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SWANBERG vs. BUJALSKI

by
in Filmmaking
on Jun 11, 2006


Over at GreenCine, David Hudson compares and contrasts the work of Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski. Bujalski, of course, is the director of Mutual Appreciation and Funny Ha Ha. Swanberg made Kissing on the Mouth and LOL and also helms a web series called Young American Bodies (pictured) over at Nerve.com. Typically, Hudson’s analysis is full of tons of links, and observations like this one:

First, I have no idea how much of an inspiration Bujalski might be for Joe, but that’s ultimately beside the point. I’d argue that each gives us something in his films the other doesn’t. There are similarities, of course. They’re about the same age, or in the same neighborhood age-wise, and so are their characters. The question of what to do with one’s life – as opposed to what one’s done with it – lurks and occasionally pounces. Improvisation is part of the process behind LOL and YAB and, though Bujalski insists his characters speak the lines written for them, there’s an improvised feel to the dialogue in the work of both filmmakers (hence critics’ autopilot Cassavetes allusions).

But there’s also more of an improvised feel about Joe Swanberg’s camerawork, even though he often ends up making more conventional choices about where to place that camera (though certainly not always). With both filmmakers, we spend a lot of time indoors, but Bujalski more often tends to want to take in an entire room within the frame; he always makes sure we know exactly where we are, whereas in some of Joe’s scenes, particularly in YAB, location is practically irrelevant. And of course, there’s texture. Shot in grainy black-and-white, great swaths of Bujalski’s Mutual Appreciation look as if they could have been filmed in 1980 or even 1960. Joe’s very mid-2000s digital video work occasionally soaks up saturated colors, or, every now and then, as in scenes in a club in YAB, he doesn’t seem to mind at all if the screen goes black – it only draws Ben and the girl he’s flirting with closer together as they lean in towards a candle’s flame and away from the noise all around them.

The most important difference between the character-driven films of Swanberg and Bujalski, though, as Karina [Lombard} suggests, lies in the characters themselves. No character is ever completely truthful, but Bujalski’s do tend to try harder at it; there’s a lot more conscious lying going on in Joe’s films.

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