Sunday, September 21, 2014

Mark Borchardt, American Movie

I watched American Movie again, the documentary about Mark Borchardt. It reportedly covers a two year period, his setting out to make a feature called Northwestern. He has no money. We see him go through his mail. He has tax collectors after him, companies are threatening to sue him. He has a paper route at one point. He can't get money from his father to make the movie, so he works to raise money from his elderly uncle who is in bad health.

Borchardt's brothers are interviewed. One says that he would be best suited to working in a factory. They figured he would end up as a stalker. One mentions that he would tell them that he was going to get rich and would a millionaire some day, and that this just made them feel sorry for him. He had made little slasher films as a kid, and one said he couldn't figure out what appeal his movies would have with the public since he was having to compete with Hollywood.

The poor guy's situation seems hopeless. He had struggled with alcoholism and had been a pothead.

He starts production on Northwestern, realizes he's going to fail and decides to complete a short film he had started several years earlier called "Coven", about a guy who discovers that his AA group is actually a coven of devil worshipers----but he's a drug addict and a drunk, so his perceptions may be terribly skewed.

His plan is to sell 3,000 videocassettes of "Coven". This will make him enough money to produce the next movie, Northwestern.

I read an interview with him after American Movie came out. It sounded like he was on his way to selling that many cassettes of "Coven". But he had sold only 100 cassettes before the documentary was released, and a couple thousand after American Movie came out.

I was looking at Amazon after that. I looked at Robert Rodriguez's old book, Rebel Without a Crew, about the making of El Mariachi. I was able to read a little of it on the website.

In some ways, Rodriguez was in the same boat as Borchardt. He was studying film at a university far from Hollywood. He had worked two jobs while attending school. He wanted to make movies and would have to do it without money.
But Borchardt worked on his movie in the most public way possible. He was in his home town. His family and friends were all involved and a camera crew was there filming the whole thing. Rodriguez, on the other hand, left the country, filmed in Mexico, paid for it himself, and, as he put it, wanted to be able to "fail quietly". 

Rodriguez got his script completed, although he was making an action film---Borchardt's feature, Northwestern, seemed to be a drama. Rodriguez had a more realistic plan to make his money back---to sell the film to a Spanish language video distributor. Borchardt was going for self-distribution for "Coven"---I'm not sure if he could have done anything else with a short film.

Rodriguez just went out and did it. Maybe it was because he was in college and did this for his summer vacation. He had a strict time limit. He wanted to be able to come back to school, and when people asked what he did over the summer, tell them he made a foreign film.

I thought it sounded like Borchardt could do it. He wasn't shy. He got a cast together and had done this sort of thing before---he won an award for doing a Halloween radio play that's broadcast every year. He should have made the movie while he was in college competing with classmates.

But I look on "Coven" is his only director's credit. He's gotten a lot of work as an actor though, appearing with his friend, Mike Shank, on Family Guy and on David Letterman. He was clutching at straws when he made his movie, looking for a way out of his problems, and "Coven" provided it, just not in the way Borchardt originally planned.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reviews of Young & Beautiful

So I read some reviews of Young & Beautiful.

Reminded me of what I read one time many years ago, long before the avalanche of internet pornography. They discussed how subjective the term "pornography" was. Researchers discovered that people were more likely to label a photograph "pornographic" if it was in black and white rather than color, and if the model in the photo was less attractive.

In the case of Young & Beautiful, critics see the fact that there was no explanation at all for the girl becoming a prostitute as a virtue and the nudity and explicitness of the sex scenes as a peculiarity of the French which only the most sophisticated Americans will understand. The fact that all the director does is make movies about teenage sex apparently makes him an auteur rather than a pervert. The little brother spying on his sister through binoculars, peeking in her room and watching her masturbate, and wanting her to tell him all about losing her virginity to a German tourist is seen as wholesome curiosity.

There's a scene where the girl, wanting to show how hypocritical the grown-ups are for not letting her be a prostitute, asks her stepfather if he's ever slept with a prostitute.

Instead of replying, "Good lord, no! Are you kidding?" he says, "That's none of your business!"

The rich people in the movie were all attractive. The maid and the cops were less attractive.

The movie should be a lesson in how to make the upper-class rubes think that your cheap exploitation movie is high brow cinema.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Young & Beautiful (2013)

It reminded me of The Unspeakable Act. French movie about a bourgeois 17-year-old girl who's very close with her 13-year-old brother who wants to hear all the details about her sleeping with a German youth while on vacation. But I'm not sure what their relationship is.  The brother watches her through his binoculars while she sunbathes topless, which I guess is considered normal there.

I didn't understand why the girl became a prostitute once they got back home.

Everybody's good-looking in this movie. The girl's step-father's good-looking in a scruffy French sort of way. She has sex with a couple of good-looking old guys. After an unfortunate incident, police go to her mother with proof of what she's been doing. Because of her age, she's a victim, not a perpetrator. She's grounded and has to see a psychologist, but she sulks through the rest of the movie because her mother won't let her be a prostitute.

The psychologist smiles too much and offers no insight as to why the girl would do this.

There's a lot of sex and nudity.

