(Hollywood Video Closure)


I was about to give up on this so-called “mumblecore” film movement when I heard that the Duplass Brothers had made a mumble-horror. I had to admit, I was interested. I had to see, although I felt I was sure to regret it.

My experience with mumblecore varies depending on how you define the pretend movement anyway. I know my earliest experience was reading about Andrew Bujalski in “Film Comment” on the way to New York one July years ago. I know I caught “Wendy and Lucy” on an all-nighter back from Vegas. My girlfriend fell asleep; I thought it had mood. I would not call it a mumblecore, but I believe some have.

But I can say my feelings about mumblecore come from my two main experiences with it.

First was “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” It is an absolutely abysmal movie that needs no further mention. It very well could have ended cinema; I don’t know how it didn’t even kill the movement.

I thought…jesus, this is bad. So mumblecore is bad.

Then I saw “Humpday.” “Humpday” was a well told and amusing enough venture, but I felt it was done rather amateurishly. However, whatever I thought technically about the film, it all got bogged down by the content. “Humpday” suggests the machismo of the straight man would cause them to go homo for a bet. That is what is there on the surface. That is the concept a lot of people bought into. However, this is not the status quo. The director knows it. Even the wife of the Mark Duplass character knows this. They are working out something individual and specific. So when the film dealt with the characters it was funny; when it tried to make general observations, I felt it missed the mark.

But it was actually “Humpday” that gave me hope (it was “Hannah” which made me throw up in my mouth). Because it wasn’t all bad.

So I embarked on “Baghead.”

And it isn’t all bad.

It is a simple story told well. Funny at times. Scary at times. Endearing a few times. Technically proficient almost never. And that is what is frightening, and perhaps intimidating to me about this “mumblecore” thing. It throws film technique and cinematography out the window: this is point-and-shoot to its very core. All we see are close ups of faces and whip-panning of an obviously handheld camcorder. And forget about focus shots…the camera seems to be on a slow-moving autofocus.
And yet the story works and is effective. The first ten minutes are tough to take because you have to realize that this is how the film will look and feel visually. And you think, “Oh, God.”

But then you get over it. And then you watch the movie.

And so, “Baghead” is an enjoyable entry into the horror-comedy genre. It is certainly the best “mumble core” film I’ve seen, and almost the worst looking wide release film I have ever seen (the honor belonging to “Hannah” of course).

The Duplass Brothers are tricksters. I think that is how they found their niche and success. One article states they picked up their camcorder for the first time and three dollars later had a Sundance accepted short. Later on, it is determined that Jay went to film school and spent years editing before the Sundance short.

During an interview session for “Baghead,” Mark actually says to Jay before a question, “OK, let’s answer this one for real.”

The film, “Baghead,” even contains a scene of con game the Duplass Brothers have mastered. During a Q&A session, they will play off the audience. They make the audience feel intelligence for “getting” what they have done. The audience, in turn, vindicates what they do and stretches their imaginations to “get it.”

I mention all of this because The Duplass Brothers are, I believe, delightful little con men playing card tricks to festival audiences’ delight. They created their aesthetic by simply stating that they had one.

Yet “Baghead” works. Although I can’t imagine it would get accepted as a blind entry at a festival.

So the visual and cinematography isn’t everything. But it certainly is something.

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