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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.


Written by thesilentmajoritysays

March 17, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Posted in documentary

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