A Case for Joe Swanberg

Filmmaker Joe Swanberg at reRun Gastropub at screening of SILVER BULLETS; photo credit: Adam Schartoff (c) 2011

Joe Swanberg has been the subject of debate pretty much since his first movie, “Kissing on the Mouth”, debuted in 2005.  His subsequent films, along with those of Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass Brothers became the movement known as mumblecore.  The term was a result of the relative lo-fi camera work and sound; and the films were, for a couple of seasons, a topic of much rancor among the indie film community.  Mumblecore, as a genre —or sub-genre— has already given way to the more accurately  monikered microbudget film.  The term mumblecore is not very relevant any more since most filmmakers, even those operating at a threadbare budget, know that to hire a sound guy is what could very well distinguish their film from looking amateur.  Crisp and clear dialogue puts the audience member in the center of the story and does not feel as though they are merely watching a cheap movie.  Cheap movies are fine, in other words, but you still need to get lost in them.

When “Hannah Takes The Stairs” debuted in 2007, it changed the game for Swanberg.  Up to that stage his films had been mostly ignored by anyone not subscribing to Sundance or SxSW.  “Hannah”, was a hit with audiences and, to some degree, critics.  As Matt Zoller Seitz said in his New York Times review, calling “Hannah” a evolutionary entry in the so-called Do It Yourself (D. I. Y.) independent film movement.”  So, producers and agents came calling but Swanberg rejected their offers.  As he explained to a spare audience at the reRun Gastropub in DUMBO last night, he soon with through a phase after that regretting his decision.  He saw his peers taking those steps towards commercial success (eg. “Greenberg”, “Cyrus”, etc.) and wondered if he hadn’t blundered.  After a less than wonderful experience collaborating with filmmaker/producer Noah Baumbach on “Alexander The Last”, Swanberg re-calibrated and realized that he was not a commercial filmmaker and D.I.Y. was, indeed, the right way.

A still from SILVER BULLETS with Joe Swanberg & Kate Lyn Sheil

The result has been, well, somewhat staggering.  He might still be operating under the radar to the average movie goer but Swanberg has been become a rapid fire filmmaking.  Since “Alexander” came out in 2009, the 30-year old filmmaker, has released about a half dozen films witha  bunch more in various stages of production or post-production.  He’s simply the most renegade American filmmaker at the moment, making such prolific icons as Woody Allen and Werner Herzog look like they are dragging their feet.  While some of Swanberg’s films are better than others, those criticizing and probing every word are missing the larger point.  As Swanberg said to me in a private conversation prior to the screening of his latest film, “Silver Bullets”, the old model of releasing a movie theatrically, waiting 6 months or so for a DVD release, etc. has changed completely.  The rules don’t apply any more.  Swanberg can make half a dozen films under the time and budget that it costs most other independent filmmakers to make just one (a la “Sideways” or “Please Give”).

“Silver Bullets” is a flawed film but so is “Citizen Kane”.  This is not to compare Swanberg to Orson Welles.  The point is, we need to appreciate and encourage filmmakers like Joe Swanberg, so that we can experience many different kinds of films that are unique and unpredictable like… like art.

“Silver Bullets” is currently enjoying a a theatrical run through Friday, November 4th at the reRun Gastropub, 147 Front Street, Brooklyn.  Purchase tickets!

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