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American Movie (1999)

September 23, 2009

9/10 Unlikely Inspirations

Can’t remember where I heard about this movie, but what an awesome find.

American Movie is a documentary about a Midwestern thirty-something guy named Mark Borchardt (see poster, dude on the left), a life-long horror movie cinephile who’s bursting at the seams to do something with his life and achieve his American Dream of finishing Northwestern – his magnum opus that he began filming six years prior. But with mounting money problems and lack of a real job, he quickly realizes that he first has to finish Coven – a short film about God-knows-what – and sell 3,000 copies of it if he’s ever going to have the resources to make it to the big time.

Now, some of you may be thinking, “Why would I watch this?” Good question. I can picture you reading this synopsis, then looking at the main characters on the poster, and thus coming to the conclusion that this looks ridiculous. And in fact, it kind of is. The people involved are all ridiculous, the movies they’re making are ridiculous, and their haircuts are the embodiment of ridiculous. But when it’s ridiculous, it’s absolutely hilarious.

It probably wasn’t intended to be much of comedy when the directors started filming this thing, but dear God, this is nothing short of a testament to how funny people can be when they’re just being themselves. Mark Borchardt is funny for all the reasons I’ve already mentioned considering he’s the mastermind behind it all, but the icing on the cake is his best friend Mike Schank (see poster, dude on the right), a genuinely nice guy who is seemingly wandering through life in a purple haze after spending nearly every waking minute chugging handles of vodka with Mark and dropping so much acid that it nearly kills him…then taking more acid.

The big reason some documentaries about ordinary people fail isn’t because of the subject material isn’t interesting, but rather because the people in front of the camera aren’t interesting. You could make anything interesting to anyone if the right person is there to tell you about it. For instance, I took my mom to see The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters a couple years ago – my mom who’s never played a video game in her life let alone would ever be interested in seeing a movie about them. But by the time the credits rolled, it was one of our favorite movies of ‘o7. Why? The characters, my man. It all goes back to the freakin’ characters.

And that’s what’s great about this movie. It actually reminded me a lot of Anvil! The Story of Anvil (one of the best of ’09) in that it’s about these people who are just so hellbent on making a living out of what they love to do and have such an profound passion for wanting to share their craft with the world that, as a viewer, you can’t help but become attached to what they’re involved in. In Anvil! it was heavy metal, in American Movie it’s B-grade horror movies, and while it helps that I’m into both, it really doesn’t matter; it’s not about the movie, it’s not about the music, it’s about everyone’s universal dream to make their mark on the world and how entrancing it is to watch people just up and go for it.

This is also a great inside look at the outrageously lengthy and painstaking amount of time it takes to put together even a half-hour-long movie. I’m betting a good deal of people probably don’t get what a total bitch of a process it is behind the scenes, but let me tell ya’, it’s a bitch alright. But that just kind of adds to the whole appeal, that if this guy who can hardly pay his phone bill, has three kids to take care of, and lives in the middle of nowhere can do it, then dammit, I can too.

So all you readers out there, if you’re sick of your dead-end job, if you’re tired of talking about all the shit on your bucket list instead of doing all the shit on your bucket list, or if you’re currently going through a mid-life crisis, do yourself a favor and give American Movie a watch. It’s the much-needed kick in the ass you’ve all been looking for, especially for all you aspiring film makers and screenwriters out there.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. reeltoreel permalink
    September 23, 2009 11:58 am

    I LOVE this movie. It is easily one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Best line in the movie: “Dude, Bill. Those are some wicked ass toenails.”

    • September 23, 2009 12:08 pm

      Hahaha, “That thing’s like a quarter-inch thick!” Great line. The first script reading where Mark goes on a tirade about how they’re making a mockery of his words and then he goes in and acts it out himself…fuckin’ classic, had me on the floor. Thanks for the comment, glad you liked it as much as I did.


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