And then you have Charlotte Rampling's character, a good-looking old rich French woman who says that she wishes she had been a prostitute when she was young. What is wrong with these people? First of all, Charlotte could still find plenty of work as a prostitute if she wanted to. Watch the movie Barfly if you want to see what prostitutes look like. Being "young and beautiful" is not a requirement.

With Marine Vacth, Fatin Ravat and Geraldine Paihas among others.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Unspeakable Act (2013)

"One of the funny things about being in love with your brother is that you can say almost anything you want about him to anyone you want because no one wants to go there. People will bend over backwards to put the blandest possible interpretation on whatever you say."
The girl says this in her voice-over narration early in the movie, and she's right. I started watching this thing knowing it was about 17-year-old girl in love with her 18-year-old brother, but I assumed it was one of those movies about a quirky bourgeois family. They're rich. They're sort of quirky. The girl says she thought their money came from a trust fund, but she's not sure. She just seems to have a very close relationship with her brother.

But, as the girl goes into therapy, she realizes how screwed up she is and the movie seems fairly serious. She's made it clear that she wants actual incest from her brother. He refuses her advances, of course. He wants it to stop but doesn't know what to do without cutting off contact with her completely.

I thought the movie was pretty good. Written and directed by Dan Sallitt. Available on Fandor.

The movie looks great but was reportedly made for only $50 thousand.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Joan Rivers, the disadvantages of plastic surgery

About forty years ago, this joke was going around my school:
"Have you seen Helen Keller's house?"
"Neither has she!"
I don't think it worked with me, because I thought I might have seen Helen Keller's house on a vacation one time. When a kid named Peabody who went on to be student body president tried the joke on me, I said, "I think so. I'm not sure." And he said, "Neither has she!"

Helen Keller jokes were the cutting edge of humor when I was in the 5th grade. They were passe by the time I was in the 6th grade. But Joan Rivers was still making them 40 years later.

"HER ASS HAS MORE DENTS THAN HELEN KELLER'S CAR," Rivers rasped on her cable TV show.

I've said this before. If Rivers hadn't had all the surgery---if she just looked like an old woman---she might have had some appeal, shouting references to people and things that no one under 50 has ever heard of, in her horrible ugly voice.

I remember finding Joan Rivers funny about thirty-five years ago. I've just been increasingly repulsed by her since then, a vile, sadistic old woman celebrating the deaths of thousands of people in Gaza.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers has died not long after her disgusting comments about the Palestinian men women and children---nearly 500 children---slaughtered in Gaza by her fellow Jews. "They deserve to be dead," she said in her ugly, rasping voice. I saw someone defend her by suggesting that this was some sort of clever joke on her part. "That's what comedians do." They make disgusting racist comments that aren't funny and obviously aren't intended to be?

It reminds me of what Norman Finkelstein wrote after Christopher Hitchens' death. His comment was specific to Hitchens, but I think pretty much the same about Rivers:
I get no satisfaction from Hitchens's passing.
Although he was the last to know it, every death is a tragedy, if only for the bereft child--or, as in the case of Cindy Sheehan, bereft parent--left behind.
But, still, life is full of surprises.
No one should be too smug in his certitudes.
And if you've made a career of pissing on other people's mostly innocuous beliefs, should it surprise that outside the tiny tent called Vanity Fair, your memory stinks of urine?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jim McBride, "Pictures from Life's Other Side"

I know a woman who went to Europe. Her first stop was Britain. She got off the plane. She was a young bohemian. The Brits searched her stuff. They found her diary in which she fantasized briefly about traveling through Europe earning money as a street musician (that wasn't her plan), and they deported her back to the United States.

In the documentary "Pictures from Life's Other Side", Jim McBride, his pregnant girlfriend and his girlfriend's pre-teen son drive cross country in 1971. They record themselves discussing how police will never find the marijuana hidden in the car. McBride thought that they'd never even suspect they had it. Unless they happened to listen to the tape.

As it happened, there were no cops in the movie.

I had seen McBride's previous movie, David Holzman's Diary. It was different, at least for the time, supposed to be a guy's film diary. But the acting was terrible and everything came across as fake.

This 1971 documentary was just disgusting. They had the ten- or twelve-year-old boy operating the camera, filming his mother naked in the motel room with her naked boyfriend. At one point, McBride spreads his leg and shakes his genitalia at the camera supposedly operated by a child. I hope that this movie was "docufiction" like the other one and that the kid was next door in his own room.

"I'm going to film you fucking," the child says in his English accent.

The boy was the only interesting one in the movie. He calls McBride "Daddy", but explains that he doesn't consider him part of his family. The little fellow pleasantly describes how he'll murder him as soon as he's 14 and big enough to kill a grown man. Kids always have mixed feelings about their mother's boyfriends.

According to the narration, McBride had to replace the battery for his camera, then he burnt out the motor. This saved them film and spared us from having to watch a large section of the trip. He didn't have any kind of spring driven camera as back-up? I would have had a Bell and Howell 70 on hand.

Today they'd be arrested for child abuse, but anyone with a camcorder and no taste could make the same movie today. There was no sign of any talent.