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The 'New Talkies' are Making New Waves

The 'New Talkies' are Making New Waves

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Published by Timothy Mahr
An essay diving into amateur film making and its impact on mainstream, large scale hollywood production.
An essay diving into amateur film making and its impact on mainstream, large scale hollywood production.

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Published by: Timothy Mahr on Nov 17, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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To mention “indie film” or “independent cinema”, one tends to relate these words while in
conjunction with one another to the recent (within the past decade or so) cinematic ‘movement’ thatincludes production techniques that may replicate shots, dialogue, plot anchors, etc. familiar to thosefound in more major, more Hollywood-esque productions. Buying into the more popular idea that if 
one were to produce an independent film is to act in a rebellious response to that which is consideredcommon, expected, proper, and to some critics, sophisticated, i.e. the requirements found within theworld of popular mainstream cinema. This ideology completely overlooks the fact that independent
film has been in existence since the birth of cinema itself 
(dissolving the use of the term ‘movement’here as meaning ‘trend’ or ‘accepted change/progression within a genre or medium’) considering thatthe first filmmakers had nothing to go on except the photographic image (which is apparent in the
framing of shots found in very early films). Some individuals might actually turn to a more modesttime in cinema history that gained its foothold during the 1950’s and that impacted both the way onecreates a film or shoots a frame, and also how one watches a film to this day. The movement
mentioned here has been classified as being in a league of its own and never to be repeated. And theterm so gracefully placed on the genre, in order to cue one’s recognition and to qualify its traits andcharacteristics is commonly known as, New Wave. Some would say that this movement in filmmaking
style altered the very rubric in which film could be produced. The directors of the New Wave oftenworked with very low budgets, available light, no studios, unknown actors and actresses, but in a shortamount of time (in only about two years- which was fast paced approval in the mid-50’s art scene)gained a following. Popularity grew around this type of cinema the world over- partly because thetechniques and means for production were unlike anything any filmgoer had seen before and also thefilms portrayed characters within the age range of the audience that were mostly watching the films, i.e.twenty-somethings, or young adults.The birth of the New Wave cinema rings familiar to a more recent “coming of age” style thatis spurring up around America called “mumblecore” (as dubbed by the press). And though this termalongside with “bedhead cinema” does not carry any positive connotation on the surface, the IFCCenter has helped in giving the movement the lengthy, but more positive name of 
The New Talkies:Generation D.I.Y.
or just “The New Talkies” (The New York Times 2007). “The New Talkies”stylistically are very similar to New Wave, but they generally are not limited to such stiff limitations,vis-à-vis one could produce a film in the “mumblecore” style and not be restricted to, say, just one kindof film format (generally films here are shot in digital video). For instance, director Andrew Bujalski isthe only “mumblecore” filmmaker in the foreground that shoots in film and not handheld video/DV(2007).But what is it about this style that gets categorized differently from the rest of modern “indie”filmmaking? Horkheimer and Adorno, discuss in their article
The Culture Industry
, that, “markeddifferentiations such as those of A and B films, or of stories in magazines in different price ranges,depend not so much on subject matter as on classifying, organizing, and labeling consumers” (Adorno1038). What makes the 20 or so films deemed as “mumblecore” stand apart from films such as
 Blair Witch Project 
, Central Philippine’s
, and more recently, the 2008 blockbuster film,
?All of these films are shot with handheld digital cameras. And with the exception to
, theyhad small casts, unpaid extras, and no sets. Why these films are considered “indie” and not trueforerunners to “mumblecore” might have something to do with the inclusion of a more complex plotand lack of focus when retaining an image of the
. “It can seem like these [mumblecore] movies,which star nonprofessional actors and feature quasi-improvised dialogue, seldom deal with mattersmore pressing than whether to return a phone call” as with the listed films above deal with issues
completely eschew from real-life issues that ‘real’ people endure, i.e. no 30 story-tall monsters, noghosts, witches, and no Manchurian Candidate-like terrorist bombings (2007).The film,
Quiet City
, written and directed by Aaron Katz at times seems to pay homage to
films that focus more on culturally relevant situations and thus continuing cinema’s forever long quest
to depict realism (as in Richard Linklater’s hipster-romance film duo,
 Before Sunrise
). Using a tentative script, the young filmmaker and crew set out to make a film specifically torecreate scenes and conversations that have happened to them personally before and during theshooting of the film. Though this film is fictional, i.e. the characters and plot, much of the dialogue
was improvised by the actors, as were some of the locations and shots were spontaneous. This film’sexpectations were simply to capture the idea of the real and not necessarily to recreate or supplementreality. This concept used to control the meaning or the amount of reality intended within the image is
summarized by Jane Tormey as she discusses Baudrillardian terms,[…] it is possible that meaning can be more directly symbolic, less plausibleand more ‘overtly discursive’, with aspects of description not essential to the message
 but integrated with the illusion of realism (Tormey 33)So when the two main characters break into their friend’s house to see if she is ok, the film is trying ata reality that may have personal significance to the audience, but more importantly, according to
Tormey, the image was more a symbol for their concern for this person, that in effect has moresignificance than just playing out the scene with no prior referent. Katz’s film sets its gaze on twomain characters that meet randomly at a subway platform, then follows them through their weekend-
long Williamsburg adventure in order to find Jamie’s (the female protagonist) friend who is notresponding to her phone calls. The situation that Jamie and Charlie (the male protagonist) engage in isnot too far from what could actually happen, but the main problem that Katz was facing wasconvincing the audience that after meeting a stranger for only about an hour, Jamie goes back toCharlie’s apartment to spend the night. Katz tells indieWIRE (2007),“I wasn't sure about the male lead though. The actor needed to be a very particular kindof person to pull off the character. He needed to be instantly trustworthy for the viewer to believe that Jamie would respond the way she does to him. And for thetrustworthiness to pan out as the film went on it had to not be an act.”In order to portray this slice of reality to the viewer, Katz needed to audition and then cast anindividual that the actress that plays Jamie (Erin Fisher) would be comfortable with. Other than thecasting of Cris Lankenau (Charlie), the actors and actresses were people that Katz and his producersknew and were intimate with. This aspect certainly contributed to the ‘aura’ of the film as it can beviewed by an audience, and further embraced as having genuine value as well as significance(Benjamin 75). Though the film contains scenes that are familiar to the viewer, i.e. the birthday party,and the footrace in the park, and can be read as containing a lack of originality, but for these scenes to become real for the audience, they should not only represent common a posteriori experiences so thatthe audience can relate, they should be depicted as those real experiences, and not appear to be set-upor blocked in any particular way in order for the film to contain its own particular ‘aura’ (75).If “the authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning,ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced”, then thereproduction of images such as someone candidly blowing a candle out at a birthday party canlegitimately be a placeholder for the real experience, i.e. ‘aura’ (74-5). In other words, if one were totake an image of an object, say any ordinary object, then the image itself would then become yetanother object. Now the way for that image to have value, meaning, or some sort of authenticity, thenthe object that is within frame would have to have some cultural relevancy. The more relevant theobject is to a culture, the more meaning the image would have contained in it, but only that muchmeaning could be held accountable in only the culture that which it was relevant. That is not to say,that similar value-meaning could not be found in the image-object in another culture, but it would only
 be considered as such under scrutiny of the image-object as an abstraction taken from a referencesource. The image-object then, to the latter audience, would not contain the distinct significance(decay of ‘aura’) due to the distance of comprehension, no matter how minute, that the former audience
could possibly have had (75).

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