How do you feel about mumblecore – the beginning of an American New Wave or a bunch of boring, ultimately meaningless movies?
I see it as something between the two. They are not particularly exciting to watch, but I get the same feelings watching them as I did when I first started watching French New Wave movies. There’s something to Mumblecore, even if it hasn’t fully lived up to its potential.
From the few films I’ve seen I think it really lacks the innovations and insights that the French New Wave had and the intensity and psychology that the Dogma 95 movement produced. I think “Mutual Appreciation” is a stand out for me … but it does not reach the heights of a masterpiece like Jean Eustache’s “Mother and the Whore” or any of Eric Rohmer’s films which are dealing with similar themes but in more engaging and enlightening ways.
I think “mumblecore” (certainly not one of the greatest movement names in history) seems representative of the new generation of young American filmmakers and the milieu many of them inhabit so it has definite relevance … for now anyway …
That’s why I say that they are somewhat boring. I think that to start a new film movement it is necessary to make exciting pictures. The mumblecore pictures also suffer from a lack of meaning. They seem to exist as some sort of “super home movie.” The films are naturallistic like many New Wave and New Hollywood movies. It seems, though, that the creators thought of every event in their lives that seemed even half interesting and put it in their movies. They are living through their movies, but they either haven’t the imagination or the drive to even imagine interesting double lives. The characters haven’t experienced any real “living” (a horribly cliched term, but I can’t think of a better one). They don’t have any opinions, they don’t really ever seem to feel emotions, they more or less exist. Maybe if something horrific happened to the characters, then a real movie might show up, but the worst that ever happens is they break up with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Yet, by the next scene, they’re with somebody else.
The film-makers seem to want to make movies, they just don’t have anything to say. The New Wave artists were putting critical theories to the test, the New Hollywood directors were trying to make sense of the sixties. Dogme 95 was rejecting the decadent extravagance of the eighties and nineties. The mumblecore (I agree that is a stupid name, buts its stuck for now) movie-makers seem intent on showing us nothing.
Where’s McDougall? I summon him into this thread!
Isn’t mumblecore just a (degraded) outgrowth/rebirth of the work of early 90s filmmakers like Hal Hartley and Richard Linklater? A generation Z take on existential meaninglessness, the loss of identity, the inability to be heard in a white noise media-storm? Etc, blah, yawn. Angst of the intellectual – it gets dull.
What is perhaps most interesting about it is that we have this generation of media and tech savvy kids who’ve grown up under YouTube and have taken it upon themselves to document their (non)existence in an aspiration to feature film. The epic do-nothingness is fascinating in its own way.
yeah, I’d like a McDougall with fries and and a coke, at this table, super sized …and MAO: he can chew the fat on this one.
Indeed, I have LOTS to say, but right now I need to go to a house party thrown by one of M-core’s shining lights – which hints at my sympathy for some of these films, but only hints. I will return…
Can you tell us who Dave?
I’m gonna have to see a mumblecore movie to really chew any fat off this topic. Though from the trailers I can can kind of get the idea. It’s like a quirky, post-garden state, teenage festival of middle class anxiety attacks, filmed with a faux-cassavettes style lens, right?
I suppose somebody has to make movies about dull hipsters. Cuz if they don’t nobody will. I can imagine a guy with a green button up shirt, worn under a black pin stripe vest, with one hand on a clove and the other fingering the rim of his feathered french hat, and his legs are crossed in their skinnyboy jeans, and he looks up at the screen and thinks ‘Dude that is so what I did last Thursday.’ Point is, if it can do that for him, it’s a mumblecore worthwhile.
Again, I haven’t seen these movies, but I think the only thing would make this ‘genre’ a waste is if it doesn’t poke a little fun at the generation of fashionable nihilists it’s trying to represent. I’m all for a little meaninglessness in movies, after all I’m a huge Sofia Coppola fan, however what’s the use of examining anything if it doesn’t get underneath?
Only Hartley and Linklater’s characters are well versed and can articulate their ideas and emotions or lack there of (ie. they don’t mumble they verbally masturbate).
This is true: I was proposing the idea of Mumblecore as a kind of mutant child thereof. 20 years later, we have a similar trajectory/drive/thematic, but vox/character-wise are down to stuttered incoherence.
