American Movie (1999)

CHRIS SMITH

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBBB

USA, 1999.  Bluemark Productions, C-Hundred Film Corporation, Civilian Pictures.  Cinematography by Chris Smith.  Produced by , Chris Smith.  Music by .  Film Editing by , .  

Give pretty much anyone a home movie camera and they’ll think themselves a filmmaker, but in the case of , a Minnesota resident who lives with his mom while working out his differences with his estranged wife, his desire to be a filmmaker is one he takes very seriously. He and his best friend  are trying to make their first horror feature, but financial difficulties being what they are decide to raise the funds by completing footage on a short film “Coven” (long O in his pronunciation) that Mark started working on years earlier. We watch as he enlists friends, neighbours, and his exasperated mom, all of them sporting Fargo accents, to design props, hold cameras or appear as extras for what looks like something that even The Blair Witch sequel would look down on (actually the footage revealed at the end turns out to display a surprising level of talent). Meanwhile, Borchardt visits his ancient Uncle Bill hoping to convince a dotty old man to part with his savings for his film. The level of seriousness that Borchardt applies to his work and ambition at first is hysterical given that he runs around the film in ratty t-shirts, a mullet hairdo and seventies-classic goggle eyeglasses, but Chris Smith’s inspired control behind camera does something wonderful: by the end you’re forced to admire the passion of someone who really does march to the beat of his own drummer, and you can’t help but notice that, even though he very often puts people out with his shenanigans in order to get the perfect shot, he has a Pied Piper quality that inspires limitless help from those around him. His sureshot personality and its contrast with Schenk’s low-burn remarks provide the film’s best moments of comedy, a documentary so entertaining that it feels like fiction.

Toronto International Film Festival:  1999

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