Plot: What’s it about?
Have you ever known someone who has their mind set on doing something, and no matter how much goes wrong they just keep pushing ahead, no matter what? This is the story of one such man, Mark Borchardt, who seems to have an insatiable inner drive to make movies. Since he has fourteen, Mark has been making horror films, but not in the sense of Hollywood, more like home videos with his friends and relatives. But no matter how far fetched it might seem, no matter how much negative feedback he gets, no matter how much turmoil is present in his personal life, Mark forges ahead, striving to make his dream film, Northwestern. This documentary begins while Mark is in preproduction for Northwestern, but soon he is forced to abandon the project when funding is vacant. In order to raise money, he decides to finish his short horror film, Coven (pronounced “cohven”) which could sell well enough to fund his dream film. But things are rough from the start, both on camera, behind camera, and in Mark’s real life. But no matter how bad things seem to be on either side of the camera, Mark pushes ahead and is determined to see his work be completed. But even with his will and desire, can he and the rest of the cast and crew see the project to the conclusion, or will Coven be another unfinished task in Mark’s life?
I looked forward to this title seeing a DVD release, since no theaters in my area carried the film. Since it deals with the real lives behind true independent filmmaking, I was interested since I first heard about the concept. This is a documentary, so everything you see is really going on, and Mark is not a character, he’s a real person trying to achieve his dream. This adds some real impact to the film, but in all honesty, I liked everyone else in the movie except him. With a documentary, the audience needs to relate to and care about the subject, but Mark is hardly worth that. I mean, the guy owes his dad ten thousand dollars, he drinks all the time, he doesn’t pay his bills, the guy can’t even pay his child support bills, yet he tries to make a movie. I think the film is a joke due to this information. How can I care about a beer swilling, foul mouthed guy who writes bad dialogue and doesn’t even pay his child support bills? There are so many struggling filmmakers out there, to focus on this guy is a joke, I hope he never gets the chance to make a movie again until he learns to keep his life in order first. I recommend this movie, but be warned, I doubt you’ll care for the main character. The disc is top notch, so a rental or purchase would be justified.
This film was created by the team of Chris Smith and Sarah Price, with Chris directing, producing, and handling visuals, while Sarah produced and ran the sound. Since this is a documentary, there isn’t much innovative camerawork or anything like that, but everything seems to be technically sound. I just wish these two could have chosen a more worthy subject, someone who had the passion for film as well as took care of their personal lives. The cast of this documentary is a band of Mark’s relatives and friends, most of whom seem to be helping Mark simply to humor him. Aside from his friend Steve, the people around Mark seem to know Mark’s ambition is much higher than his low talent level. When his brother tells you Mark should be working in a factory, he’s right. Statements like that one are what makes this movie worth watching, the raw honesty. These people aren’t always patting Mark on the back lying to him by telling him he’s good at making movies, they usually try to talk some sense into him. Uncle Bill, an old man who died after completion of Coven, is the saddest character, as we watch Mark leach money from him. I might be callous in saying so, but here’s to hoping Mark is never allowed to make another movie, I know he doesn’t deserve to, at least until he gets his alcohol and drug use under control. If you choose to watch this movie, watch it to be entertained, not inspired, to be sure.
Video: How does it look?
American Movie is presented in the original full frame aspect ratio. This is a documentary, so the image isn’t as sharp as a polished feature film, but it looks as good as you can expect from this type of footage. The colors seem in order, flesh tones are right on, and contrast is well balanced throughout. The print looks good, and compression errors are non existent.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release uses a mono soundtrack, which works fine given the source material. All of Mark’s drunken, abusive rants come through clear, as does the rest of the dialogue. The music sounds quite good also, with no distortion present at all. Given the mono format’s limitations, this track is about as good as it can get.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This is a special edition, so it is filled with interesting goodies to peruse. First up is a running commentary with Chris Smith and Sarah Price, which is worth a listen if you like the film. They give some anecdotes about events not shown in the film, as well as some interesting production information. You also get the theatrical trailer, as well as several bonus trailers for other Columbia releases. There are also twenty-two deleted scenes to look over, some of which offer a new perspective on some of the events shown in the film. Finally, this release includes the thirty-five minute short film Coven, which is the film by Mark. This is a poor attempt at filmmaking, but to each their own.