I think the first thing that needs a little recognition is that mumblecore isn’t actually a movement, but a marketing ploy and some smart branding. As Amy Taubin pointed out, what binds these films together is that – “The directors are all male middle-class Caucasians, and they make movies exclusively about young adults who are involved in heterosexual relationships and who have jobs (when they have them) in workplaces populated almost exclusively by SWMs and SWFs.” Hardly the things that should define a movement or really a discussion of movement.
But of course the branding was successful, and we all use the term to refer to that specific group of films directed by a specific group of people (men) (Andrew Bujalski, Aaron Katz, Joe Swanberg, and the Duplass Brothers etc..)
In terms of the actual films, without specifics (I need to run out of the house) – I actually like Aaron Katz’s work (Dance Party more than Quiet City) and Andrew Bujalski’s. I find Joe Swanberg and his parade of “Young American Bodies” (an awful internet show, as well as fitting description for his films) hard to watch. I guess I would rather spend my time doing other things than watching women getting naked for men that I find kind of disgusting.
That being said, I’d be up for hearing a defense of those films (Swanberg’s in particular) if anyone has one….
Gina, You’re right, M-core isn’t a movement in a strict sense, though these filmmakers see themselves as comrades in many ways. which is why Ry Russo-Young is somewhat of a ‘member’ of this non-movement though her films are not ‘Mumblecore’ films in any other way. Taubin asks why In Between Days isn’t considered a mumblecore film, and it’s because these are films about a milieu more than anything else. ‘Mumblecore’ might be a set of aesthetic principles, but that seems by budgetary necessity, and these filmmakers work in very different ways; it’s more a portrait of certain generational anxieties (ones limited to the hermetic world Taubin criticizes for its hermeticism). which is both a fair criticism and one that could be equally levied at most Hollywood/Indiewood romantic comedies (and I consider these films in large part to be anti-romantic comedies).
“It’s like a quirky, post-garden state, teenage festival of middle class anxiety attacks, filmed with a faux-cassavettes style lens, right?”
hmmm… I don’t think agree. If I were to define it, these films are about post-college confusion and directionlessness, shot on low budgets (but not always video) and with inclinations toward ‘realism’ by way of capturing the way people actually act and speak. We can call these inclinations toward ‘realism’ “faux-cassavetes” if we like, but I think they’re doing something different – though Cassavetes is a definite influence. and the films are varieties of “middle class anxiety attacks,” but they aren’t post-garden state nor quirky. These are films about being confused as to the direction your life should take now that you actually have to decide things for yourself, and doing it wrong and making mistakes and coming to some self-knowledge about your own mistakes.
I think I’m better off defending them as films rather than abstractly.. more below
Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha was a revelation for me when I first saw it. It seemed like a film beamed in from a DIY future of personal films made by amateurs with sensitive ears for human life. It’s so effectively about confusion and growing into your own independence; it’s a painful and beautiful watch. His followup Mutual Appreciation doesn’t do much for me; it’s a parable of inaction that grates, seemingly rooted in entitled ennui and fear of commitment – to anything.
Quiet City is a terrific film with tiny ambitions, a tentative getting-to-know-each-other film that is sometimes a bit too cute (without being mannered or ‘quirky’) but also sporadically really beautiful. It is a very small romance, which I consider very high praise.
Funny Ha Ha and Quiet City share an attunedness to the minor but significant moments in our lives. These tiny realizations need a greater place in cinema.
I haven’t seen any Duplass films nor Katz’s Dance Party USA yet. [Full disclosure: Aaron was the friend whose party I went to last night]. My thoughts on Swanberg are complex… more soon.
“The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them. It may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation…and it will be enjoyable because it will be true, and new…The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure. The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love.”
- Francois Truffaut
Yes Truffaut was a very wise man … and of course before him the critic/filmmaker Alexandre Astruc wrote his famous essay/manifesto about the ‘camera-stylo’ which fed into Truffaut’s own ideas about filmmaking.
“The filmmaker/author writes with his camera as a writer writes with his pen.” (Astruc)
With the advent of new technology (16mm cameras, nagras, faster film stocks etc) Astruc proclaimed filmmakers would be able to tell more personal stories outside of the controlling/ruling studio system, something he never really achieved himself but the New Wave critic/filmmakers would bring to fruition, beginning most famously with Truffaut’s “400 Blows”. (Most if not all of the New Wave films were in fact shot on 35mm however)
Interestingly Astruc concluded that:
“This has nothing to do with a school, or even a movement. Perhaps it could simply be called a tendency: a new awareness, a desire to transform the cinema and hasten the advent of an exciting future.”
