Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It was the decade when...

Filmmakers learned to speak fluent mumble.

Things you need to make movies:
1. Money 2. A script 3. A story 4. Dialogue. 5. Drama.

WRONG. For now we have Mumblecore, the most-buzzed about film genre no one has actually seen - this despite the pages of copy devoted to the movement in alt-weekly newspapers, classy intellectual magazines and film blogs. Indeed, the analysis of mumblecore was more interesting than its movies. A sub-species of the general trend toward quirk in indie films of the decade, the cinema of mumblecore lacked the silliness and gutsy absurdity of comic larks like Napoleon Dynamite, Juno or Eagle Vs. Shark. Mumblecore wasn't nicknamed "MySpace Neo-Realism" for nothing.

Usually made for the cost of a nice set of golf clubs or trip to Europe, mumblecore films make no attempt to look anything but homemade. So distant from the Southland it'd be hyperbolic to label these films anti-Hollywood (even if they're occasionally made there), the mumblecore movement instead set up camp at the South By Southwest Film Festival in Austin, each year putting forth a new iteration of their DIY formula, recycling the same themes so often that a new film genre formed when no one was looking.

And what is a mumblecore movie? Well, get a group of emotionally stunted, white, unglamourous 20-somethings together (preferably those without acting experience) for a weekend or two, invent some characters that mirror the actual people playing the roles, turn on the camera and...improvise! The result: a reflection of a generation adrift, unable to express any coherent thoughts to each other. They all seem like would-be hipsters who lack the initiative to actually cultivate the sensibility. All past rules of inter-personal connection having been annihilated by the 20th century and its sociological revolutions, there are no more mores and inventing new ones seems exhausting. Attempts at connection end in isolation. Life itself has all the definition of a mumble.

Being an out-to-sea 20-something has long been fodder for indie-film, but with mumblecore a shift occurred. Contrast the genre with the slacker films of a decade ago and their protagonists. In films like Clerks or Swingers or GO the characters were positively loquacious on the topics they felt confident in discussing; those being primarily fanboy pop-culture minutia, and the conquest of women. Conversly, on any topic, the inhabitants of mumblecore-ville can barely muster up a sentence that includes a verb, noun and object. Rarely has anomie been so banal.

A labyrinthine network of directors and actors, the mumblecorps (as they are affectionately known) are nothing if not insular. But with such insularity comes a specific artistic temperament, a movement, and whatever one might think of any particular mumblecore film, there is something to be said about the consistency of the genre's particular style and themeatic preoccupations. Something is resonating here. And many of the films are actually quite successfull in their modest way. Hannah Takes the Stairs is suprisingly structured given its improvisitory origins and Baghead proved that the "corps" could spoof themselves, all the while playing by the "core" rules.

With the age of privilege coming to an end (with it, the ability to do nothing with one's time-a staple of mumblecore) and the children of the 80's now hitting 30 and facing some of the real problems that life poses, the terminus of Mumblecore is no doubt upon us. Gross over-exposure by the media (links to all the articles on the net about mumblecore would take pages), especially in relation to the movement's actual popularity, only served to push the genre into cliche (see video below). But nonetheless, the films of mumblecore might still end up being the emblematic works that will, in decades hence, define this generations particular weltanschauung (or lack therof). But for now, the time has come to learn how to articulate.

You AUGHT to remember.

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