If you try to look at the state of independent films in the modern age, it would be a huge undertaking.
Let’s look at a film called Bellflower. It just came out and is a good example of what the state of independent films is like in the year 2011. It is very low-budget project in which everyone sweats blood, especially the writer/director/star, to get the movie done. It has some novel ideas, some youthful energy, and way too many rough edges.
One of the challenges of these kinds of films is finding an audience that feels ignored by the mainstream culture. Bellflower is about twenty-something slackers with aimless lives and crazy ideas about having fun. It’s about trying to find the meaning of life when you don’t know what you want. Part of the movie has to do with building flamethrowers and preparing for a post-apocalyptic future and part has something to do with finding someone to have sex with. These people live disjointed lives full of alcohol and drugs and video games and adolescent fantasies. There is also a tendency to blur the lines between the real world and some crazy vision in your mind’s eye. Bellflower is that kind of a movie.
I can’t say I like the way it was shot or written, but I do respect that I am seeing some unknown aspect of life in the twenty-first century. I respect that I’m seeing someone’s view of the world who hasn’t been pushed through the meat grinder of modern-day focus groups.
Our hero is a nebulous, whiny, needy character who morphs (perhaps in his own imagination) into a Mad Max figure at the end of civilization. In his whiny stage he meets a very interesting, sexy, somewhat crazy young woman. They meet cuts at a local dive bug-eating contest .This is the kind of girl who craves crazy, and she pushes our young man over an edge he probably wasn’t far from.
So let me get back to the state of independent cinema in 2011. The big-budget films are bigger than ever. And I mean the budgets. I see an apocalypse coming for the film industry much like what the music industry went through. Huge amounts are spent on the big-budget films, and the tendency is to make them both big and dumb, and predictable and easily palatable to the widest audience.
The easy argument could be made that the money spent on massive studio-backed films would be better spent on a farm team of little indy voices. But there is no shortage of little independent films. The only problem is the challenge of marketing them to an indifferent audience. The studio spends a fortune and has the machinery to manage the distribution and the flow of money through the system. Most independent filmmakers are overwhelmed by the massive difficulties of fighting the big boys. So the predictable pattern is a few blockbusters make all the money due to a massive focus of marketing. Three movies this year have shot way past the billion dollar mark, and that is a very good year, but lots and lots of other movies bomb big time. Then there are independents which don’t even register at the box office. So then they have to eke out little streams of income from various access points to the home market.
There is no shortage of product out there. The trick is to wade through it all to see what you like. So let me see if I can be of help here. You will like Bellflower if you are an alienated young man or girl who likes to drink and take drugs and eat bugs and read comic books and play video games. It’s something you can turn on and zone out to. It’s different in ways that I don’t think the viewer or filmmaker will ever understand why. There is lots of sex and nudity and violence and F-words presented in an ambivalent, unfocused manner. It is a disjointed view of life that probably reflects the real point of view of the director Evan Glodell. I think his view of life is confused, and all of that is up on the screen.
Let’s get back to the flamethrowers, because this a central metaphor or focal point or gimmick in this case. These are homemade flamethrowers, both because that’s what the film makers could afford and because that’s what the characters in the film could afford. In neither case does this seem like a smart thing to do. This is one of those “don’t do this at home” moments. One has to admit that flamethrowers are kind of cool. And there is a cool muscle car too. It all could have been really cool, but it just isn’t. Still, it might be cooler than some big-budget films. **½ out of *****