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Monday Movies Can No Longer Treat You with Carelessness

“Mumblecore” is a perfect name for the genre it describes, because the people in it speak haltingly and are the kind of people who append “-core” to genres. Everyone who makes mumblecore movies hates the name, which is fine. A mumblecore movie features young people, mostly white, momentarily fallen out of affluence but not of cultural capital, inarticulate because they are trying to express difficult things and are too wary of clichés.  Where Jane Espenson warns against glib dialogue, they banish it as an axiom.

Mumblecore poses the question, “what would Dogme 95 be like without the humorlessness?” The answer is watchable but not necessary. Hannah Takes the Stairs was ostensibly directed by Joe Swanberg, but the credits read “A Film By Joe Swanberg, Greta Gerwig, Kent Osborne, Andrew Bujalski, Ry Russo-Young, Mark Duplass, Todd Rohal and Kevin Brewersdorf.” Bujalski and Duplass are also noted mumblecore directors; Bujalski spends much of his interview time explaining that he doesn’t actually let his actors improvise, although the others follow Mike Leigh’s lead in constructing films with their actors from improvisations off sketched scenarios. Swanberg’s next movie Silver Bullets “features an astonishing and troubling mask scene that, once viewed, isn’t likely to be forgotten,” according to Richard Brody at the New Yorker film blog.

The characters in Hannah Takes the Stairs speak like writers, in the sense that I have a face made for radio. They know their intentions are complex but impure; they know their language is inadequate to their thoughts and they are not hopeful that the description of their desires will illuminate the course of righteous action. (The author of Awkwardness is invited to hypothesize.) Hannah, played by Greta Gerwig, tires quickly of her boyfriends, but doesn’t know it yet, though she’s self-aware enough to tell one target “I leave destruction in my wake.” Hannah‘s strength is in its subject matter, a romantic triangle that upsets a friendship, and Gerwig’s performance, vulnerable and closed off, mumbly and deep.

Greta Gerwig’s performances are valuable instruction in the difference between nakedness and nudity. She appears naked with each of her lovers — showering or getting dressed with one, waking up in the shirt of another and giving it back, sitting in the bathtub with the third. Her nakedness is more than matter-of-fact, it’s depleted of erotic charge, as if sex is one more too-familiar vocabulary that she’s giving up upon. (My cob-logger and I have argued about this.) The most erotic shot of her is in panties and a bra, fighting a heat wave by lying in front of a fan, next to her roommate but mostly alone. It’s also the most traditionally scopophilic shot in the film, lingering on her pelvis. Most of the shots of her naked with her lovers show her full body and face.

Below the fold, an illustration, technically NSFW but very sweet.

Playing "The 1806 Overture"

How about you?


May 23, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | ,


  1. The only mumblecore flix I’ve seen took themselves pretty seriously.

    I watched Dead Man on the big screen and Sleuth (AGAIN) on my computer this past week. I hadn’t seen Dead Man since the first time I watched it, on a television, back in college, or at least, I can’t remember a different viewing; that time, I think I was inclined to sympathize with Depp’s character when he exclaims that he’s had it up to here with all this Indian mumbo-jumbo (or whatever it is that he says). (In fact, I only wanted to watch it so I could hear the soundtrack, which was and remains fantastic.) This time I was far more appreciative.

    Comment by ben | May 23, 2011

  2. I liked Hannah. My Effortless Brilliance has been on cable for quite a while, and IMDB calls it mumblecore. Mumblecore may be the polar opposite of the Contemplative Cinema of Tarr, Denis, Hou, Tsai. mumblecore is the Decline of the West in the loss of context.

    5/16/11 – A Hen in the Wind – Ozu 1948
    5/18/11 – Ikebana – Teshegahara 1956
    5/20/11 – Introspection Tower – Shimizu 1941
    5/20/11 – Kiru – Misumi 1962
    5/21/11 – Waga koi wa moenu – Mizoguchi 1949

    Kiru was the winner here;an allegorical interpretation of the fall of Japanese feudalism

    Comment by bob mcmanus | May 23, 2011

  3. I’d like to deliver now my ‘Friday confessional”, that is: I did not now what “NSFW” means, and I have just clicked on “Read more” (while in the Uni, at a table where the right and left neighbours/students have a full view into what appears on my computer monitor).

    Comment by grrl | May 23, 2011

  4. Would Primer count as kind of mumblecore?

    I was about to write that I didn’t watch a single movie this week, but we went to see Bridesmaids! I guess that tells you how big an impact it made on me.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | May 23, 2011

  5. So okay, more comments on Bridesmaids: it would’ve been better if it was really the ensemble comedy it was advertised as. By the end, I was kind of tired of Kristin Wiig, simply because she was on camera almost CONSTANTLY. You had a couple good “ensemble” members who were barely used at all, and then mostly with each other — the older blonde woman and the receptionist from The Office. It was funny that the trip to Vegas turned out to be a total tease, but it also shut down one possible way out of the claustrophobia.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | May 23, 2011

  6. If the motivation for the time machine in Primer had been that their friends were making really cheap time machines and getting acclaim for it and they didn’t see why they couldn’t do the same thing, it could have been metamumble a la Baghead.

    Comment by k-sky | May 23, 2011

  7. I can tell you that ‘Rundskop’ is an excellent film but chances that it ever gets to a cinema near you are small. There is a lot of mumbling in it but none of it is remotely meant as being its core. Well, not afaik at least (and I don’t know a lot).

    Comment by Guido Nius | May 23, 2011

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