"Momma's Man" Opens; Will College Audience Catch On?

by Anthony Kaufman
August 22, 2008 2:05 AM
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"Momma's Man" has a pretty good shot this weekend at the Angelika Film Center, which by all accounts, and despite the sounds of subways rumbling during screenings since it opened, remains a fine place to open a movie in New York these days. Like many of my fellow writers and bloggers, we've been championing "Momma's Man" since its Sundance premiere (full disclosure: I saw it soonafter on DVD). Opening reviews are stellar across the board among the critics (an 86 so far at metacritic, tying with Up the Yangtze, The Edge of Heaven, and The Flight of the Red Balloon as the best reviewed limited release movies of the year); and the goodwill among the film journalistic community towards this low-budget underdog bittersweet story about belated coming-of-age couldn't be higher.

But will audiences come, especially those who have no knowledge of the Ken Jacobs legacy? It's always the question. If college-age and post-college kids get a hold of it, I think they'll find something in "Momma's Man" truly universal. Despite our great desire to escape from our parents (some of us crossing continents to get away from them), there is some small sliver of the self, some regressive always-infantile gene (in men, particularly?) that will always want to return to their mommy's womb.

As I've covered the film before in this Sundance wrap-up, reporting on its distribution situation, and in this Village Voice interview , I feel like I've spent a good deal of time thinking about the movie. And there was a lot of material that I wasn't able to publish. Maybe here's a good place for a few choice excerpts of dialogue with Azazel and Ken from my interview that didn't make it into the Voice:

Azazel: Nothing was so difficult and so draining as my first film. These first films you don't know how you're going to finish them or where you're heading. I wound up shooting hours of video. It was 5 years of writing, 2 years of shooting and editing. It really took everthing. All the heartbreak of knowing how much more you need to learn to start being precise about being what you want. By the end, we forgot what we loved about making films. We were both thinking we're not going to make a movie until we get an HMI.
Ken: What's an HMI?
Aza: It's like a big Hollywood light. We were AFI guys, shutting down the street. So we're sitting around waiting for an HMI and we're going to keep waiting. So we realized we had to do something to pull ourselves out. That's how we wound up making "The Goodtimeskid." I hope it's not a copy of Jarmusch or Kaursmaki, but we were watching those and my father's work, stuff that made us think that we don't need money and we can do just do this thing.
"Goodtimeskid," for me, was really about falling in love with film again. When we shot "Goodtimeskid," it was the first time you can go into a film picturing what this thing would be, instead of it being this dark tunnel.

****

Azazel: One of the earliest things that we got obsessed about early was Hellazappopin' . We had a print growing up and we'd watch it over and over. I think again that thing that this is a film that you're watching, and it's okay that it's a film. That's probably what wound up in "Kirk and Kerry," because I really like this idea. I feel like it's leveling with the audience. I felt like I was lied to all the time. Hopefully, that's there in "Momma's Man," too, especially with the stairs. I'm saying this is a movie. Maybe this is more honest because it's saying that this is a movie.

Ken: I think that's true. I think other things have helped. "Zazie on the Metro." I think Tati has helped you. The sense of open and closed at the same time, and there's something taking place in an open area – which is also happening in "Citizen Kane" – he really makes it clear that you're looking at a set. The same thing happens in Felinni.

***

Azazel: When I was little, I equated anger with being honest, and true.
Ken: Hmm. Now you tell us?
Azazel: Judging from The Clash and all that punk rock stuff, it seemed the more honest the more angry that you were.
Ken: Fucking pose.
Azazel: I realize that now, but at the time, I was convinced the angrier you were, the more true. I'm hoping I hang on to some of that. I don't want to leave those days behind. I don't want to be like I'm mature now. That would be terrible.
Ken: Oh god, maturity!

***
Ken: I admire Matt's acting, it's amazing to me. I think I see it the way people go to the movies; it touches me. I'm more forgiving of the character, Mikey, watching the movie than I was when we were shooting. He was an obdurate clod.
Anthony: Who are you playing?
Ken: Me. I couldn't play anything else.
Azazel: I think it's half-true. You speak a lot more in real life. All these quiet moments of silence… that's the whole issue. It's really hard to say what the reality is. This person is an only child. He's chosen a different thing than me. They don't have any real relationshop.
Ken: We talk.
Azazel: I think you're playing a version of yourself who could have had a son like this. I don't see our relationship in the film.
Ken: I wouldn't be surprised if some disdain for this character comes through.

***

Anthony: What are you working on now?
Ken: IIm back at "Tom Tom the Piper's Son". I've already made one entire 90 minute film that's going to open up at MoMA in October, called "Return to the Scene of the Crime." And now I'm working on Tom and the cast in complete 3-D. In 1975, I began moving into live performance and did a whole series of works based on that film. I have one wife and I have one film I keep going back to again and again. I'm fascinated with it. I love the people in it. Before they were part of this murky mess. Now they're brought forth, literally. It's so timely, I'm connecting to this social spasm in this interest in 3-D, so I'm bound to make a lot of money, right?

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