I wanted to address some of the charges of “lazy filmmaking” a bit since they appeared recently (in the Cold Weather thread). Now, if by “lazy filmmaking,” people mean that the camera work, acting, writing seem to be shoddy or not very professional, I can partly understand the criticism—and I do think there is some validity to this. However, I’m much more forgiving of these “deficiencies” because the films depict characters that I normally see represented in film—not in a realistic and human way. This might be a little ironic, in light of the criticism that the films only represent white middle class college grads—but I actually don’t think there are many films that depict these individuals—especially the less glamorous and “nerdy” types—in a rich, realistic way. So that’s one good thing about these films.
Here’s the thing though: if you don’t find these type of people interesting, then maybe the films won’t be interesting to you. Or maybe the problem is that you don’t think the portrayals are realistic (poor writing and acting). I think that’s a valid criticism—but I happen to think that a lot of the acting (say in Bujalski’s films) are quite good or at least realistic enough. Others may disagree, of course.
Now, if by “lazy filmmaking” people mean the films have no point—as in, telling an interesting story, exploring or presenting interesting ideas and themes—I would disagree with this—at least for most if not all of the M films I’ve seen. Naysayers may not like the themes or the characters—but that’s different from saying the filmmakers didn’t have a point. Having said that, I do think the films often lack a really strong narrative. Reading a plot description of the film is going to entice very few people. But, again, I don’t think a lack of a strong narrative constitutes “lazy filmmaking.”
First, let me just clarify what I mean when I say “lazy filmmaking”. To me, it doesn’t mean non-professional actors or low production value. Michael Bay is a lazy filmmaker.
What I mean is, using techniques that appear predetermined to be defined a certain way. As a basic example – using handheld to illicit a more documentary feel (and thus, a more realistic portrayal). This line of thinking is bullshit. Handheld (especially these days when EVERYTHING is shot handheld) doesn’t represent reality. And plenty of documentaries are not shot handheld.
When people used to shoot handheld, it was out of necessity. When I shoot my films, two of them were shot handheld because I needed to move around quickly and easily (think Cassavetes’ Faces). I didn’t choose the technique because I wanted to evoke something – the evocation came from the acting and the writing. I focused on getting the writing and performances to be realistic and the camera just enhanced that. The problem is when filmmakers just rely on the camera work and don’t put any work into the performances or writing. That’s when I say it’s lazy filmmaking.
So, handheld camera work can be a cheap and hollow way to achieve realism? I agree with that—although it can also be used to enhance or create a sense of realism, too, right?
In the case of many of the M films, I sense that they’re doing these things out of necessity, just as much as some artistic choice—and I wouldn’t assume that it’s just a cheap way to achieve realism. (Well, for one thing, the films do feel real to me, at least in some ways.) Btw, I think those of you who support the Dogme ’95 movement should check these films out—because these filmmakers seem to be operating with the spirit, if not the law, of that manifesto.
Again, I think the performances and writing are solid, if not very good—and I certainly think there is thought and craft behind the filmmaking (at least for the films I’ve seen). But you’ll have to find out for yourself. :) (And I hope you do.)
“although it can also be used to enhance or create a sense of realism, too, right?”
Yes, absolutely. It’s all in how it’s used. My thinking though is that some filmmakers use it as a crutch, which is lazy.
The laziness to me usually comes in the form of the writing and dialogue; namely, when not enough time has been spent on these two components and the film suffers from it.
Boring/uninteresting characters do not help their situation but even if a bland character has great dialogue and the story is well written (which is NOT the same as heavily plotted) the movie can still be engaging.
Take for instance a film like Revanche. Yes, I know, that movie is a totally different style and genre. But just look at the characters and story. The characters themselves are nothing remarkable; you have a prostitute, a man who fancies this prostitute, his sick old dad, and his dad’s neighbors. None of them are really unique, I would say, in the film world. In fact, there’s not even much dialogue in the film. But the story is excellent, the events unfold in a natural way, and the little dialogue that the characters DO say carry a ton of weight. The writer/director obviously put a lot of thought into each part of the film, even though it’s a deceptively simple film.
Many interviews I’ve read with people from the mumblecore scene (Duplass Brothers, that Duplass brother’s wife who did The Freebie, director of Cold Weather and a few others) they always emphasize that they don’t like to write scripts, they usually just write treatments and improvise. That in itself is not the problem; the problem is that IT SHOWS in a bad way. The dialogue is boring. The characters are boring. The story usually goes nowhere. It just seems like an excuse to me on their part.
“Oh, if we don’t write anything then it will come across as more life like, more realistic”
And also, boring and uninteresting. I seriously think that if they just spent more time writing their films, they might make better films.
And on a side note, I REEEEALLY wish they would stop name dropping Cassavetes when talking about what they were trying to achieve. The director of The Freebie said in an interview that she only wrote a treatment and that they were just going to improvise the scenes in a “Cassavetes style”. It’s irritating because anyone who actually takes the time to read up about Cassavetes will find that he heavily scripted/rewrote his films. Even Shadows was written, which was why the end title stating “This entire film was improvised” caused a bit of a spark since it actually wasn’t. Ugh
The dialogue is boring. The characters are boring. The story usually goes nowhere.
But there is another kind of poetry: the poetry of that which is at hand: the immediate present. In the immediate present there is no perfection, no consummation, nothing finished. The strands are all flying, quivering, intermingling into the web, the waters are shaking the moon. There is no round, consummate moon on the face of the running water, nor on the face of the unfinished tide. There are no gems of the living plasm. The living plasm vibrates unspeakably, it inhales the future, it exhales the past, it is the quick of both, and yet it is neither. There is no plastic finality, nothing crystal, permanent. If we try to fix the living tissue, as the biologists fix it with formation, we have only a hardened bit of the past, the bygone life under our observation.
