblecore" films doesn't bother me-- it's that this deficiency is microcosmic of the larger problem w/ the entire "aesthetic" of "mumblecore," which is its narcissism. it's not that i think swanberg, et. al. are racist or classist or sexist or homophobic or whatever, but that they're lazy and indifferent and can't be bothered to look beyond themselves. to me, an artist should go beyond her limited understanding and experience and put herself into unfamiliar and uncomfortable situations. otherwise, what are you going to learn? what do you have to say? joe swanberg doesn't really have anything to say, other than what it's like to be a privileged white kid; fine, but mtv has been doing a pretty good job of keeping me abreast of that particular demographic for the past 20 years, so i'm good. thx, though.

it's really just the laziness and how certain bloggers and certain corners of the larger media have praised this laziness. edward's lollerific dialogue exemplifies what i'm talking about. how hard is it to aim a camera at yr friends and tell them to bloviate? swanberg can't even be arsed to write a script b/c that would require actual work. i read an interview w/ cronenberg, i think it was, who said that the reason he adapted 'a history of violence' was b/c he was lazy and didn't feel like writing anything-- thank you! at least he can admit it.

narcissism is an interesting subject, but swanberg, et. al. daren't approach it critically or examine it. how could they? they would have to come to terms w/ some really uncomfortable truths about themselves, about their films, about how they make those films, about the praise heaped on them, etc., etc. and who wants to deal w/ all that when it's way easier to have people just kiss yr ass? and the press that covers this lot is no different-- isn't that *why* they love these films? b/c "mumblecore" films are just flattering portrayals of themselves and their friends ("omg i totes love the arcade fire and didn't know what i was going to do after grad school either like ftw lol")? it's reminiscent of 'sideways' and all the dumpy, middle-aged critics who lavished the movie w/ praise-- b/c it's a totally flattering movie about a dumpy, middle-aged writer.

even more disturbing than all of that is that the movies are just flat out boring. they're lo-fi romcoms-- what's the big deal? it's like punk rock. when you get down to it, punk is just good old fashioned chuck berry rock n' roll. nothing wrong w/ that, but it's not exactly innovative, either. my suspicions where confirmed when i read an interview w/ swanberg wherein he actually admits that romantic comedies are his favorite genre of film and that he hopes to one day make a proper pg-13 one. (which you can read here.) um, lol. it's just much ado about nothing. these people aren't that interesting and they're not doing anything new or different and please please spare me the "but if you're talking about it, it must be important lol" shit. i'm talking about it b/c i love film, i'm something of a filmmaker myself, these people are my peers and i feel anxious that *this* is how others view my generation. this jive happens in music all the time. a band will come out of the woodwork and the blogs will go apeshit, praising the crap out of them and then, poof, they're never heard from again. (anyone remember the cold war kids? tapes n tapes? the rapture?) as cliche as it is, don't believe the hype so much.

Posted by: aaron at November 9, 2007 8:48 AM

"Say something interesting."
"Hold on. Uh, where's my blackberry?"
"Don't do it."
"There it is."
"Put it down."
"I, you know, don't think that I can. I'm like, disconnected from, I think, what I'm trying to say, you know, I don't know."
"You're not disconnected from anything or anyone. You're a child and you have too many toys. That's your problem."
"It's like, I don't really know how to, what's the word, communicate, I think, I mean, that's it. I don't know."
"Yes you do. You have a degree from a college that wouldn't accept me because of my SAT scores. You know how to communicate. You just don't want to. Because you don't think anyone can understand what you're saying. You have convinced yourself that your words are heavier than heavy."
"Maybe you'd like to, I don't know, take off your pants, or something. Whatever."
"No one wants to look at me without my pants on."
"Okay. I'm just saying."
"You're not saying anything."
"You know what I mean."
"I'm having a hard time, I think, like, I guess, understanding what you're talking about."
"Enough. I get it."
"You know."
"I get it. You've made your point."

Posted by: Edward Yang at November 9, 2007 9:31 AM

Aaron , if you think how much attention something gets doesn't elevate its cultural profile and therefore make it something to reckon with, you're being naive. My favorite movie is Yi Yi (hi Edward's corpse!), but I'm not expecting it to become America's Favorite Movie anytime soon. This is why I don't talk about movies at parties.

And if you think the Bujalski and Duplass movies aren't self-critical, you're being naive about that too. Not so sure about the others, honestly; I kind of wanted to punch someone during the climactic dance party of Quiet City, much as I liked the film overall.

Posted by: vadim at November 9, 2007 10:50 AM

How is Sideways a flattering portrayal of a middle-aged writer? It's a realistic portrayal of two narcissistic men, and Giamatti's character is certainly the more flattering of the two, but both are portrayed in a "warts and all" manner. The women in that film are much more flatteringly developed. I'm not a "middle-aged critic" and I liked Sideways, even if I found parts of it hard to watch. I guess I just don't find that dismissive retort about that film particularly fair. But I did enjoy reading the rest of your rant, Aaron.

Posted by: Craig P at November 9, 2007 1:39 PM

not-Edward Yang: "its ugly, as are most all of the Mumblecore films, the exception being the two Katz films, which, in the end, may have more to do with the cinematographer than Katz himself."

Actually the films had different DPs -- neither of whom, presumably, had a hand in the editing and/or scoring, which I thought were marvelous in both cases.

Posted by: at November 10, 2007 7:58 AM

I don't believe the "white/male/hipster" POV argument to be a built on a solid foundation, but even if it were, so what?

Why is a different POV necessary? It's not like we slag the Ramones for never putting out an afro-beat album.

Posted by: at November 12, 2007 4:13 PM

Edward, you sound bitter. I'd just like say that mumblecore isn't a movement but something cooked up by the press. I didn't see "Hannah" but it does seem like a hustle to take advantage of a brief window of opportunity. I can't knock the hustle even though I'm guessing it marks the end of the 'movement' with a whimper, just a guess. So far as I can tell Bujalski is the only one who will be making movies ten years from now; the rest will probably be teaching. Time will tell...

Posted by: Bo Derek at November 14, 2007 8:54 AM