"It's not so
Reviewing a documentary movie like "American Movie"
is pretty tough because it's reviewing not only the filmmaker's
ability, but also whether the lives shown in it are worth watching.
And I don't like handing down judgments on my fellow Americans--unless
they are those fucking assholes in Hollywood who keep taking
my wages from an hour-and--a-half of hard work and pissing in
Luckily, "American Movie" is about people like you
and me: hard-drinking, sort of stupid, unattractive people with
overly ambitious dreams. It makes you wonder what happens to
people whose dreams and goals have no correlation to their talents?
What would happen if I woke up tomorrow and decided I was going
to be a porn star and nothing could stop me? What about my infamous
lack of stamina? What about the fact that I usually spew before
I even get my trousers undone? What about the fact that I look
like a bald monkey? What if, despite all my flaws, I wouldn't
take no for an answer? "American Movie" is about another
such dreamer who, instead of fucking big-booby ladies, wants
to make movies, despite the fact that he has no fucking clue
how or why.
Mark Borchardt is a long-haired, live-with-parents, alcoholic
paperboy with big, big dreams. It's not fair to call him a loser
because he has goals, which is more than you can say for the
long-haired, live-with-parents, alcoholic unemployed dumbshits
who ride around on moto-cross bikes and make fun of schoolkids.
Mark's problems are his complete obsession with his dream and
that he lacks all the skills necessary to do it right. "American
Movie" documents his mission to make "Northwestern,"
the story of how he and his friends drink a lot and do little
else. Why Mark thinks we would pay to see this when I can go
out on my porch and see it for free is beyond me.
While Borchardt's movie idea ain't too grand, watching him
pursue it is pretty good entertainment. He is obsessed like a
fucking Jehovah's Witness trying to get through your door. Ever
since he was 13, he has been making bloody horror films with
his buddies. Now, he's older, physically at least, and his ambitions
have grown. He is not interested in making the great American
Movie. He is interested in making the best fucking bloody horror
movie that involves his friends. He is the ultimate independent,
pursuing his dream, without any desire to impress the goateed
pricks in the film school or the goateed pricks with big gold
rings in Hollywood.
Because he has no funding, "Northwestern" is shelved
while he tries to complete "Coven," a 35-minute horror
film that he plans to sell 3,000 copies of on video, with the
proceeds going to fund "Northwestern." How he came
up with the number 3,000 is anyone's guess. And his blind optimism
allows the dope to think that just because he wants to sell that
many, he will. So, he recruits his mom, some friends and some
fucking weirdo community theater players and they put on a show.
What makes "American Movie" work are the scenes
of average guys, like us, living in our dirty houses, driving
beat up old piece of shit cars, dealing with nasty toenails,
working crappy jobs, and also pursuing our dreams. My dream is
to be on that show with Roger Ebert. For that I would even clean
up my filthy fucking mouth. Anyway, I think we can all agree
that us little people don't get enough screen time, and when
we do, it's as lovable old coots, or sneaky villains. Finally,
a movie that portrays us as we are. Not that it's pretty, but
Borchardt's friend Mike Schank is the sort of truly sweet
person who fried his fucking brain on bad drugs because there
was no room for him in the American system. He's by far the most
genuine, most brain-dead guy in the universe. And, you can't
help but want to protect him. His faraway gaze and slow response
times should be seen by every pot-smoking punk who sits in the
Ralston Amoco parking lot.
"American Movie" spends too much detailing the making
of "Coven" and Borchardt's inept moviemaking. Yes,
the scenes of them slamming a guy's head through a cupboard that
just won't give are funny. So are the scenes of Borchard's brain-fried
buddy Mike Schank screaming, some of the scenes of perfectionist
Borchardt demanding that his friends do exactly what he wants
even though what he wants is really fucking stupid. I loved the
scenes with Robert Richard Jorge, a full-blown community theater
prima donna who wears a scarf and speaks with a fake affectation
(in fact, I'd love to see a whole movie about this guy). But,
a little of this goes a long way. And the more we see, the more
I suspect that Chris Smith is milking a cow named Mark Borchardt.
Smith quickly stops making a documentary about one dumb guy trying
to make a movie and starts making a movie about how nuts the
The movie also spends too much time repeating the same themes.
Okay, we know that Borchardt's brother, who looks like he's still
listening to Depeche Mode records, doesn't like him, but how
many times and ways do we need to hear this? How many times do
we have to see his mother, who looks very uncomfortable on camera,
defensively protecting her son? Not as often as we do. Eventually,
these scenes, like the movie, stop being about Borchardt's goal
and are more about him as a kook.
Fuck, I don't really respect or admire Borchardt. Even though
I wouldn't want to hang out with him because his personality
would wear thin pretty damn fast, I like him. I think that even
though he's a complete horse's ass, he should keep making his
movies. Christ, there is no way to stop him. No common sense
will get through that skull. Besides, he loves doing it the way
I love slipping water into the gas tanks of Ford Expeditions.
But, he's not a very good guy. He thinks that everyone around
him is as obsessed with his shitty little movie as he is and
he is so single-minded that he's inconsiderate to those around
him. He uses big words when he shouldn't, and he doesn't exactly
know what they mean. His mission is entertaining, and I was rooting
for him to succeed, despite the fact that the movie makes it
clear that he won't.
Is he good entertainment? You bet. Is he treated fairly? Yes,
but the movie would have been better if it were about his pursuit
of the American Dream, and not the rest of the shit. Three
fingers for "American Movie." Five fingers
for Mark Borchardt's dreams, two for the way he pursues
them, three for Chris Smith's efforts to document them.