That’s a pretty fair assessment Dave and some relevant comments from Gina … of course “movements” are not generally created by the filmmakers themselves, they are often coined by critics to help them categorise and define a set of films that they feel share specific traits, eg neo-realism, direct cinema, new wave etc (Dogma 95 being the main exception and for obvious reasons). The coined “movement” name then catches on in the media and becomes the buzz word which as you point out then becomes a helpful marketing ploy for the filmmakers themselves (or not … “It’s not a f*#king mumblecore movie okay!”)
I’d personally say “M-core” benefits from being called a movement (as scientology benefits from being called a “religion”, haha!), the name may not be so appealing but it is representative of like-minded individuals who seem to have banded together to fight for the right to mumble (sorry couldn’t resist) … to have their say and make the kinds of films that they (and there like-minded friends) want to see, not what is foisted on them by Hollywood and the so called “Independents” (there are always “counter” movements to the “mainstream”, unfortunately they eventually get subsumed by them). The commonality or production methods, milieu, and themes as outlined above by Dave – mainly about post-grad ennui and the struggle between art/career (something the filmmakers themselves are dealing with I’m sure) resonate with a young audience, particularly students, artists, musicians and filmmakers who are in a similar situation – this is why Linklater’s “Slacker” was the success it was with a young audience, because it struck a cord that no one had played until then.
The thing is that these “M-core” filmmakers are active … a lot of film(makers) talk and never do … well they go out and make films for themselves at very low cost with like-minded friends and colleagues, have some fun, maybe the film gets seen (SXSW seems to be a “M-core” friendly festival) … maybe it doesn’t (there’s always the internet), the main thing is that the ability to keep making films (with no financial risk) will hopefully allow them to mature and learn from the process. Most “Indie” filmmakers spend many many years “in between” projects and many never eventuate anyway, so they get jaded, frustrated and out of practice. DIY DV-features is a good way to stay fresh – keep pumping them out while the juices are flowing and maybe, just maybe a masterpiece will show up – it worked for Godard, Fassbinder and Woody Allen!
So “M-core” films are a little unpolished and rough around the edges … so was Cassavetes “Shadows”, Scorsese’s “Who’s That Knocking at My Door” and Jarmusch’s “Permanent Vacation” and look what happened to them. One significant difference was than in the later cases they were shooting on film, which glosses over or grains over the subject matter (particularly with black and white films) and can make even poor films viewable – the same can’t be said for video. With DV everything is almost “hyper” real, reality is naked and exposed for all to see, from the (non)actors to the locations and sound/dialogue is usually a major issue also as it is directly recorded.
I think the sign of a great director is one that can shoot on DV and make the audience either completely forget what format they are watching or completely embrace it (Korine’s “Julien Donkey-Boy”, Godard’s “Elogé de l’amour” and Wenders “Land of Plenty” are great examples of what can be achieved on DV). For a lot of viewers who have been raised on the magical “celluloid reality” it is often a big ask to take away the gloss and grain and the much drooled over depth of field. I think you actually need more skill and knowledge about cinematography to shoot on DV than film, precisely because you don’t have the transformative powers of film. This is where some “M-core” filmmakers need to do their homework. But as I said they have the benefit of making mistakes and not being exiled for it. At the end of the day it still comes down to competent and insightful “storytelling” in whatever form it may take.
Antoine – Bujalski’s films were both shot on film. Funny Ha Ha looks pretty amateurish to me, cinematography-wise, but Mutual Appreciation is really nicely shot. And one of the things I like about Quiet City is its successful use of DV to capture beauty.
Here’s what I’ve seen of Joe Swanberg’s work: LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs, the first 5 episodes of Season 1 of Young American Bodies, 3 trailers for his new film Nights and Weekends (though I’m not sure who cut the trailers – and it matters).
