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American Movie

Filthy says:
"It's not so
fucking bad!"

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 my mouth.

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 it's accurate.

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 guy is.

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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.


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