Garden State

dunham-graff

Lena Dunham basically blew up out of nowhere after the release of her second feature, Tiny Furniture. The film had a minuscule budget, it employed a couple of her real family members as actors, and it was largely filmed in her family’s real life apartment. That’s a damned thrifty approach to filmmaking, and generally you’re going to have to add a good deal of talent to a presentation like that if it’s going to catch the attention of the powers that be in the entertainment industry—but catch their attention it did. After Dunham released Tiny Furniture, HBO came calling and essentially opened up their pocket books so that she could create her own television show, the similarly-themed Girls, which is now one of the most buzzed about things in popular culture. Zach Braff’s career path moved in the opposite direction. His first exposure to the public’s eye came from his starring in one of the most popular series on television, Scrubs, and by the time he decided to make his own feature film, Garden State, he was already an established name. Unlike Tiny Furniture, Garden State brought fairly respectable production value to the table, its cast was full of respected actors, and in general it just felt much more like a marketable movie than Dunham’s work. And yet, despite the fact that it was generally greeted with favorable reviews upon its release, Garden State didn’t seem to do Braff’s career any favors. To say that a big entertainment company didn’t […]

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Criterion Files

Part of me is in complete disbelief that the release date of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums will have been a decade ago next month. It doesn’t feel so long ago that I was sixteen years old, seeing it for the first time in a movie theater and spending my subsequent Christmas with The Ramones, Elliot Smith, and Nico playing on repeat in my car (two years later, after hearing of Smith’s death, my friends and I gathered together and watched Richie Tenenbaums’s (Luke Wilson) attempted suicide with new, disturbing poignancy). And ten years on, even after having seen it at least a dozen times, and armed with the annoying ability to know every beat and predict every line, something about Tenenbaums feels ageless and fresh at the same time. But when you look at the movie culture that came after Tenenbaums, the film’s age begins to take on its inevitable weight. Tenenbaums was Anderson’s first (and arguably only) real financial success. Previously, Anderson was perceived as an overlooked critical darling following Rushmore, a promising director that a great deal of Hollywood talent wanted to work with (which explains Tenenbaums’ excellent cast and, probably, its corresponding financial success). With this degree of mass exposure, other filmmakers followed suit, establishing what has since been known as the “Wes Anderson style,” which permeated critical and casual assessment of mainstream indies for the following decade and established a visual approach that’s been echoed in anything from Napoleon Dynamite to Garden State to less […]

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Culture Warrior

Last week, as I watched Quentin Dupieux’s Rubber, I noticed that the trailers on the rental Blu-Ray were all of titles sharing space at the top of my queue: titles like Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, Kim Ji-woon’s I Saw the Devil, and Jason Eisener’s Hobo with a Shotgun. All, I quickly realized, had been released by the same studio, Magnet Releasing, whose label I recalled first noticing in front of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Bronson. After some quick Internet searching, I quickly realized what I should have known initially, that Magnet was a subsidiary of indie distributor Magnolia Pictures. The practices of “indie” subsidiaries of studios has become commonplace. That majors like Universal and 20th Century Fox carry specialty labels Focus Features and Fox Searchlight which market to discerning audiences irrespective of whether or not the individual titles released are independently financed or studio-produced has become a defining practice for limited release titles and has, perhaps more than any other factor, obscured the meaning of the term “independent film” (Sony Pictures Classics, which only distributes existing films, is perhaps the only subsidiary arm of a major studio whose releases are actually independent of the system itself). This fact is simply one that has been accepted for quite some time in the narrative of small-scale American (or imported) filmmaking. Especially in the case of Fox Searchlight, whose opening banner distinguishes itself from the major in variation on name only, subsidiaries of the majors can hardly even be argued as “tricking” audiences into […]

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culturewarrior-500days

This week’s Culture Warrior examines how independent film is changing the relationship of film and music, and questions the validity of the “indie” label.

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published: 12.19.2014
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published: 12.18.2014
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published: 12.17.2014
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