Monday, October 31, 2011

Silver Bullets

A 'new' film by Joe Swanberg. About relationships. And misunderstandings. Unspoken feelings, and confused, unsatisfactory relations. One might expect to also give the film the 'mumblecore' adjective, but I believe Swanberg at least proved the adjective itself unclear and unnecessary long ago though pretty helpful as a brand up to this day.
Silver Bullets is having a week long run at ReRun which started last Friday. It is a very good film. Expressionistic and revealing, it can be seen as a counter point to what has come before in his work and what is to come. The film presents change in style that calls to be held in radical contrast with his previous work. And yet it does not in any way disown or disengage his previous way of forging a sensibility.

There have been reviews that aim to call to mind a new found sophistication in Swanberg's work from Silver Bullets on, and therefore see his previous work as artless depictions of recycled themes that can be seen as only an excuse for the director to abuse the sense of privacy, morality, patience and aesthetic that his performers, and the audience watching the film, hold dear. These reviews see Swanberg's 'new found' basic, filmic 'know-how' as a sign of sophistication. They oppose this described 'sophistication', found in the way one uses three point lighting, or pays attention to color hues and uses primary colors and relationships to convey dramatic situations, this 'sophistication' that is the result of having done your homework in film school is seen as opposed to an amateurish, do it yourself, improvisational, overly balanced style of filmmaking. The opposition, in the reviewer's mind, creates a contradiction. An unsophisticated, amateur style works against, and ultimately negates the effort to convey a story on screen, to dramatize a narrative.

However, it is not difficult to see Silver Bullets as a film, that in being transitional, gathers these surface emotions that have been aimed by others at his past work and repaints them as self-debasing, deconstructing questions about the artistic endeavor in general, and filmmaking in particular. The opposition is idealistic, and the film works through the implications of such oppositions of styles and finds within both of them a core sensibility: a powerful, territorial musing on the nature of art and the endeavor to create beauty while remaining free.

Which is not to say the film is dialectical, or a thought exercise. It is transitional and as such it presents Swanberg moving forward toward another sense of the cinematic. However, the difference is not really on the use of a classical style vs. a DIY style. The difference is but between Swanberg's early deadpan rhythmic stillness, only accentuated by his ever moving, unmounted camera, the lack of color and light contrast, as well as the ever muffled communication between people in the most classically intimate of moments, and a new, contrapuntal way of unfolding a narrative. In its meta-form, it is doubly subversive, great to look at, and an actual good time, and yes, my favorite film by Swanberg.

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