American Movie draws back the curtain

The Dysfunctional Williams Family’s expedition to watch one movie from our iTunes library each night for the next year continues.

After Friday night’s solo viewing of Alien, I followed that up Saturday night with Aliens—also alone. There’s just no stomach in the Williams household for movies about creatures that burst from … the stomach. I like Aliens, but I disagree with those who say it’s another sequel that improves on the original (like, for example, Empire Strikes Back). Aliens is an action movie, and a bloody good one. But it doesn’t have the interpersonal drama of the first, nor the suspense, nor the creative vision. Plus, it HAS Bill Paxton, which is a sure fire way of taking at least 10% off your Rotten Tomatoes aggregate.

Sunday night was All the President’s Men, which has long been my go-to movie for the times I forget why I became a poverty-stricken but principled journalist and writer. Redford and Hoffman are superb in this account of the Watergate break-in and the subsequent exposure of Nixon’s criminal enterprise by the Washington Post. If there was ever a movie for our times, it’s this one. And if ever there was a need for the likes of Woodward and Bernstein, it’s now. Both journalists are still alive. Bernstein is a contributor to CNN—he’s the one the anchors find hard to shut up. Woodward is due to bring out another investigative book in a few weeks, Fear (about Trump in the White House). I have my copy ordered.

Monday saw us coming together around Almost Famous, another of my top 10 ever films. I’ve been watching the expanded version for so many years it was strange to return to the theatrical version (the only version available on iTunes NZ). Still, I love this movie. Frances McDormand. Exceptional. Kate Hudson. Brilliant. Billy Crudup. Fantastic. And Patrick Fugit is … well, he’s just all of us. Oh, and Zooey Deschanel. Her appearance in this and Elf were what tattooed her face (and voice) on my heart. The standout scene, of course, is when the band and the crew and the ‘Band Aids’ sing Elton John’s Tiny Dancer on the tour bus. Another one is the speech towards the end of the movie of rock critic Lester Bangs (the utterly brilliant—in this and every movie he did—Philip Seymour Hoffman):

“Women will always be a problem for guys like us—most of the great art in the world is about that very problem. Good looking people they got no spine, their art never lasts. They get the girls but we’re smarter … Great art is about guilt and longing. Love disguised as sex and sex disguised as love.”

Another star turn by PSH in Tuesday night’s move, Along Came Polly. I love this Ben Stiller film—another one I can watch any time, any day. If you haven’t seen Philip Seymour Hoffman shouting ‘Let it rain!’ as he misses every single shot at the basketball hoop, do yourself a favour. One of the funniest things ever. This movie was the highlight of the family’s expedition thus far. There’s nothing quite like the sound of an entire family laughing together at the same thing (as opposed to laughing at each other—we’re dysfunctional, remember). We all agree on one other thing too. PSH is sorely missed. What a waste.

So, to last night. The hilarious documentary American Movie. I came across this a couple of years ago in LA with my longest friend Kevin (long as in time, not because he’s a bean pole). American Movie tells the true story of the making of the horror movie Coven (which they pronounce with a long ‘o’, as in Rovin’) which is being made by amateur filmmaker Mark Borchardt, in order to raise funds towards the making of his dream movie Northwestern. There’s no Cindarella story here. Borchardt is what some might call trailer park trash and his films are awful. But his sincerity is compelling … as well as hilarious. And despite how low-key American Movie is, this is the story of the movie business—about herdingcrew and cast, about raising capital, about battling deadlines and doubts and drug dependancy. Borchardt’s tiny world is like the narrow end of a telescope that’s pointed at Hollywood. It’s a cautionary tale for anyone with starry eyes about what making art is actually like. And it has genuinely human moments. Some hilarious. Some incredibly sad. My favourite moments usually involve the cranky but cashed up Uncle Bill, particularly his acting debut, which stretches to 31 takes of the following lines: “It’s all right, it’s okay, there’s something to live for, Jesus told me sooooo.”

And who can argue with that?

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