Tuesday, February 02, 2010

DIY Pet Peeves

There are some things in a lot of independent films that irk us, take us out of the experience, occasionally enrage us, and just plain turn us off. Here's a few of 'em.

Films about filmmakers and/or artists, making films and/or art, especially from a debut filmmaker. Also, any endeavor, creative or otherwise, that once undertaken by the character serves as a complex metaphor for the filmmaking process.

Films that have no concept of money. I was going to say, "films about people in abject poverty who nonetheless have spacious apartments with breathtaking views", but found "no concept of money" not only more succinct but also farther-reaching, as it also encompasses those films in which money and the damning pressure it exerts over everyday lives seemingly does not exist. This is not, by the way, any attempt to condemn films about rich people-- only those films about rich people that don't know they're about rich people.

(Which reminds me of a story about a relative of mine, who has done quite well for himself financially, who wondered if we were still doing this whole filmmaking thing, and, in an attempt to persuade us away from it, mentioned that he had a friend who was an actor; said friend, he said, had been doing it for years, had even been in some fairly high-profile films, but he had yet to make a living at it. In a good year, he said, his friend still only made $250,000, and in a bad year, he made as little as $30,000. We tried to hide our disbelief; Tom makes just under $10,000 a year and we wish we could have a year as bad as his friend's.)

Films where romance is the most important thing in the world. Rom-coms are, by their very nature, excused. But there are more important things than dating, romance, and sexual attraction, for example: failure, ambition, self-destruction, self-invention, discovery, pain, joy, anger. And love. Love is the most important thing of all, and something quite different than romance.

Nose hairs. For reasons documented over here.

Wall-to-wall music. Music is not cinema. Music is rhythm and film is rhythm, and music can be used in cinematic ways, both to set an atmosphere and to manipulate the viewer one note at a time. But music-rhythm disrupts cinema-rhythm. When it's used to "speed up" every dialogue scene, it only succeeds in slowing it down.

Verbal placeholders. I know we're, like, improvising and stuff, and so, like, yeah, you know, we're, um, doing that, but it makes me want to reach into the screen and strangle them.

Mockumentaries. To be brief, they are both aesthetically and morally just plain wrong.

All that being said------ there are plenty of films, both low-budget and studio-funded, that are guilty of one (or two [or five]) of these pet peeves that we still really dig. Good filmmaking trumps everything. For example, some films about artists/filmmakers and the artistic process that we dig include Stardust Memories, The Lionshare, Mutual Appreciation, Boogie Nights, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Hollywood Ending, LOL, and the television show Home Movies. There are some nose-hair-a-riffic films that we still find entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking. Verbal placeholders are used elegantly by Andrew Bujalski, who scripts every syllable; there's a bravura monologue in Aaron Katz's Quiet City that uses "like" to build a rhythm instead of halting it. District 9, which we found to be a great science fiction film, takes the form of a mockumentary but does so not in some lame attempt to make it more "real" but to world-build.

It is, in the end, more about how you use something than what you use.

1 comment:

Andrew Grant said...

Very nice piece.

However, the "no concept of money" problem can be found in films both big and small -- particularly when it comes to real-estate.

Woody Allen, god bless him, is extremely guilty in this regard. (cf. Jason Biggs' apartment in Anything Else.)

We New Yorkers are sensitive to that sort of thing...