The craft, and art of moviemaking is an exceptionally difficult one. Even professionals with enormous resources at their command will fail surprisingly often. The failure rate for independent moviemakers, with little or no budget, is understandably higher. American Movie is an independent movie, that was picked up by Sony. And it is anything but a failure.
American Movie is a documentary about a fellow named Mark Borchardt, who himself is an independent moviemaker. It is also a movie about the pursuit of that strange thing called the American Dream. Not the one about a white picket fence and two and a half children (he already has three kids, is not married, has no picket fence, and lives with his mother). The American dream about success; about becoming someone else; someone better than the person you were born as.
Citizen Kane may inspire the ambitious go-getter moviemaker, but Borchardt is far more inspiring than Welles. Because he sucks. Borchardt is an inspiration for the underachiever in all of us.
American Movie is the Sundance prizewinning chronicle that covers a two-year period of Borchardt's life. Borchardt is a 30-something white male moviemaker wannabe of Milwaukee. An eccentric and severely disorganized individual with a drinking problem, he could easily be tagged with the label "white trash" or even called a loser. However, as the movie progresses you gain a deeper insight into this strange character. You will probably not admire him, but you might sympathize with him, or even feel a slight bit of respect for his tenacity against odds that can only be described as overwhelming. Borchardt does show some genuine skills - he does have a very good eye for landscape shots.
When I watched this movie, I did not realize it was a documentary. I thought it was fictional; a mockumentary ala "Best In Show". Half an hour into it, I thought it had gone overboard, and things were too silly to be believable. A few minutes later, I stopped the movie and did a little research, to confirm that this was indeed factual, and not fiction. I watched the rest of the movie in shocked disbelief. Showing the movie to friends, I've had some fall off the couch and curl up in laughter on the floor, while others just clutch their head with both hands and mutter "Oh my gawd!"
Do you laugh at Borchardt, or do you laugh with him? Truth is, you do both:
- "Last night man, I was so drunk I was calling Morocco, man. Calling, trying to get to the Hotel Hilton at Tangiers in Casablanca, man. That's, I mean, that's pathetic man, is that what you wanna do with your life, man? Suck down Peppermint Schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless. But that's what happens, man."
The movie Borchardt works on, and eventually completes, is named Coven. And it is not a good movie. In his web diary, Borchardt describes a review of his flick with the phrase "Man, they didn't even leave a carcass". No wonder - Coven is garbage. As an example, take script continuity: one of the principal characters appears clean-shaven in the final scenes when he dies, after having sported a full beard in the previous scenes.
But the movie Coven is not the same entity as its maker. And Coven is not the same entity as the documentary American Movie. American Movie is great. And although Borchardt is anything but great, his movie making efforts are exceptionally interesting to behold. Borchardt hoped to sell 3,000 copies of Coven. He succeeded in doing so - but this was clearly a result of American Movie.
In our days of weblogs and hype, people can become a celebrity for no apparent reason. This is what has happened to Borchardt since the release of American Movie. He has become a sub-culture celebrity; a Hank the Angry Dwarf of independent moviemakers.