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American Movie

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American Movie

The first time I saw American Movie was about seven years ago with my brother. The movie ended, and I could not stop laughing. I remember telling my brother “that was one of the funniest mockumentaries I’ve ever seen.” It was at that moment my brother told me that it was not a mockumentary. Everything I just saw was completely real. Upon hearing that, I could feel my brain slowly start to leak out of my skull.

American Movie is the story of indie film maker Mark Borchardt and his attempts to make his first feature length film, Northwestern. Realizing that the easiest way to raise money for a movie is to sell copies of another more commercially accessible movie, he goes about filming a short occult horror film called Coven (pronounced COE-ven, not like ‘oven’), expecting to use the funds from VHS sales to cover the cost of producing Northwestern. Working with little money and very little experience, Mark goes out with a few thousand dollars of his uncles money and makes Coven in barren fields and living rooms all over rural Milwaukee. Joining him in his adventure is his best friend and musician Mike Schank, a lovable stoner who is always ready to help Mark in any crazy scheme he thinks up next. The interaction between the two make for some of the best moments in the film, with Borchardt talking a mile a minute about film technique and the catharsis of independent creation and Schank staring into space like a dog who just heard a high-pitched noise.

To laugh at Borchardt for his ineptness as a film maker is probably most peoples instinctual reaction to the documentary, but American Movie goes far beyond simple mockery. While the costumes are pretty weak and his actors are not quite at the top of their game, but you can still see that Borchardt truly loves what he is doing. He is trying so hard to do it well, that it is almost tragic to see the mistakes he makes and the hurdles he has to overcome. A scene in which he describes his day job as a landscaper at a funeral home gives you the perfect impression of why he still has the drive in him to achieve his dreams. After an incident at the funeral home, he remarks “It was a really, really profound moment. Cuz I was thinkin’, “I’m 30 years old, and in about 10 seconds I gotta start cleaning up somebody’s shit.”

In my defense, I think a lot of people who were not told beforehand that American Movie was indeed completely real may have thought the same thing about it I did. The characters are incredibly animated. The progress and pacing of the story feels very cinematic. The moments of humor seem far too hilarious to be unscripted. Turns out I was wrong on all counts. A story this great could only be real life, and no actor could ever deliver lines like Borchart and Schank and make it feel half as organic. It’s a documentary that truly shows you how documentaries can craft a story, no matter how absurd.

– JD Renaud

— J.D. Renaud has no formal education in film, but that is more than evident upon meeting and/or seeing him. A purveyor of all things eccentric, he prides himself on being a guinea pig test subject for any new form of media he is given. He currently lives in Winnipeg Manitoba with his go-go dancer roommate.

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Written by thesilentmajoritysays

March 17, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Posted in documentary

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F for Fake

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F for Fake

“For the next hour, everything you hear from us is really true and based on solid fact,” says Orson Welles at the start of F for Fake. And with a run time of over an hour and a half, that is your first clue that you are not in for a normal ride. F for Fake is a true documentary in as much as Welles was a true documentarian. Which is to say, not exactly.

Welles was without question a brilliant actor, director, and jack of all trades in the movie business. However, he also prided himself on being a self described trickster, charlatan and magician, though as he puts it: “There are no magicians, only actors playing the parts of magicians.” With F for Fake, Welles takes a stab at encapsulating his favourite past time and tries to elevate the art of fakery and fraud to its rightful place in the artistic community. The film acts very much like a visual essay, drawing examples from the lives of art forger Elmyr de Hory, his interaction with hoax-biographer Clifford Irving and Welles’ own sordid life story, full of fanciful tales of little white lies and little green men.

While never forgiving the actions of the imposters he documents (nor even his own), Welles instead proposes the idea that a truly well executed hoax is, in of itself, a sublime work of art. To explore this idea, he crafts the film to be insightful and engaging, while always keeping the viewer at arms length, wondering at all times when we are being told the truth or simply being led on by the master trickster himself. At the core of Welles’ gripe is the hypocrisy of art criticism, and the idea that beauty and form is dictated entirely by the so-called experts and aficionados of the art community. The film argues that truly great art is an expression of yourself, and an expression of the love of your craft. If you express yourself by painting fake Picassos, how is what you did any less valid than what the real Picasso painted?

Going beyond the idea of forgery, the film also explores the troubled identity of the modern artist. In one truly stunning scene, Welles delivers a stirring monologue about the grand French cathedral Chartres, and the fact that its many builders and architects names were omitted from any part of it. In many ways a love letter to Chartres, the scene is also a subtlety enraged rant about the identity of art versus the mere presence of it. The scene culminates with Welles’ immortal words…

“Our songs will all be silenced. But what of it? Go on singing. Maybe a man’s name doesn’t matter all that much.”

Which is something so radical and sublimely challenging that only Welles would attempt it: That the unity of art and artist is fundamentally obsolete.

At times profoundly reverent and at others gleefully prankish, F for Fake is Welles letting go of narrative and linear story telling to explain his passions as best he can. He takes the viewers expectations of what art, and indeed the very structure of documentary film making and jumbles them so gracefully that by the end of the film, no one is left unaffected. You may feel tricked. You may feel conned. However, you will not feel settled. At the risk of sounding too hyperbolic, anyone with a creative bone in their body should see F for Fake at least once just to ask themselves: What’s in a name?

– JD Renaud

— J.D. Renaud has no formal education in film, but that is more than evident upon meeting and/or seeing him. A purveyor of all things eccentric, he prides himself on being a guinea pig test subject for any new form of media he is given. He currently lives in Winnipeg Manitoba with his go-go dancer roommate.

Written by thesilentmajoritysays

March 7, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Posted in documentary