LOL has a punch-packing opening credit sequence, but the rest of the film doesn’t make good on its promise. It’s an attempt, but it’s sloppy as a film and seems not to understand its own narrative drive. It shows Swanberg’s interest in sex and communication (as well as technology and modernity), but lacks Woody Allen’s humor and pathos. That the credit sequence is a series of images rather than characters shows one of Swanberg’s (early?) problems as a storyteller. Swanberg’s dialogue is realistic to a fault; if Bujalski uses the uncertainty of communication to emphasize character traits, Joe’s film seems to do so out of laziness. It’s the difference between crafted realism and accidental realism (which doesn’t offer the sense of reality to a viewer, and thus fails as ‘realism’ by my test).
Young American Bodies – I’ve got nothing good to say here. Like LOL, the problem here is partially that these characters are poorly drawn, and would basically prefer to fuck to doing just about anything else. Which seems false as a generational portrait, if only because I would sometimes prefer to argue about politics as well, and these characters don’t exist beyond their romantic dilemmas. Also, the episodes are what, 3 minutes long? 5? and the credit sequence takes up half of the runtime. under these limits, cutting between multiple storylines in an episode means that each episode has exactly zero narrative drive.
Hannah Takes The Stairs: If not for the incredible cast of filmmakers (all credited as cowriters), this would seem to be a film by a different Joe Swanberg. Not because his characters are any different in who they are, or because they spend any less time making out – neither is true – but because there’s a story arc, well-drawn characters to invest in, a well-defined structure, a cohesive aesthetic, it’s well-shot, etc, etc. And while there’s still no broader context for this film – i.e. it doesn’t engage with the outside world even a little bit – I think it’s successful in a major way. It’s helped by great performances, most of all by Greta Gerwig as Hannah, who does for fumbling attempts at unselfish relationships what Kate Dollenmayer did for insecurity in the face of responsibility in Funny Ha Ha. This is Swanberg’s first step into his own shoes as an artist.
The Nights and Weekends trailers are really, really beautiful, and hint at a huge next step for Joe and Greta, who share the ‘a film by’ credit. The best thing about the trailers is the absence of any music – which only amplifies my hopes for the film.
Yes agreed, the black and white photography in “Mutual Appreciation” is far more forgiving than his color film and is more watchable and seductive because it’s reminiscent of numerous classic “naturalistic” black and white films; chiefly among them for me Eustache’s “Mother and the Whore” and Cassavete’s early films “Shadow’s” and “Faces”. What I’ve seen of “Quiet City” on the trailer looks pretty good and I’m very curious to see it. Unfortunately I’m not brave enough to buy the dvd yet. I’m an isolated antipidean at the bottom of the world so the only “M-core” films that have made it officially have been Bujaiski’s.
“Tadpole” was another interesting DV film that did pretty well commercially and got a worldwide general cinema release which was pretty big for the time. Although not a brilliant film it managed to freshly capture a “Salingeresque” milieu reminiscent of the films of Whit Still(waiting)man.
Nothing like a Truffaut quote to melt my little heart.. And of course, that quote is one of my favorites.
Perhaps I wish more folks with different personal stories were making films then? (or that I had access to them.)
Also on the note of Truffaut’s quote, I think on some level I find it hard to relate to the films simply because I am in many ways the demographic of the folks in the film (I’m white, 26 and I’ve spent my post graduate years in Chicago and Brooklyn etc..) and yet I feel like my life is nothing like theirs. This obviously isn’t the fault of the films, but it does make me wonder about how successful these films are at connecting with others (of all ages, places etc..)
But a few quick responses:
1) I haven’t seen Hannah Takes the Stairs, I really disliked what I had seen of Swanberg and a good number of folks told me it was pretty bad… That being said, I’d be willing to give it a look.
2) I too adore Funny Ha Ha – it was the first I saw of any of these films.
3) I don’t know how I feel about the M-Core folks being compared to Godard or Fassbinder (or even just their productivity). Well that’s not true, I do, I feel like it shouldn’t be done… Given time I might come up with a response that backs up my feelings, but for now I’m just going to share my gut feeling.
4) The name wasn’t something the filmmakers thought of – or fought for. It came about from something Bujalski’s soundmixer said and was then promoted by folks, namely the folks at SXSW. Branding aside, I am all about community and do like that the filmmakers all work on each other’s films and collaborate.
