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Why Mumblecore Shouldn't Be Hyped

ReelPolitik By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik August 22, 2007 at 6:53AM

Why Mumblecore Shouldn't Be Hyped
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With all blogs mumblecore this and that and tonight's party in celebration of the opening of "Hannah Takes the Stairs," I wanted to offer my humble salute (see a fave clip reel at The Daily Reel) and a few thoughts on the "movement" as its stands now. After reading Matthew Zoller Seitz's mixed review of "Hannah" in The New York Times, and after watching all those clips on YouTube, some of my suspicions about all the excitement around the filmmakers is beginning to be confirmed.

If these films are hyped, they may be doomed. One of the joys of stumbling upon a charming or sophisticated or funny low-budget "mumblecore" film is just that, stumbling upon it, whether given to you on DVD by a friend or the filmmaker himself or walking into one of them unknowingly at a film festival. They are so lo-fi, so seemingly slapdash, and many of them so crude in appearance compared to what else people are expecting to see in a movie theater, I'd think they need to come at the average viewer like a pleasant surprise, with as little forethought or anticipation as possible.

I've also wondered whether the films work exceptionally well at film festivals, where everyone seems to know the actors and directors personally, where you're not just watching stranger's hapless, awkward lives on the big-screen, but your close friends' home movies. If the Swanberg crew didn't show up in person at every screening, would peope care as much?

Will all the cool kids show up to "Hannah" at the IFC Center? Will film students come out in droves to see a sweet, honest film about their lives? Or will they just see 'Superbad" again. I'm not entirely sure. They certainly have their fans -- this one filmmaker posted an achingly sincere YouTube video called "How Mumblecore Saved My Life" -- but do these films stand a chance in the real theatrical marketplace? What is the real theatrical marketplace anymore, anyway, as "Hannah" is also going out on video-on-demand through IFC First Take? Is a "Four-Eyed Monsters"-type dual internet/theatrical release model make sense for these films more, anyway, with a tech-savvy young audience seeking out the films through various platforms? I have more questions than answers here.

But I do believe that a number of the films are good, deserve an audience and love the fact that they've bypassed Sundance altogether. But I also wonder if they're best chance at survival is staying under the radar, where they have happily existed in the recent past. If Seitz is right, and "Hannah" already marks the movement's premature passing into obsolescence, it may only be because he wants it to stay something that he caught at a film festival and is not reviewing for The New York Times.

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