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amy taubin v. mumblecore

amy taubin v. mumblecore


A tireless champion of low-budget indie films and filmmakers over the years, Amy Taubin delivers a surprisingly harsh critique of the so-called mumblecore movement (dissing Joe Swanberg and also offering a passing swipe at SXSW’s Matt Dentler) in the latest edition of Film Comment. She starts it, “Adieu, mumblecore, the indie movement that never was more than a flurry of festival hype and blogosphere branding”…

At GreenCine, David Hudson offers a defense, appropriately asking, “The ‘mumblecore’ backlash was always a given, but who knew it’d be so damn personalized?” While Dentler counters, on his blog, “If a collection of films is so insignificant and unimportant… why dedicate so much of your space to it?”

A supporter of the spirit & substance of the films/filmmakers gathered under the mumblecore umbrella, I’ll acknowledge that Taubin raises the right questions. She represents some commonly held criticisms. But by piling on so personally, she undermines her points.

Pictured: Mumblecore folks on stage at SXSW earlier this year.

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Amy Taubin’s criticism of mumblecore strikes me as generational player hating, and New York centric, intellectual snobbery and (to quote Ms. Taubin herself) “a way of grabbing attention in a dauntingly cluttered indie landscape.”

Every generation has its heroes (and heroines). Every generation wants to believe theirs is THE definitive artistic or cinematic movement. Mumblecore may or may not be a defining movement, but it certainly has captured it’s spot in the Zeitgeist.

Her opening lines hint at the source of her consternation: “Adieu, mumblecore, the indie movement that never was more than a flurry of festival hype and blogosphere branding…which, as a way of grabbing attention in a dauntingly cluttered indie landscape, flogged mumblecore as the new happening thing. ”

She seems to take issue with the emergence of “mumblecore” as a movement at all. That bloggers and writers, here and elsewhere took the term and branded it seems to be “mumblecore’s” first offense.

Mumblecore is something the filmmakers never consciously (or unconsciously) constructed–but each has no doubt benefited from the mountain of press the term generated.

Isn’t this how all movements gain traction? While it is rare for artists themselves to engineer the hype–one can hardly blame them from leveraging the exposure.

That she criticizes bloggers and writers (with an unfairly personal shot at festival promoter, and great guy Matt Dentler himself) for “grabbing attention in a dauntingly cluttered indie landscape” is a vapid argument. The fact that these films DO stand out, and HAVE made their presence felt in such a cluttered landscape IS worthy of attention.

That they did so by (by and large) bypassing the Indiewood machine, and the Park City Buzz-Hype-Incubator of a Generation is all the more noteworthy.

One wonders whether a member of the New York critical elite resents the emergence of a grassroots movement from outside the gates. What are the arbiters of taste to make from the fact that against all conventional wisdom, these films gained attention from (lowly) bloggers and Web sites, and appearances as small and regional festivals like Sidewalk, Maryland, Atlanta, Bend and the like.

Her next critique takes issue with the filmmakers themselves: “The directors are all male middle-class Caucasians, and they make movies exclusively about young adults who are involved in heterosexual relationships and who have jobs (when they have them) in workplaces populated almost exclusively by SWMs and SWFs.”

Would Amy Taubin offer a similar critique of the SWMs of the French New Wave or homogeneous look of the late 60’s early 70’s structuralist boys’ club of Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, George Landow (aka Owen Land), Paul Sharits, Tony Conrad, Ernie Gehr, Kurt Kren, and Peter Kubelka–with Joyce Wieland “as their token female director” thrown in? Does Taubin’s participation in “Wavelength” give Michael Snow more of a pass than Swanberg’s collaboration with playwright Greta Gehrig and filmmaker Ry Russo in Hannah?

When Taubin criticizes “the clueless narcissism of the men, and to a slighter lesser degree, the women in Swanberg’s oeuvre,” I am left wondering whether my own reading of the films as ironic and insightful is off-base, or whether it is she who misses the point? The film LOL is about clueless narcissism, is it not? And isn’t Hannah’s crisis that she can’t get beyond her own neurosis enough to sustain a meaningful relationship with anyone? Swanberg plays generational narcissism and apathy as a state of being in the post modern been-there-done-that world. Isn’t it possible that the modesty of the mode of production these Generation DIYers have employed suggests a lack of narcissism? What is more egotistical: making modest “little” movies or subjecting the world to indulgent epics like “Southland Tales” or “The Fountain”?

Taubin’s suggestion that “So Yong Kim’s lovely In Between Days (06) would seem to fit the mumblecore …but because the filmmaker is a Korean-American woman and her heroine is a Korean immigrant, no one thought to invite the movie to the party,” takes aim at whom, exactly?

Who are “they?” The “boy’s club” of mumblecore? The folks who programmed the IFC Center series? Bloggers?

Does Taubin really believe that an organized (and presumably SWM) mumblecore board seeks exclude minorities? This ain’t no Dogme 95.

The mumblecore movement (such as it is) IS a media creation–but at a certain point, it took on a life of its own. (And like Dogme 95, at a certain point, folks will tire of it–have we reached that point yet?)

Mumblecore is in its infancy– and if the reaction of fans like Erin (Mumblecore saved my life– is any indication, we can expect the movement to inspire other filmmakers to try the DIY route.

This is a promising development, as evidenced by DIY Filmmaker Sujewa Ekanayake (–or Taubin’s own example So Yong Kim, because the DIY movement is, by definition ALL INCLUSIVE. Perhaps this should be seen as the mumblecore legacy: turning FFC’s “fat girl from Ohio” fantasy into reality.


Not a good article. Someone had had a very personal axe to grind it seems.

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