Wednesday, March 12, 2014


There's been a bunch of great stuff online over the past few weeks and it really got me thinking long and hard about movies again. It got me thinking about what makes a good movie and what it takes to make a great movie.

The Dissolve, a site started by a bunch of great writers, does this thing called "Movie of the Week" where they pick an older movie and write about it for a few days. A couple of weeks ago, they chose AMERICAN MOVIE.

This has always been one of my favorite documentaries for many, many reasons. The story of Mark Borchardt trying to get his great American movie, NORTHWESTERN, off the ground is nothing short of brilliant. Chris Smith spent two years following Borchardt and his friend Mike Schank as they go through their pretty boring lives in Milwaukee. Borchardt is in his mid-30's, lives at home with his parents, works at a funeral home and is pretty much the definition of a failure.

He's trying desperately to change that perception though, and he's convinced that if he can just get a little bit of money, he can finish COVEN, use the profits from that to finance NORTHWESTERN and ride off successfully into the sunset of his life. It doesn't quite work out that way.

AMERICAN MOVIE is really a brilliant documentary about life and about the process of making movies. It's a documentary that makes me think two different things.

1) You have to be pretty talented and incredibly lucky to start and finish a movie.

2) I'm more talented and way luckier than Mark Borchardt, right?

I'm pretty sure the answer to number two is a resounding "yes!" but I can't be sure. For one thing, making movies in the mid-to-late 90's was WAY harder than it is today. Before everything became digital, you had to know a lot about all the different equipment. Shooting on film was expensive and editing on a Steenbeck and splicing parts together by hand was incredibly difficult - far more so than shooting on an iPhone and importing everything into iMovie or Final Cut. Borchardt may be a hapless, bumbling, drunken fool, but when it comes to actually working film equipment, he knows his shit.

I don't know how to do any of that stuff. That's why I always second guess myself when those questions arise.

If you've seen AMERICAN MOVIE, head over to The Dissolve and read all the great stuff they compiled for it. There's the keynote essay, an interview with director Chris Smith 15 years later, and a round table discussion between all the writers.

If you've never seen AMERICAN MOVIE, what's wrong with you? Call me ASAP. I own it. I'll let you come over. I've got snacks, drinks, a comfortable couch... It's a hell of deal, really.

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