You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

American Movie

A madcap tribute to a beer-guzzling Midwestern filmmaker -- and indie spirit in general -- docu "American Movie" is well placed at Sundance. Indeed, ambitious, wildly funny chronicle by Chris Smith ("American Job") could be the poster child for a fest that celebrates the do-or-die lifestyle of pic's subject, a redneck auteur named Mark Borchardt.

A madcap tribute to a beer-guzzling Midwestern filmmaker — and indie spirit in general — docu “American Movie” is well placed at Sundance. Indeed, ambitious, wildly funny chronicle by Chris Smith (“American Job”) could be the poster child for a fest that celebrates the do-or-die lifestyle of pic’s subject, a redneck auteur named Mark Borchardt. With proper handling in specialty venues, the sky’s the limit for this one. Rave reviews, fest kudos and cable deals await.

Think “Northern Exposure” crossed with “Ed Wood” and you’ll have a pretty fair approximation of pic’s quirky, deadpan appeal. On one level it’s about a George Romero-Tobe Hooper wannabe in Menomonee Falls, Wis.; on a deeper level, it’s about daring to be different and earning the mantle of town nut case for your trouble.

In his way, Borchardt is as passionate about hobbling together pics as Orson Welles was. Chief difference: Welles was a genius, Borchardt is the local character who thinks he’s a genius, dropping references to Bergman, Woody Allen and “the magic hour” at production meetings. Borchardt’s oeuvre spans 16 years, and includes the 8mm epics “The More the Scarier” and “I Blow Up.” His dream project: something called “Northwestern.”

But even grade-Z movies cost money, and Borchardt can’t dig himself out from under last year’s bills. He decides to finish the 16mm horror short “Coven” begun years ago and finance “Northwestern” — modestly dubbed “the great American movie” — with the $45,000 raised from video sales. Bill Borchardt, Mark’s 82-year-old uncle, is dragged, muttering and swearing, to the bank to cut a check for $3,000. In exchange, Uncle Bill will receive producer credit on “Coven.”

Don Quixote had his Sancho Panza, and Borchardt has his Mike Schank, a good-natured druggie whose commitment to the Menomonee maestro knows no bounds. (Schank receives music credit on pic.) Also lending a hand on sub-zero shoots are Borchardt’s Scandinavian mother, his g.f. Joan and a stuffy local thesp with an affected Brit accent. Latter, cast as a satanic leader, bursts Borchardt’s bubble by explaining, “It’s pronounced COV-in, not CO-vin.”

Pic, which covers the two years it took to complete and preem B&W “Coven” (shown at Sundance), benefits from having not one, but two unforgettable characters — Borchardt and the skeptical Uncle Bill. Scenes in which Borchardt attempts to reassure the old guy that he’s investing in cine immortality are hilarious. Uncle Bill may look out of it, but he’s nobody’s fool. Other bust-a-gut moments include Uncle Bill’s bath, Uncle Bill’s marathon recording session and a “Coven” fight with a breakaway cabinet door that refuses to break away.

To their credit, Smith and co-producer Sarah Price never impose themselves on their subject or succumb to the temptation to jump in and share funds and equipment. Not that the headstrong Borchardt would have accepted, even in his bleakest hours (delivering newspapers, vacuuming cemetery crypts). This guy doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit. Which is why he’s emblematic of something fundamental in the American ethos.

American Movie

Production: A C Hundred Film Corp. and Blue-mark Production. Produced by Sarah Price, Chris Smith. Co-producers, Jim McKay, Michael Stipe.Directed by Chris Smith.

Crew: Camera (color), Smith; editors, Jun Diaz, Barry Poltermann, Smith; music, Mike Schank; sound, Sarah Price; additional photography, Price. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 23, 1999. Running time: 107 MIN.

More Film

  • Bo Burnham34th Film Independent Spirit Awards,

    Bo Burnham Wants 'Eighth Grade' Star Elsie Fisher to Direct Him

    Bo Burnham won his third award in three weeks for “Eighth Grade” at the Spirit Awards and said he wants the film’s 15-year-old Elsie Fisher to direct him. “I’d love to work with Elsie again,” Burnham said backstage after winning the Best First Screenplay trophy.  “She wants to direct so I’d love to switch roles [...]

  • Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive

    Nicole Holofcener: 'Can You Ever Forgive Me?' Director Was Cheated Out of an Oscar Nomination

    “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” screenwriter Nicole Holofcener offered a blunt assessment of the lack of Academy Awards recognition for director Marielle Heller, and women directors everywhere. “I feel Marielle was cheated and I feel badly about that,” Holofcener said backstage after winning a Spirit Award for screenplay with Jeff Whitty. Holofcener was originally attached [...]

  • Stephan James as Fonny and Brian

    2019 Indie Spirit Awards Winners: Complete List

    The 2019 Independent Spirit Awards took place on a beach in Santa Monica, Calif., with Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” taking the top prize for best feature along with best director for Jenkins. Ethan Hawke and Glenn Close took the prizes for best male lead and best female lead, respectively. Bo Burnham took [...]

  • Oscars Oscar Academy Awards Placeholder

    Hated It! How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Gripe About the Oscars

    Watching the Academy Awards telecast, then grousing about it the next day, has become a hipster parlor game — it’s what the Complete Oscar Experience now is. The complaints are legion, and we all know what they are, because we’ve all made them. The show was too long. The host bombed. His or her opening [...]

  • Boots Riley arrives at the 34th

    Boots Riley: Spike Lee Yelled at Me After 'BlacKkKlansman' Criticism, But We're Good Now

    “Sorry to Bother You” director and musician Boots Riley, who wrote a scathing criticism of Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” for its positive representation of law enforcement, said that he and the “Do the Right Thing” auteur are good now. But it took some time (and drama) to get there. Last year, Riley called Lee’s Oscar-nominated “BlacKkKlansman” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content