Indy Film Column - Malibu Magazine

Ask fifty people for the definition of what an independent film is and most likely you’ll get fifty different answers. If a film is made by independent wing of a studio, does that make it an “Indy?” Can films still even be independent, when “Independent” has arguably become a genre unto itself? How about if it’s just distributed by a major studio, how about then? What if it tackles a topic that mainstream films won’t, or maybe it’s a just a guy with maxed out credit cards who got a bunch of pals together to make a films where they talk about Star Wars and swear a lot? Let’s say a major star takes a giant pay cut, or a TV star wants to write and direct, what then? Do foreign films count? How about documentaries? 

Could there be even an independent “aesthetic?” If a particular director, screenwriter, actor, or actress is attached, does that guarantee it’s indy? Do indy films look different than studio pics? As far as I’m concerned, the answer to all those questions is “yes” An independent film is all of the above, and potentially none of the above; a deconstructionist’s fantasy. Unlike other film genres, perhaps it’s most simple definition is that it has no definition. There, now you only have to ask another 49 people.

In the meantime, here are eight independent films that, in my opinion, fit that definition, and also happen to be playing in theaters soon (if not already).

The Notorious Bettie Page
Release Date: 4/14/06

With no disrespect intended, I would venture that many children were conceived with visions of Bettie Page tied up somewhere nice and secure in Daddy’s imagination. Think Bettie Page, and your quick to picture four things: that ravishing long black hair that teased you in those black & white photos, the corsets, the dangling whip, and those eyes that let you know that this may hurt a little, but she’ll take good care of you…ahem, as I was saying, the normally blond Gretchen Mol transforms into a dead ringer for Page in this film directed by Mary Harron (American Psycho, I Shot Andy Warhol) and produced by Christine Vachon, (who wrote “Shooting to Kill,” a definitive book on independent filmmaking, if ever there was one), so don’t expect any punches, or spanks, to be pulled.

Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That
Release Date: 3/31/06

To those that still watch MTV: if you watch long enough, you’re bound to see some music here and there. If you’re persistent and watch even longer, you might see some live concert footage, but do all the fancy lights and sweeping crane shots filming in hi-def video really capture the essence of a live show from the fans point of view? Tough to say, but one way that does for sure is the way video and music pioneers, The Beastie Boys, filmed their October 9th, 2004 concert: by having 50 fans shoot it with hand-held hi-8 cameras from the crowd. Expect many heads to be bobbing in the theater.

Ask the Dust
Release Date: 3/10/06

You may not have heard of novelist John Fante, but you’ve definitely heard of Charles Bukowski, who said, “Fante was my God.” Fante was the best of his generation, when it came to capturing the essence of the Los Angeles of the 30’s and 40’s. “Ask the Dust” (in my last column, I wrote that “All the King’s Men” was arguable the best 20th century American novel, “Ask the Dust” is in the top 5) is his most popular novel and is one of four books that chronicle the life and times of Arturo Bandini, who was Fante’s literary alter-ego. Colin Farrell plays Bandini and the film is written and directed by Robert Towne, a man who knows a thing or two about the L.A. Fante captured. Let the unfair comparisons to “Chinatown” begin.

Chinjeolhan geumjassi
a.k.a. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
Release Date: 5/5/06

Take my word for it, the “Kill Bill” movies, while entertaining and not to take anything away from them, are no longer the best films in the niche genre of “a women who has had her life taken away, and after years of preparation, is now bent on revenge by any mean necessary.” You may not believe me now, but just wait until you see Chan-wook Park’s (the director of 2003’s not-for—faint-of-heart, yet beautiful “Oldboy.” C’mon, you had to cringe when he ate the live squid) “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance.” The film has played at international film festivals for the better part of last year, and finally it gets a limited US release in May. The story surrounds Lee Geum-Ja, who is imprisoned at 19, only to find that she was betrayed. For 13 years she plots revenge, and once released, embarks on revenge, which is best served violently, with some black humor, and poetry.

Don’t Come Knocking
Release Date: 3/17/06

Anyone familiar with the work of 1979 Pulitzer Prize winning playwright (for “Buried Child”) Sam Shepard will know that the theme of the distant father is a familiar one, and his latest film, a collaboration with director Wim Wenders, returns to this familiar territory. Shepard stars in the film as Howard Spence, a former movie star on the brink of a True Hollywood Story, who learns that he might have fathered a son years ago, and aims to find him and perhaps put his own life back together in the process. On the surface, this story may not sound like anything groundbreaking, but with Wim Wenders at the helm, expect “traditional” to be left by the wayside. The film also boasts a solid cast with Jessica Lange, Tim Roth, Sarah Polley, Fairuza Balk, James Gammon, and George Kennedy.

Temporada de patos
Release Date: 3/10/06

It used to be that as a 14 year-old boy, you couldn’t wait for Sunday for to come along. You had only one more full day before another long, tedious, and boring week of school. From sun up until sun down, there was always something to do…alas, allow me to abruptly transition into a “kids these days seem to enjoy being lazy” comparison, which is exactly what Flama and Moko, the two main characters in “Temporada de patos” plan to do with their Sunday: be lazy and play video games. For them, things seem to be running smooth, until the power runs out. The boys are forced to improvise for the rest of the day, and what was intended to be a normal day transforms into a day that captures the angst and heartache of what it means to be on the cusp of childhood and adolescence. Like “Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,” “Temporada de patos is a film that made it to the US after a long run in the international market (a run that began in 2004), and has been well worth the wait.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Release Date: 3/31/06

“My name is Daniel Johnston, and this is the name of tape, and it’s, ‘Hi, How are you?’ And I was having a nervous breakdown when I recorded it.” If you’ve heard of Johnston and his music prior to this fascinating documentary on him, you are officially a hipster. Johnston began recording his own music in the late seventies on tape recorder, and began distributing them to any and all who would listen in and gained a bona-fide cult status in Austin, Texas. He’s found supporters all across the entertainment world, most notably in the late Kurt Cobain. Johnston became known for his interesting lyrics, harmonies, and possesses a high-pitched singing voice that is at times childlike, with hints of danger and foreboding. Problem is, Johnston suffers from severe bi-polar disorder that has at times crippled him and left him in an institution at various points in his life. This documentary carefully captures the life and pulls no punches.

Lonesome Jim
Release Date: 3/24/06

The idea of the quarter-life crisis is relatively new phenomenon that seems to have developed in young people in the late 20th century. You’ll find mention in Kerouac’s “On the Road:” “When I found him in Mill City that morning he had fallen on the beat and evil days that come to young guys in their middle twenties.” The same might be said for Jim, the main character in director Steve Buscemi’s (a man that fans of independent film should know and love) “Lonesome Jim,” played by Casey Affleck. After being unsuccessful on his own in New York, Jim reluctantly returns home to small town Indiana, and finds himself back at his parent’s home, back in his old bedroom. He becoms caught up with his obligations to his family and has to face those old family anxieties, all the while trying to form a relationship with a single mother who works as a nurse (Liv Tyler).

So, there you have it. Eight films that can all be classified as an independent film in some form or another that are intriguing in their own way, and can prove to be just as worthy of you time as the big studio’s latest attempt at a franchise of their latest recycled sequel.


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