American Movie



Drunken Master

SCORE: 7 Beers

When I think white trash, I think of the famous tv show COPS.  One that stands out vividly in my memory is one where "Daddio" gets the tires on his car slashed because his shitfaced neighbor feels the need to stumble over into daddio's yard and slash his tires in a drunken stupor.  COPS intervene, (thank god)  Daddio himself is sitting on his porch drunker than a Baptist in a closet, retelling the grandeur of his sorrowful tale of his poor vehicle to the hard working COPS, when they cut quickly to the before said drunk neighbor.  He of course, like Daddio, is drunk sitting on his porch himself, drinking a finer domestic canned beer found in the "Shit" end of any local beer/wine store.  To make a long ramble short Daddio will not be receiving new snow tires from his neighbor who will be "according to him" returning from the police station in about "30 minutes" this of course shortly after downing the backwash of a beer in his hand before the cops place a knee on his head while handcuffing him.
     All this has nothing to do with this movie per se, just a good drunken ramble every now and then is good eating.  This movie is basically Joe Blow's attempt at making an independent movie.  Which sucks hairy donkey dick by the way.  But this documentary of his struggles is actually an entertaining flick.  Think of a 30 something white trash porch monkey living at home with a divorced mother.  This should be enough to lay down the mindset to enjoy a movie where you really do laugh AT someone, and not with them.

Jurassic Mark

SCORE: 4 Stars

"If you've ever wanted to make a movie, see "American Movie," a documentary about someone who wants to make a movie more than you do."
-Roger Ebert

In my opinion, Mark Borchardt is a successful filmmaker. I'm less convinced he's a good filmmaker. Borchardt is the subject of a visceral documentary called American Movie (the best film of 1999).

Borchardt has been making short films since he was a boy. His taste is questionable. Most of his pictures are horror schlock. None of this matters in American Movie, however, because Borchardt's quest to write and direct a film is astounding. Borchardt is persistent, irresponsible, funny, morose, inspiring, embarrassing and often drunk. Say what you will about Borchardt, but his passion to create won me over.

Borchardt dreams of completing a drama called Northwestern. He has a script. He has actors, assistants and no money. Borchardt's only financial resource is his Uncle Bill. Bill is one of three or four people in American Movie who can only exist in real life. No character in a fictional movie is as estranged as Borchardt's uncle. Bill lives alone in a dilapidated trailer. Although he's barely able to take care of himself, he has over $200,000 in the bank. It's hard to tell if Borchardt is using his uncle for his money.

The rest of Borchardt's family is unsupportive. His father refuses to give him money. His brothers acknowledge Borchardt's persistence, but come right out and say that he will never amount to anything. Borchardt's mother is willing to assist (at one point she operates the camera), but doesn't believe in his future as a filmmaker. I found it amazing that Borchardt's family is willing to say these things with the documentary cameras rolling.

Events unfold and Borchardt is unable to complete Northwestern. He decides he must finish another project (a horror short called Coven). Borchardt believes that if he can finish Coven and sell enough video copies, he can Bankroll Northwestern.

Ironically, Borchardt's "unusual" friends come to the rescue. His best buddy is Mike Schank. Much of my time watching American Movie was spent trying to decide if Mike was a real person or some kind of This is Spinal Tap phony. Mike is the kind of guy who overdoses and then attempts to drop acid in the hospital. His wardrobe consists of concert tee-shirts and baggy jeans. His hair is a long, dark, matted mess. Mike appears to be a stereotypical heavy metal stoner. But, he sticks by Borchardt; and he's not without talent. The American Movie soundtrack is performed by Schanks on guitar. Several of the tracks are original. It's a haunting, completely appropriate score; a surprising amateur touch in a film co-produced by R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe. Oh, and Schanks has one more extraordinary talent. In one of American Movies funniest scenes, Mike dubs possibly the greatest horror film scream in the history of the motion picture. Mark Borchardt is literally taken aback, saying, "that was wicked man!"

I admired Borchardt's childhood friends for their loyalty. Sometimes you get the feeling they don't have anything better to do. Still, they support Borchardt in the eleventh hour: performing as extras, and splicing film.

A lot of people would call Borchardt a loser. Others would compare him to Ed Wood. I don't think either description is accurate. Coven has individual scenes of grainy, black and white cinematography which are better than anything Wood ever filmed.

American Movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. It won the Grand Jury Prize. Borchardt was on hand. And in a moment of cosmic justice, the entire audience stuck around to watch Borchardt's 35-minute Coven. He earned it.