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Joe Swanberg: Ten Films in Two Years

Silver Bullets is playing in New York, Autoerotic is available on demand and The Zone will premiere at the AFI FEST.

"Even Joe Swanberg has to stop to count the number of Joe Swanberg movies out there right now," writes Mark Olsen in the Los Angeles Times. Uncle Kent premiered at Sundance, Silver Bullets and Art History in Berlin. He's collaborating with Factory 25 on Joe Swanberg: Collected Films 2011, a box set of four films on DVD plus an unusual array of bonus material — records, photo books, posters. Autoerotic, made with Adam Wingard, is available on demand from IFC. And the AFI FEST, opening on Thursday, will be screening Silver Bullets and Art History and hosting the premiere of The Zone, which, as Olsen tells us, "traces the interrelationships of a trio of roommates once an outsider enters their dynamic, before revealing additional layers of psycho-emotional complexity…. If one were to make a diagram of contemporary American independent filmmaking, Swanberg would be somewhere near the center, if for no other reason than his productivity and appetite for new collaborators has led him to work with a roll call of notable actors and filmmakers — Greta Gerwig, Mark Duplass, Andrew Bujalski, Noah Baumbach, Ti West, Lynn Shelton, Larry Fessenden, Jane Adams, Ry Russo-Young, Aaron Katz, Amy Seimetz, Adam Wingard, Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine. Antonio Campos, a producer on the recent indie sensation Martha Marcy May Marlene, appears briefly in Silver Bullets, adding a new branch to the Swanberg family tree." And let's note, too, that Kentucker Audley plays the mysterious visitor in The Zone.

Writing in Slant, Jaime N Christley notes that he's "friends with two critics who harbor diametrically opposed attitudes toward Joe Swanberg's work. The first friend thinks Swanberg is a major filmmaker, whose work affords a multifaceted appreciation for what he's able to do with improvisation, elliptical storytelling, and favored themes (intimacy, work, relationships, art, shooting, confession), while the other thinks he's utterly contemptible." In Silver Bullets, now playing at Brooklyn's reRun Gastropub Theater, "Swanberg's idea of making audiences 'happy' is by acknowledging what his supporters and detractors have been saying about him for a number of years, but presenting these things within the same game of elliptical story-unraveling and confession that's governed most of his other films. The artistic impulses remain consistent, if anything considerably more assured, but where many directors who've sustained a career for this long may be willing to rest inside the 'schtick' they've crafted, there doesn't seem to be anything that we can say to Swanberg that he isn't able to crystallize as a part of his continuing self-reflection and self-deconstruction. That he uses digital video and a highly developed sense of cutting to make these things material is, at this point, incontrovertible. What's even more praiseworthy is that he seems to want to keep digging."

Alison Willmore at the AV Club: "Kate Lyn Sheil plays an actress (the characters are left unnamed) who's served as the star of filmmaker boyfriend Swanberg's work in the past, but who's now taken on the lead role in a werewolf flick being directed by another, perhaps more successful, up-and-comer (House of the Devil director Ti West). It seems directly due to jealousy over this (though he denies it) that her boyfriend has asked her best friend (Amy Seimetz) to act in his newest film, a very Swanberg-like romantic drama in which he'll also star. Her discomfort with this pairing ('You know the way you make movies!' she chides him) is pitted against the attraction she feels for West, with whom she's spending a lot of time. The line between 'highly personal' and 'navel-gazing' varies depending on one's feelings toward the person offering up the serving of self-contemplation, but Silver Bullets' introspection feels earned."

"The improvisation is not simply a means to arrive at a piece of fiction," argues Dan Sallitt. "Swanberg's goal is not to find new ways to get good performances, but rather to use the fiction as a tool to document the performers' states of being." He takes a close, sharp look "at a few key scenes from the film, all single-shot long takes, all conversations between a couple in crisis: Ethan (Swanberg), a filmmaker, and Claire (the extraordinary Kate Lyn Sheil), each of whom is at work on projects with other artists."

"The restlessness, acute self-awareness, and confessionalism that characterize his work are almost belligerently genre-proof," writes Mark Holcomb in the Voice. "Which might be why Silver Bullets is the most affecting 'horror' movie I've seen in a while, as Swanberg ignores tired supernatural scare-flick trappings and locates terror in the shadowy, passive-aggressive process of making, and watching, movies…. [T]here's a vulnerability and restraint here that are new, and they give heft to the meta-horror narrative while moving Swanberg's oeuvre squarely away from mumblecore faddishness. The closing shot, in which Sheil dolls herself up, induces fake tears, and points her enigmatic gaze in our direction, may be the most sympathetic and dead smart passage in one of his films yet, if not most movies this year."

Jeannette Catsoulis, writing in the New York Times, seems to have seen a different movie altogether: "Though becoming more adventurous with his camera and editing this time out, Mr Swanberg offsets those gains with a bloody finale of staggering self-pity. Whether this is a genuine move to ventilate real-life artistic despair, or simply self-indulgent posing, is impossible to determine; either way, the sequence feels wildly misjudged. Egged on by the hyperventilating strings of the Orange Mighty Trio and the familiar forehead of Larry Fessenden — who appears early in the film to no discernible purpose — Silver Bullets neither pleases the eye nor stimulates the mind."

In the L, Henry Stewart doesn't seem to know what to think and throws a slew of questions right back at Silver Bullets.

Reviewing Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007), Trevor Link focuses on "a moment that connects the earlier Kissing on the Mouth [2005] and LOL [2006] to the later Nights and Weekends (2008) and Alexander the Last (2009). The two earlier films detail the ways in which we dons masks, much like actors, in order to conceal the psychological-emotional complexities and ambiguities that reside underneath, but Hannah is the first film in Swanberg's body of work where we actually see this mask slip." More from Trevor Link on Kissing on the Mouth, LOL, Nights and Weekends and Alexander the Last.

Gary Kramer interviews Joe for Slant.

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