Friday, February 20, 2009

"American Movie" (Documentary) (1999) - Movie Review

“American Movie” is something of a tough watch as you would see the words coming out of Mark Borchardt in the start of the film splashed as a bucket of water on to my face. He has the passion as I have for the films and the difference though is he does not have a steady job and a lot more too. But of course in the current times, nothing is steady yet the film is documented during late 90s. And the other difference is he acts on his passion unlike me sitting on the couch. He acts quite immensely and pours energy consistently over a span of three years to a film “Coven” which I could not finish watching. It is that bad. But this is about the making of that film. Though this film’s title carries a subtitle of “The Making of Northwestern”, it is about making of “Coven”. “American Movie” is a funny, moving, mocking and a touching film by Chris Smith.

Mark Borchardt in Milwaukee, Wisconsin works on tight film budget with loans and debts and what not along with problems of his own. He has been postponing his work of making films for so long and he wants to hit it and hit it hard. He is thoroughly convincing and a man tall, lean with a good nice inches of glasses, his physicality is no wonder brings the comic element to the film. And we do ridicule him as he seriously digs into the process. He is constantly talking and working through his passion even though his projects gets shelved understandably of financial and talent reasons. As we have no doubts on his failure and the film which he begins to work on morph into something else he started a while ago, we are sucked into his camera, life and ultimately a documentary blossoming into great emotions and truly moving film.

Mark has great friends. Two in particular have been with him forever. This is a documentary filled with characters. Characters of immense weird surrealism. The people whom Mark befriended in involving them in his films and most of all drinks. A lot of drinks. One such is Mike Schank (who also composed simple soothing guitar picking score for this film) who seem to be existing in reality within himself and pictures the actual reality as a fantasy he questions. He is in a suspended state of clear and good high. But by the time the film finishes he has quit drugs and dropped down on drinks and he still wanders like that. We are illuminated by the fact that he in fact got imbibed in that aura of ambience and that is him. Truly him.

Another one is Ken Keeen, child hood friend and a big time alcohol buddy for Mark. He helps in shooting, editing, locations and everything Mark needs help. And then there is Mark’s father Cliff and his mother Monica. They have seen this kid grow with a camera in hand and they have warned and scolded and he never let that down. In the film though they are completely in support with him. Even when Mark is ready to give up, his dad wants him to keep going. Of course Mark is far from perfect, very very far but he works hard.

What is beautiful about this film which creates comedy on the expense of these characters, especially of course Mark, is the people who sticks with this man in the worst of times. And Mark despite his strangeness is a some one stirring up the passion in others. He weathers the strong words, the dismissal of his existence and every other form to be oblivious to the life outside of his imagination. His dad though has given up on funding his film but does not stop encouraging him. That turns to the most intriguing, comical, philosophical and adorable character in the film, Uncle Bill. Bill humiliates Mark at every instant with plain truth about his failure. Yet he loans him money and when Mark visits him for thanksgiving and other occasions, he pinches him with sarcasm. With all the cynicism the man just could not shun away the optimism of Mark who sucks thirty takes of this trembling old man.

When “American Movie” begins and we see Mark with a bum written all over his face and Mike Schank confirming it, we have no respect for him. As we see him in works, however untalented he would be for his ambitions, he pursues. He proposes a business plan of selling 3000 units of his film to earn back profit and repay Uncle Bill which of course is an illusion (now though with the popularity of this film, that does not seem unachievable). But it is more for him to finish and be in the trance of completing it. And it is the passion of every other people he stirred to be fulfilled by making this film. However bad “Coven” would be, there is something extremely human about seeing it. We know how hard every one worked and how lovely are Mark’s mom, Mark’s dad, his girl friend Joan and all the actors and crews who believed in that. Understanding that makes “American Movie” a great form in captivating true human emotions of aspiration, belief and love.

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