5) I almost hate to say it but the Nights and Weekend teaser trailers are actually quite good. I might just watch them all again…
I wasn’t comparing “M-core” filmmakers to Godard or Fassbinder, I used the later as examples of filmmakers who were prolific and grew with each successive film; they experimented with numerous genres and subject matters and were not precious about maintaining a pristine filmography of masterpieces … DV is the perfect medium to actively learn how to make films, rather than sitting around waiting for financing to come through for 5 years.
I understood that. And I agree that working on DV to learn the craft is indeed the way to go.
But while they (Fassbinder more than Godard I think) were both prolific filmmakers, the changes in their films and filmmaking as time passed had less to do with experimentation or growth and more to do with influence. Godard became more interested in politics and making films in different ways as his career moved forward (to simplify things) and Fassbinder started watching the films of Douglas Sirk – which is why his films became more decadent and stylized. His earlier work was more influenced by American gangster films, Godard’s 60s films and theater.
Also, on the note of Fassbinder – he was a unique beast. Even his lesser films are still pretty great films. I believe he made films at such a rapid pace not because he wanted to learn/grow/experiment but because he had to. It’s how he functioned, how he lived. One of my favorite quotes about Fassbinder comes from Hannah Schygulla:
“In the end he worked on several projects at a time. Did he die so young because he was in such a rush, or did he rush because he was destined to die young?”
Even though some of the films from this “grouping” are perhaps dull, I am always happy to see truly independent work that is self-critical of it’s characters who also often happen to be the directors themselves it’s a refreshing break from the ego-driven cinema of Hollywood. I was particularly impressed by Aaron Katz’s “Dance party USA” simple but effective, ad lets face it American “independent” films have been formulaic and stale for some time, while these films may not completely shake up those systems maybe it evens the playing field a little..
Yeah, they certainly were not short on ideas and influences, each film is crammed with so many ideas/references that you would think they were trying to say everything in one film, yet they kept it up relentlessly. But these ideas and influences are a big part of growth (or outgrowth), particularly for Godard when he disowned his early films and moved into his Dziga Vertov period, then moved into television and then eventually back to the cinema in the late 70s to the present. The influence of his partner/collaborator Anne-Marie Miéville has significantly reshaped his ideas, particularly his views about/and representation of women. And as you point out when Fassbinder moved on from his early “Avant Garde” period to begin making his sublime Melodramas.
I definitely agree that Fassbinder was a one off, like many of the greats they cannot be replicated.
I finished Mutual Appreciation not more than five minutes ago and I kind of liked it, though I think I only watched it because I felt it was my duty to do so. As far as the production values go, there’s nothing wrong with making a really low budget flick with cheap lighting and camerawork, if that’s what they’re doing deliberately. The movies are just too simplistic. Truffaut can say all he wants about diary-style cinema being the film of tomorrow but if that’s gonna be so I’d like these films to be made by someone who knows something along the lines of storytelling. Spin me a yarn, right? Like in this movie there are a lot of interesting themes that are hinted at but none of them are really followed up on and it sucks because I actually liked the characters in the movie, they remind me of three friends I have right off the bat, and it didn’t really go anywhere with them. What’s the point of making lo-fi-down-to-earth-mumble-movies if they don’t allow these familiar characters break out of the shell of reality a little bit. That’s a little lazy and it feels more like a lack of imagination. Just from this movie alone it felt a little bit like Wes Anderson without the visuals or the wit and really as far as making movies about go-nowhere white kids goes… a little showmanship can do good things for the film.
“What’s the point of making lo-fi-down-to-earth-mumble-movies if they don’t allow these familiar characters break out of the shell of reality a little bit.”
maybe the movies are about the inability of these characters to break out of their shells.
Certainly Funny Ha Ha, Quiet City, Hannah Takes the Stairs are all about that on some level (I’ll admit to having little memory of Mutual Appreciation’s ending). It seems that this is what ties these films together, to me – films about the bubble in which people live being broken in some small way (and when it happens, the film ends).
Yeah okay, so they’re stuck in their shell. Sure. It doesn’t make them a success though does it? I’ll have to check out Swanberg cuz Mr. Mutual Appreciation doesn’t do much for me cinematically.
Try Funny Ha Ha and Dance Party USA before you move on to Swanberg :)
Thanks Gina. I’m actually pretty excited to check out Azazel Jacobs’ TheGoodTimesKid. It looks pretty fun.