Not this again. First it was Everett True and grunge. Now it's Lynn Shelton and mumblecore. The Guardian is falling all over her locally shot indie Humpday, a film we like but which isn't exactly landmark cinema. But, oh, it was made in Seattle! The land of grunge! From which Everett True once reported on Nirvana and company. So that must mean something, right?
The Guardian's Jason Solomons gushes that Humpday "with its risqué humour and realistic dialogue, typifies a new breed of low-budget American independent film about to refresh the mainstream with a breezy energy and honesty not seen for a generation." And later, after much industry blather, he continues, "I believe a new American indie sector has sprung up, almost unnoticed, away from the old hubs of LA and New York."
And where might that be, you ask...?Get ready for it:
"Former backwaters such as Seattle and Austin have become hotbeds of new talent. Both have film cultures that have benefited from burgeoning music scenes, one artistic medium feeding another," writes Solomons.
Jesus fucking Christ! How many dusty back issues of Variety and Movieline did he have to read to drag out that tired thesis? The same story gets written every year! (And surely Solomons read this one, too.) But it gets better...
"They're both towns with a strong sense of community, where leading lights such as Austin's Richard Linklater continue to host monthly movie nights at local theatres and make themselves available to help upcoming talents."
Excuse me? Linklater made Slacker in 1991, during the height of the alterna-grunge era. Not exactly a "generation" ago. And remind me who else has broken out of Austin besides Robert "Spy Kids" Rodriguez.
In support of his very recycled thesis, Solomons pulls one quote (canned? phoner? in person?) from Shelton: "It's very simple. We had the cameras, we had the script and the actors, we borrowed some houses and rented a motel room and we shot a film. It makes you wonder what they do all day in Hollywood, doesn't it?"
Well, no, because Hollywood isn't interested in making movies about two straight guys sitting in a hotel room talking about whether to have sex or not. Granted, the very charming and capable Shelton makes a lot more sense when interviewed at length.
Meanwhile, Solomons barges on with his thesis ("The new wave of indies hasn't got a name yet") and decides that mumblecore or indie won't do--he instead coins "nubie," good luck with that. But what else is coming out of the supposed nubie hotbeds of Austin and Seattle? He doesn't name a single Seattle film or director apart from Shelton. At least, back in the grunge era, there were a couple other bands besides Nirvana. Remember?
And while Solomons points to the SXSW film festival in Austin, he conveniently omits SIFF. Because, A) he's surely never been; and B) for those of us who do regularly attend, it's a struggle (a struggle!) every year to identify a single good breakout local feature. And Shelton premiered Humpday at the high-altitude indie haven of Sundance, not SIFF or SWXW.
Are there really regional centers of indie--er, nubie--filmmaking? Are Joe Swanberg and Andrew Bujalski and the Duplass brothers all camped on the same turf? And is Shelton really one of their tribe? Or what about Portland's Kelly Reichardt? If they have anything in common, it's not geographic proximity. And whether toiling in mumblecore or neo-neorealism (per The New York Times' A.O. Scott), these are artists working on the fringes, not in clusters.
Big cities like NY and LA are always going to be cultural centers, for film and the rest of the arts. While satellites like Austin and Seattle may well have unique regional concentrations of taste, of indie film appreciation (see: SIFF, Scarecrow, the Grand Illusion, Northwest Film Forum, and the Landmark). But that was true in the '80s and '90s and beyond. There's always a burgeoning local film scene that never quite burgeons. There's always a small coterie of directors whose work gets national distribution. And it always remains relatively small; one comes in the door, and the next leaves for L.A. (or leaves the field entirely).
Which means we can look forward to The Guardian writing the same story about Seattle, whether on our music or our movies, in another "generation."