Purely by coincidence and not in some sad attempt to bolster my hip indie-film awareness credentials, I recently watched two films from the Mumblecore collective (Humpday and Beeswax) within a week of each other. Mumblecore, a very evocative title (actually coined by a sound editor on one of the early films) reflects, to some extent, the semi-improvisational, sometimes inaudible speech inflections of the actors involved.
Having watched an early effort from this sub-genre at the ICA a couple of years back (Andrew Bujalski’s debut Funny Ha Ha), I was really impressed by the naturalistic tone and performances on display. Bujalski’s characters in both this and his second feature, Mutual Appreciation, are within my age group, and he taps into the whole post-university malaise that I certainly felt. It was also incredibly refreshing to see a filmmaker with complete autonomy over his work, far from the pull of Hollywood. Even the closing credits were hand-written in pencil! This way of film-making may not be revelatory (John Cassavetes was knocking out thematically-similar work, outside of the system, thirty years earlier), but it’s just nice to see it done for my generation, particularly amidst the major studio’s gentrification of the independent scene.
I came across The Puffy Chair courtesy of Film4 a couple of months later, and although more structured in terms of plotting and story, this was another example of film-makers who were interested in eliciting realistic and honest performances from their cast, and placing them in familiar and relatable scenarios. Written and directed by two brothers, Mark and Jay Duplass, (Mark also acts and co-starred in Humpday) It’s a funny and warm tale which taps into the all too recognisable theme of the imperfections in love and relationships. The artistic partnership here really helps to create an intimate environment, and this extends to the other films, where there is a real comradery between the different filmmakers and a strong sense of a creative community. Many take turns in acting in one another’s films and assist on shoots. It’s the kind of supportive environment which in an ideal world, should be the next evolutionary step up for students has have finished a filmmaking degree and are intent on carving out a career for themselves.
Fringe movements like this almost inevitably at some point end of dipping their toe in the Hollywood mainstream. A couple of actors from the scene (leading female figure Greta Gerwig and Duplass again) crop up in Noah Baumbach’s new feature Greenberg, and I’m looking forward to seeing them share screen time with more recognised mainstream performers like Ben Stiller and Rhys Ifans. The Duplass brothers have their first studio film ready, which received a warm reception at Sundance this year. Judging by the trailers and reviews, they seemed to have been able to maintain their style, but instead of having unknowns, seasoned actors like John C. Reilly and Marisa Tomei are now headlining. This for me is the exciting part of any kind of art movement - when there is the opportunity to infiltrate the mainstream and still remain essentially true to the core ideology.
Long may they mumble.
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