(2008) dir. Jay Duplass, Mark Duplass
I don’t ever claim to be “with” the times, in fact, one of my taglines is “several steps behind the times”. And I don’t have any hardcore cineaste friends, none as “hardcore” as me, with maybe one exception or two. But anyways, mumblecore, have you heard of it? It’s a recent style/genre/movement/aesthetic that has produced a number of films from a number of producers, directors, writers, and actors. It’s basically uber low-budget, digital video, DIY-style narrative films mad by and about “twentysomethings” and their relationships. And the Duplass Brothers, who produced this film, Baghead, are veterans of this movement, having previously made The Puffy Chair (2005), which made the rounds at Sundance and IFC.
So this is my first mumblecore movie. And I liked it.
Baghead, I guess, is a little higher concept than perhaps other films of this movement. It’s a comedy and a horror film made on less than a shoestring budget. The brothers claim that the film was made for approximately $1000. This is insanely below the indie film movement of the 1990’s with films like Robert Rodriguez’s El Mariachi (1992) (made for a reported $7000) or Quentin Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs (1992) or many of the low budget indies of the day. The aesthetic is just to make a film and spend as little as possible, I guess. I don’t know how they pay the actors.
The film actually opens in a small theater where the four primary characters are watching a mumblecore-like production, where the director comes out and fields questions about the means of production and the mantra about making “art” (also for a self-reflexively stated $1000). The characters are struggling actors, mumblecore wannabes, who get the idea to hole up in a cabin in the woods and write themselves a script to get themselves some work. Inspired by a nightmare, they decide to make a horror film about a guy with a bag on his head terrorizing a cabin in the woods. But then, of course, the “baghead” actually shows up to torment them.
The thing that carries the film is the characters who are funny and believable. The low-budgetness of the film is part of its aesthetic and works well most of the time. There is an unfortunate The Blair Witch Project (1999)-ness that occurs when the action gets going and the scares are peaking out. But otherwise, it’s quite successful at what it does. It’s in a sense, the ultimate of the small movie. And the aesthetic, like a gentle, even more extremely low budgeted Dogme 95, is effective.
It’s interesting. Not surprisingly so. But the means of production, using digital video (whose quality and costs have risen and plummeted almost proportionately, respectively) has become so accessible, and editing and the rest of production has become cheap and easy too. The DIY aesthetic can reach into the area of cinema in a much more plausible way than ever before. I wish it had been so when I was 18. I’ve seen this in a number of documentaries, the volume of which has grown. But this is in a sense an inevitable step in the evolution of cinematic production.
Luckily, the Duplass brothers do a good job at it. And their cast is totally up to the task. The whole cast is good, which is critical in such a small film with such a small number of primary characters. I especially liked Greta Gerwig. But that’s just because she’s incredibly cute.
So, anyways. Mumblecore. Now we know.