What is it you find exciting in speech? What is it you think makes a character interesting? Where do you want stories to go? Might some, not necessarily all, of the these films be doing something you’re just not getting? Are you watching them moment by moment and staying with them or are you zoning out and waiting for something to happen while everything is happening?
lol. I must admit, I actually thought Revanche was sort of bland too (but I know a lot of people love the film and I really should rewatch it).
Yes, Kate Aselton’s description of how she wrote The Freebie (and how it was shot – over 11 days or something?) seemed a bit odd to me. She was at the screening I went to and she almost seemed proud of how little she put into the film. It was bizarre.
I will admit though, there were elements of The Freebie that I liked (particularly that confrontation scene in the kitchen towards the end of the film). But yeah, writing is important (Cassavetes of course was big on writing so if you’re trying to emulate his kind of filmmaking, working w/o a script is not the way to go – that’s more Christopher Guest territory).
I think fell asleep just getting through that DH Lawrence quote.
Mike – Can you explain exactly what these films are doing that we’re not getting? The problem that I have with these types of discussions is that the blame seems to always be on the viewer. Does the filmmakers note bare any responsibility?
For any film, this discussion can occur: Person A – This film sucks. Person B – You just don’t get it.
You know what I mean? With some of these kinds of films, I do get what’s going on. I feel like I do know what they’re trying to say. My understanding isn’t the problem. The problem that after watching the film, I leave feeling empty. I think, “so what?” If that’s the filmmaker’s intention, fine. If not, then maybe I am missing something, in which case someone should explain it. But in the case of The Freebie and hearing Aselton talk, she pretty much confirmed that my interpretation of the film was correct (and what I was supposed to glean from it), which leads me to believe that the “so what?” feeling that I felt was something she intended.
If that is the case, if a filmmaker’s intention is for me to not care and to question why I even went on this journey with them, I can’t say I’m interested. I can’t say I’d want to take that journey again. Because I like caring.
I haven’t seen The Freebie. From the trailer it looks like it’s trying to do what I think some great films do but it’s always impossible to tell from a trailer. These things are so small and subtle. A filmmaker can ruin it by lingering to long on a meaningful glance, holding a pretty shot too long, freezing the spontaneity at too many key moments so we know that a certain bit of dialogue is important, or simply by trying to give us too many answers and not enough questions. This is why I hate these terms, not just mumblecore but all the “waves,” they lead people to lump things together that don’t have what matters in common. Rivette is not the same as Godard and Bujalski probably isn’t the same as Aselton. It’s in the details.
Mike Spence: What is it you find exciting in speech? What is it you think makes a character interesting? Where do you want stories to go? Might some, not necessarily all, of the these films be doing something you’re just not getting? Are you watching them moment by moment and staying with them or are you zoning out and waiting for something to happen while everything is happening?
Explaining what I think is exciting/interesting is like trying to explain why I think a girl is or is not attractive. How can you really explain something you are attracted to in detail?
I’m definitely not zoning out and I definitely don’t expect big story twists and all that. Like I mentioned in another thread, I really enjoyed Ju, tu, il, elle by Chantal Akerman, which is FAAAAR more minimalist than any of the Duplass brothers films. There are very long takes of what is seemingly “nothing” happening and yet it is far more interesting that The Puffy Chair. Why is this? I’m not entirely sure. Chantal Akerman just seems to have executed it better. I would really like to hear your thoughts on that film if you ever get a chance to see it.
Frank V. Ross was one of the early mumblecore directors who got lost in the shuffle, but he’s one of the best ya ask me. He makes smart and nuanced films about everyday life. They have no exposition and barely any plot but are rich with authentic human behavior. Anyway, it’s “Frank Ross Week” at NoBudge Films, a mini-retrospective of his 3 latest films screening free at NoBudge. Today, is AUDREY THE TRAINWRECK, his best known film + tomorrow is a special sneak preview of his brand new film TIGER TAIL IN BLUE, which hasn’t premiered yet.
That’s awesome. One of the creators of the so called mumblecore genre just posted in a forum debating the merits mumblecore.
Coincidentally, I just happened to watch the first couple of minute of Team Picture on NoBudge today—for free too, nonetheless, which surprised the daylights out of me—I hope it stays up for a while so I can finish it. I thought I had ordered the film through through my library a couple of months ago but they sent me some sort on anthology of Southern Films instead (it had a clip of Team Picture along side clips from an Elvis documentary and a Frederick Wiseman film). Nobudge was just mentioned in another post here , too
To Mr. Audley (who probably has nary the time for this): What do you think about the term mumblecore and all the connotations that come with it?
J & K, Team Picture and my 2nd film Holy Land are free on NoBudge anytime. Thanks for watching…don’t have anything new to add to mumblecore discussion, but some of my fav filmmakers (Bujalski, Ross, Swanberg) have been placed under the term…Suppose it’s worthwhile to group these guys together in some way.
I have to disagree with Kentucker that it’s useful to group these filmmakers together in any way except as some of the most interesting filmmakers out there, along with filmmakers from many other countries, age-groups and social strata, but I encourage everyone to see his films. Team Pixture, Holy Land and Open Five are all excellent!
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been acquainting myself with the works of the Duplass brothers, and have watched every one of their films, with the exception of Baghead, which I plan to see soon. Overall, solely speaking after I’ve seen their work, I truly enjoy the medium. It provides for some truly appealing and honest naturalism in the writing and acting, and refuses to get bogged down by commercialization and ridiculous cliches. I also enjoy the fact that, more often than not, the films just end like a regular day. They don’t end on some bombastic note, but rather, an unassuming shot like people hugging or a door closing. I love it, and am truly excited to continue meandering in the medium.