Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Movie Review #30: American Movie

Yesterday, when I got home from work, Jeff, Lindsay, and I had a rare shared room-mate experience. This time it was because Jeff invited us to watch a documentary called American Movie. I'm pretty well caught up on my movie quota at the moment, so I wasn't expecting to write another review this soon. Still, a movie is a movie, and I should write this up while it's still fresh in my mind.

Short review: this documentary about the making of a movie is a different sort of documentary; it focuses on real people doing something real which, much like real life, is sometimes fascinating and funny, yet occasionally boring. I'd recommend this to people who enjoy having a peak into the lives of other people.


A couple of documentarians follow an aspiring filmmaker in 1996-97 while he slowly pieces together one film while trying to start another. The subject is Mark Borchardt, an unemployed man who lives with his parents yet aspires to become famous one day.


Mark's story is a familiar one, of a creator who strives to create despite the odds being stacked against him. It's one part inspiring and two parts depressing.

Mark is not a terribly likable guy. He's not specifically mean, but he's pushy, stubborn, and sometimes condescending. Watching him and his acquaintances interact is a bit like watching Napoleon Dynamite, except that these people are much more recognizably real.

I think that's the most memorably part of the movie to me: I feel like I recognize most of the people in the movie in friends I've had at one point or another in my life.

As documentaries go, it's interesting in that it explains very little to the audience. Sometimes there's a card that notes the date, but otherwise the story unfolds on camera. This is quite different than a lot of documentaries in which there's a narrator piecing the information together for you.

2 Player Productions does pretty much the same thing, removing themselves from the spotlight as much as possible. However, I think they do a better job of focusing on the important, interesting bits of whatever they're filming about, whereas American Movie feels like we're just watching this guy's life unfold for some reason.

It was interesting to see how and independent filmmaker had to put a film together in the mid-90s. We watch Mark film things with a variety of cameras, record and re-record audio, and manually cut and splice the film together in a college film studio. It looked like an awful lot of work, and I can understand why the process seemed to exhaust him. Amateur moviemakers today have it incredibly easy by comparison.

In the end, this documentary about Mark's movie became far more successful than anything Mark actually made. It's kind of sad in that regard, but likewise it's funny how the story behind the story can sometimes be the more interesting part.

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