CINEFEST 2011: Boozie Movies watches hipsters play with fire in BELLFLOWER
Bellflower is an infuriating, obnoxious, pretentious, quasi misogynistic film about obnoxious, toxic characters. By all means, Bellflower is the ultimate product of contemporary American hipster culture. Yet, Bellflower is also a work of modern American art, a piece that is as engrossing as it is off putting. Too meta to really be judged as a narrative film, Bellflower works best as an experimental piece. The best way to describe this entirely distinctive picture is to imagine if mumblecore icon, Andrew Bujalski grew a pair of balls and fathered the bastard love child of Two Lane Blacktop and Jackass.
Without a doubt, the most impressive aspect of Bellflower is the grungy, DIY atheistic that director, writer, editor, and lead star, Evan Glodell employs for his debut feature.. Not only did he construct the film's many props, including Medusa, a modified stock Skylar that shoots flames from exhaust pipes running through the trunk, but he also built the cameras used to lens the film from the ground up. The film has a strange, fuzzy focus as a result from using a home brewed FOD adapter. Aesthetically, the film is a mixed bag. There are some striking images, and the washed out, over exposed color palette often lends itself to a distinctly beautiful look. At other times, scenes are so underdeveloped and dark that the actions happening on screen are indecipherable. Also, it appears that Glodell used a multitude of lens made from different materials. Many shots look like they were shot through filters made from coke bottles with scratches and all, and it works. In many other scenes, the lens is simply dirty with dust particles clearly apparent.
The story follows best friends, Woodrow and Aiden, two empty, soulless 20 somethings from Wisconsin who've aimlessly moved to Los Angeles just to be part of some type of scene and "look cool." They seemingly have no jobs, no ambition, or determined goal in life. They are the quintessential 21st century American man children. Although they're pushing into their early 30's, their daily lives are no different from that of a college freshman minus the classes, homework, and education. It's tough to tell if the film serves to comment on or critique this generation, or if it simply exists as the by product of it.
Woodrow and Aiden are also obsessed with The Road Warrior and spend their free time (which is all of their time), building muscle cars and flamethrowers in preparation for an apocalypse that will never come. These are privileged, over educated, lazy white guys who waste their intelligence on pointless endeavors trying to recapture a sense of youthful nostalgia. Their existential crisis or lack thereof is reminiscent of the two men driving cross country in Two Lane Black Top. And just like that film, a woman will come between them, or not.
Wooddraw immediately falls in love with Milly, the resident hot female barfly during a cricket eating contest at their local dive. For their first date, Milly suggests that Wooddraw take her to the dirtiest, grungiest, scariest restaurant he can think of. Ah, here's more stuff white people like, I can only assume that it's white guilt that pushes these hipsters to purposefully pretend to be oppressed and impoverished.
The only greasy spoon that Woodraw can think of happens to be located in Texas. Milly agrees to take a five day road trip with a man she's just met to "eat food that will make her sick." Wooddraw drives a customized James Bond car for alcoholics. Woodraw's built a pressurized whiskey tap that runs through the engine into the dashboard. The two enchanted hipsters drive to Texas drunk on puppy dog love and cheap bourbon.
When the lovestruck couple return, things go south quickly. Milly warned Woodraw that she will eventually hurt him. As the Tom Waits song goes, "you don't meet nice girls in bars or coffee shops." Right off the bat, we know Milly is unreliable. She's unable to pay rent and lives with her ex-boyfriend who's still harboring feelings for her. When she moves in with Woodraw, it doesn't take long until she goes back to sleeping with the ex.
Woodraw is devastated when he finds the two fucking on his bare mattress shortly after he leaves to go test his DIY flamethrower with Aiden. In a fit of rage, Woodraw peels out of the driveway on his Road Warrior motorcycle and is pile drived by an oncoming car leaving him badly injured and brain damaged.
It's here where the film's tone shifts towards the genre realm. There has been a lot of buzz and controversy about Bellflower's third act. The film has often been pitched as a satire on the mumblecore genre and a lot has been written on the escalating violence that follows. But it does the audience and the film a great injustice to promote these aspects. I had been told that by the end, Bellflower transforms into a darkly comical homage to The Road Warrior, leading to expectations of bombastic anarchy. Although there are some intense and unsettling moments towards the climax, there is very little violence on screen, and ultimately, it's not the point of the film.
AGAIN, SPOILER ALERT.
Tensions continue to ramp up between Wooddraw, Milly, and her ex- boyfriend eventually leading to murder. Wooddraw finally finds practical use for his toys of mass destruction but the violence is brief and fleeting, and ultimately revealed as only the fantasy of a warped and concussion riddled mind.
By the end of the film, Wooddraw and his friend Aiden are right back where they began, lost and aimless. They decide to move out of Los Angelos and find somewhere else to live out their hipster fantasies as members of Lord Hummongus' gang from The Road Warrior. There's no character arch or resolution, and probably no point. It's kind of like a Sofia Coppola film made with lots of testosterone and anger.
Yet, the film has remained on my mind since viewing it three days ago. It's structured like a poem by one of the great writers from the beat era, and the fact that there is no point probably is the point. There's a rogue free spirited attitude that is compelling and even inspiring.
As far as the film's supposed misogyny is concerned, it doesn't come from the depictions of imagined violence against women but from the overall message that women and romantic relationships are futile and disposable. And the fact that they men name their doomsday car, Medusa, probably says a lot about their opinion on their exes as well.
All that matters in this world is male camaraderie and the power of high octane machinery. Women come and go, but best friends and muscle cars are forever.