Friday, December 02, 2005

Indie Films: The Mediocre

I watched You, Me and Everyone We Know this week. It represented, to me, what is worst about indie films, though I do love them. It was arty in a very self-conscious way: gratuitous shots of leaves or the sun, the whole scene with the goldfish on top of the car. It had no arc, and I mean no arc. The pacing was slow, painful in some parts. And there were whole story lines (the teenage girls and the blowjob, for example) that I just did not understand in the context of the film as a whole.
That said, I did like aspects of it. The characters were great. I especially liked the little boy and his explanation of the chore wheel. "There's a metal thing and it helps. With the turning." The movie was a bit disturbing, as a whole, on the idea of children being unsupervised and doing wildly inappropriate things (meeting adult women in chat rooms for example).
I want to love indie film. And every so often there are some great ones (Roger, Dodger; Pieces of April; others I am blanking on right now), but why, in general, do indie films feel they are exempt from the basic ideas of storytelling?
Arc! I want arc dammit!


Sleepy E said...

I absolutely agree with you here, Dr. Write. I don't know if indy filmmakers think that story is a sellout or old fashioned or what, but a lot of the time they think they are exempt from telling a good story. It's unfortunate, but that's one thing that Hollywood formula is good for. There will always be rising action and conflict and reversals and a happy ending. But stuff will happen at least.

I always try to work within the structural formula but use the content to make it more arty or indy or whatever. Reinventing the form works about one percent of the time. I can't remember seeing a movie without a story that I liked. Cronenberg's Crash, maybe.

Lisa B. said...

I think I'm seeing more indy films with good stories than y'all, though I do agree that the general snobbiness about narrative, which actually applies in all the arts, is one of the most annoying thing about any avant-garde aesthetic practice. I heard a poet whom I respect a great deal talk about how she increasingly found narrative abhorrent in her own poetry--and we weren't talking about narrative poetry, per se, just about the elements in a poem that would allow a reader to assemble or infer a narrative. Denying narrative is about denying pleasure. Screw that.

susansinclair said...

I still wanna see it. But I know what you mean. We went to see The Dying Gaul, written and directed by Craig Lucas, and it has some problems. Like he didn't know how to end it. So there's some over the top elements, like the red satin pooled in front of a nasty character when he finds out his family is dead. hmmmm

Paulk said...

I've been largely scared off of small independent films. A few years back, Marcia and I realized that we really appreciated a lot of the small things that we used to think didn't matter to us at all (like, say, production values).

FSU used to have a pretty good film school, but while I was there, I couldn't stand to see the student films. I suppose there was, as Lisa says, a kind of aversion to very basic narrative structure. (Lord knows we see that enough in writing workshops.) Mostly though, it just seemed that they could use a bit of study focusing on that underappreciated element.

The problem is that everyone thinks they understand story. We can thank TV (and the movies) for that. And I've long been on record saying that this is the most narratively literary generation in history—unfortunately, most of them are only reading on a second-grade level.

Which brings me to my favorite moment in Arrested Development last night. Maybe (the sixteen year old girl who secretly moonlights as a big-time Hollywood producer) takes the advice of a woman who no one realizes is mentally challenged and decides to have the two lovers in her movie walk across the ocean to consumate their love. "No one'll understand it," Maybe says,"but they'll all be too embarrassed to admit it!"

Paulk said...

Or, you know, "consummate"—it's just too early in the morning to be prepping to teach.

Sleepy E said...

That's interesting, Paul, because the rep that FSU has in the film school world (at least among my contemporaries), is that it's probably only behind USC and AFI for mainstream filmmaking. UCLA and NYU are way off in an annoying experimental realm, but my understanding is that FSU is not averse to commercial filmmaking (and even commercial/music video making).

But even the most mainstream and pandering productions that come out of USC don't really understand story well either. They have all of the things (cinematography, character, twisty ending) of a mainstream production (all of the gloss) but all of the stories are weak, weak, weak.

But I imagine the same thing happens in creative writing class. Maybe it's just their studentness that gets in the way. Then again, a lot of these movies are pretty sophisticated visually. So what gives?

susansinclair said...

BTW, you might like what Academic Hack (my smart friend Michael) says about a recent July project: "And the truth is, I hadn't realized until seeing AYTFPOA? that Me and You and Everybody We Know has given me a bellyful of July's high-art guilelessness, enough to last me for years in fact." You can check out his reviews of all sorts of obscure indies as well as mainstream stuff at

Christine Allen-Yazzie said...

Hello, Dr. Write. I noticed your review of THE MEDIOCRE (no arc!) and it made me curious about how you reacted to my novel, since it looks like you read it (column right). Aside from the "arc" as the world/vacuum bag and the "sediment" as dirt/stars, its namesake came from a critique of arc in narrative, in favor of...well, I guess I more fragmented, dissolute narrative. Despite idealism, I guess I threw in a little arc. Maybe. I don't know. Your thoughts? Maybe you have a more accurate take...I'm too close to it to know, I think.