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in Filmmaking
on Nov 7, 2007

Over at Film Comment, critic Amy Taubin visits the mumblecore party and finds that the keg has run dry. “Adieu, mumblecore, the indie movement that never was more than a flurry of festival hype and blogosphere branding,” she opens (and summarizes) with in a piece that challenges the proposition that these largely no-budget, DIY films constitute a valid aesthetic movement.

Is that, however, a sufficient basis for a film movement? Obviously not in the grand sense of the French New Wave or the postwar American avant-garde. At most, one might think of mumblecore as an update of the “New Talkie,” the strand (not quite a genre) of no-budget indies that emerged in the early Nineties with such landmark films as Richard Linklater’s Slacker, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, and Rose Troche and Guinevere Turner’s Go Fish. Within a broader history, one might trace it back to Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls and his related Sixties talkies. So specific was the chatter in all these films that they could have served as illustrations in a course on anthropological linguistics.

For Taubin, m’core’s offerings are not all flat — she likes the films of Andrew Bujalski and Aaron Katz, and, in fact, as much of her piece is about listing their talents as it is criticizing the assumptions behind mumblecore itself. And she ends with a laudatory passage I am particularly happy about: her take on Ronald Bronstein’s Frownland, a film recently nominated by Filmmaker and MOMA for Filmmaker‘s “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” Gotham Award.

From the piece:

A latecomer to the party, Ronald Bronstein, whose Frownland (07) won a special jury award at SXSW, has made a film that is both an unnerving literalization and a clammy slap in the face of mumblecore, although Bronstein began production in 2002, three years before the word was uttered. The protagonist of this mesmerizing piece of New York miserabilism is a self-described “troll from under the bridge,” rendered so dysfunctional by his insecurities and self-hatred that his mouth spasms and drools every time he tries to speak. Ingeniously shot on Super-16 and featuring a performance by Dore Mann that is a tour de force of courage or perhaps masochism, Frownland bears comparison with Ken Jacobs and Bob Fleischner’s 1963 avant-garde classic Blonde Cobra or any of Jacobs’s early portraits of the outcast Jerry Sims. Bronstein has created a horror film nearly as creepy as Eraserhead and more unsparing because it offers no possibility of release.

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