It isn't that appealing to be a rebel in the film business, because the
primary thing to rebel against is not incompetence, but artificiality.
Hollywood movies pack an unrealistic amount of larger than-life-events and
improbable plot twists into a short time frame, and the characters speak in
"zingers" and clever one-liners that real people would never think of in
life-threatening situations. I'm not defending those things, but simply noting
that when you decide to reject them you don't have a lot left to work with.
The opposite is to have movies reflect real life, in which nothing "cinematic"
is likely to happen for years, people speak in trite everyday phrases
and most quotidian humor consists of repeating catch phrases until they become
clichés. Real-life "plot developments" - changes in jobs or lovers, deaths of
people you know, arrests - come around very rarely. In the movies everyone is
a cop or a crook or a vampire, or works in some glamorous business like
advertising or show business. In real life everyone is an associate sales
representative or a webmaster. A film of my life would not be very exciting.
It consists of typing. In all my life I've never seen a big explosion, never
held a gun, never lost anyone close to me in a violent or suspicious way,
never been swindled out of any insurance money, and so forth. Where's the
The nature of reality has been a major obstacle for the development of a
real independent film movement. If you want to reject convention and artifice,
your only real alternative is reality, but most of the time reality is
tedious, even if you choose to portray the lives of cops and junkies. The cops
I know spend most of their time filling out forms and parked in their cars
waiting for something to happen. The junkies I have known spent almost all of
their time nodding out. Reality is not especially spectator-friendly. Of
course, that doesn't stop some filmmakers from portraying it. Remember Andy
Warhol's films back in the sixties? One of his classics was an eight-hour
fixed view of the Empire State building in real time. There's your reality!
Today's Warhols are a coterie of do-it-yourself filmmakers who make the rounds
at some of the more underground film festivals like Slamdance and SXSW, and
are loosely bound under the rubric of "mumblecore."
Here's how to make a mumblecore film: come up with a very basic outline of
how you might spend your summer, or how you spent last summer. Get some
friends to play the characters in that scenario: your boss, some co-workers,
other acquaintances. Do NOT write out a script or any dialogue. Gather your
friends together in an apartment with a digital camera and "role-play" various
situations, using your kitchen as the office break room, your bedroom as the
bedroom, your pool and a nearby park for the outdoor scenes. All the words
will be improvised. It is unlikely that you'll come up with much that's
interesting in this manner, unless one of your friends is Robin Williams, but
just shoot a lot of footage. Unlike film, video is cheap. Some of your scenes
will be better than others, so you can throw away the worst material and use
the better stuff to string a movie together. Do not add non-diegetic sound or
special effects. Go with reality. The result will probably not be either funny
or dramatic, and it will certainly not be either artistic or entertaining, but
it will reflect real life in ways that Hollywood never does, for better or for
If you've been paying attention, you realize that mumblecore films are
not very different from the home movies that your dad makes on family holidays.
All well and good. Sometimes your dad comes up with some great stuff and it
can be a lot of fun to watch those films. Most people watch them twice - once
shortly after they are made, and then again many years later to laugh and
reminisce and see how everyone aged. But the market for your dad's home movies
is very small indeed, basically restricted to people in the films and others
who know them. The same is true of a mumblecore film. If you know the people
involved in making the film, you will probably enjoy seeing what they came up
with. Otherwise, there are way better ways to pass 90 routine minutes of your
life than to watch some random strangers pass 90 routine minutes of their
Hannah Takes the Stairs is a mumblecore film. For all I know it may be the
Citizen Kane of mumblecore. A woman just out of college has a job and a
boyfriend. She breaks up with the boyfriend and takes up with first one, then
another co-worker. She settles (temporarily, we presume) with one guy because
both of them enjoy playing the trumpet poorly.
They play the trumpet together while they are naked in the bathtub.
The end credits roll.
Now THAT'S entertainment.
One thing I like about today's underground filmmakers is the same thing I
liked about them in Greenwich Village in the sixties: they like to get nekkid.
It's yet another way to thumb one's nose at conventional society.
Greta Gerwig shows
off various body parts four times in this film, and she's not a bad-lookin'