Friday, February 13, 2009

Great Movies: As American As Apple Pie

By Alec Horowitz

The 1999 film, “American Movie” by filmmaker Chris Smith is the ‘Spinal Tap’ of the independent film world. Unlike “Spinal Tap’, that 1984 mock documentary by Rob Reiner, “American Movie” is a real documentary and these are real people. The film opens with Mark Borchardt driving through a high way in Wisconsin, looking at street lamps and car dealerships, as he says in his narration “I keep thinking about the American dream…” What’s Mark’s American dream? To live out his life’s goal making successful horror movies. Of course, what follows from that humble set up for Mark’s story is a picture of no just someone with an American dream, but a picture of real Americans?

Mark Borchardt lives with his parents, writes local radio dreams, and is considered a screw-up by his brother, who dresses up in a Hooters t-shirt for his interview in the film. Borchardt goes to his uncle Bill, begging him to help him fund his short film, Coven. Borchardt hopes to use the sales for Coven, to finance his life long project, a script titled Northwestern. Uncle Bill lives in a trailer park and is retired. She speaks in a low tone matter and is the last person Borchardt has to turn to. His best friend is a stoner type named Mike Schank, who talks in monotone, has a small bread, a overweight man who sis on his bed with a guitar on his lap and says “Me and Mike used to party a lot, but we don’t party anymore”. Borchardt also has about eight kids with some girl he knew from the local bar scene. In one scene where all the children are lined up sitting on plastic chairs, the offcamera filmmaker askes them what was the last film daddy took them to see. One of his kids replys in a child’s voice “Apocalyse Now”.

The film is considered to be one of the greatest documentaries ever made. One of my favorite scenes is a quiet one that shows Mark’s desire to be truly a creative force but also shows what most creative people stuck in places without titles like New York or California do to try to work with what they got. He sits in his car looking out at the Wisconsin airport, writing on a pad, saying the quiet helps him be creative. My favorite scene though in the entire film is a testament to independent filmmaking. Borchardt tells one of his actors that the stunt will be safe. I guess you could guess how that went?

The film, though, does have something that Spinal Tap doesn’t really. At times, it can seem goofy, but it’s also ultimately touching. Uncle Bill leaves Borchdt money in his will to help him fund his feature film. I’m not sure if his film was ever finished, but as Uncle Bill says about death, considering the people who have surround ring him in his life, “Do they smoke and have cigarettes up in Haven? I don’t think so…I don’t think so”.

I find this film to be inspiring, though, for anyone who dreams. Brorchdt is everyone who ever dreamed, and is every kid with a camera, running around, dreaming of that ultiment goal of being a storyteller. What's more American than wanting to make a movie, askes Mark Brorchdt. Watching in the beginning Brochdt's bookshelf full of books on film, than he pulls out a piece of junk mail and says "Sweet! I've been approved for a credit card". I think to myself how symbolic that scene is. Dreams and approval of a credit card in the junk mail? What's more American than that?

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