Friday, July 1, 2016

THE CINEMA OF RICK ALVERSON TOLD THROUGH MOVING IMAGES & STILLS


It is my personal opinion that Rick Alverson is one of the best American filmmakers working today. And what sets him apart from the other great current American filmmakers on my personal list (Kelly Reichardt, Richard Linklater, etc) is that some of the defining characteristics of Rick Alverson's films are; frustrating, uncomfortable, cringe-worthy and depressing. But those aren’t insults in this particular case. I think Rick Alverson would appreciate some of his work being associated with the aforementioned terms. Having messy characters, plots & scenarios is a great thing when done right. You can’t always wrap things up in a nice package. The goings-on in Rick Alverson's movies linger on in my brain long after I’ve watched them. There’s also usually continued dialogue concerning his work long after the credits roll which equates success in my book (if you have friends who appreciate challenging cinema I highly suggest watching films like New Jerusalem & The Comedy together rather than alone).

On a more positive sounding note - I consider Rick Alverson’s work to be (quietly) visually stunning (The Builder & Entertainment) and also uncategorizeable (Entertainment & The Comedy). Again – that’s a good thing. Films like The Comedy & Entertainment feature scenes that cause me to belly laugh. But five minutes later those same movies make me question both my existence and the existence of the people around me. If video stores were still around today, Rick Alverson’s work would belong the "existential" section.

So to kick off the summer here at PINNLAND EMPIRE we’re going to take a look at Rick Alverson’s entire filmography (features, shorts & music videos).

Enjoy…


TRANSGRESSION
If another filmmaker from Alverson’s generation were given the same materials & subject matter that he works with in order to make a film, chances are they’d come off as pretentious. I know “pretentious” is a ridiculously overused/misused term these days, but some filmmakers give you no other option but to label them as such. That’s not the case with Alverson. Often times I see critics & bloggers lazily compare his work to the likes of Harmony Korine & Vincent Gallo but that’s so easy (right out of the gate I have contradicted myself as you’ll see some visual comparisons between Alverson & Gallo later on in this piece, and I namedrop Harmony Korine in my review of Entertainment). I’ve even seen his earlier work like The Builder & New Jerusalem grouped in with the Mumblecore genre which is beyond infuriating to me (I’m not a fan). There’s a bit more depth to the experimentation & transgression found in Alverson’s work whereas the aforementioned filmmakers, who I do like, want to just shock (the blowjob scene in The Brown Bunny) or push buttons (Harmony Korine).

While each film & music video Alverson directs is more polished than the next (in terms of presentation) and he continues to grow as a filmmaker with each project – the experimentation (camera work & editing) & transgression (dialogue, discomfort & storylines) found in all of his early work can still be seen in his recent/more popular projects like The Comedy & Entertainment
The Comedy
From The Sun (music video for Unknown Moral Orchestra)
Even If We Try (music video Night Beds)
Entertainment
Windows (music video for Angel Olsen)
Jeroen Van Aken (music video for Gregor Samsa)
Lean Year (music video for Lean Year)
Minor Careers (music video for Spokane)
Tell Me (music video for Spokane)
New Wonder (music video for Will Oldham)




UNLIKABLE MAIN CHARACTERS
There are antiheros and then there are unpleasant assholes who just so happen to be the main characters in some of the movies we watch. It takes talent to keep an audience engaged & invested in an unlikable character. In New Jerusalem Will Oldham plays an imposing Christian that I’d probably tell to get lost in real life, but his performance is so unique and slightly “off” that I find myself intrigued by him. Although Tim Heidecker’s character in The Comedy is clearly going through a lot of personal drama (depression & family issues), I still don’t have any sympathy for him due to his attitude and all around personality. But at the same time I find myself invested in his story. Gregg Turkington’s character in Entertainment straddles the line between antihero & unlikable, but he’s still the kind of miserable human being that I’d want nothing to do with in my own life. But imperfect characters (which is putting it lightly) are more intriguing to me than just standard “bad guys” & “good guys”.
The Comedy
New Jerusalem
The Comedy




CRINGEWORTHY& UNCOMFORTABLE MOMENTS
If you read about John Cassavetes you hear stories of audience members storming out of his films midway through in order to take a breather, only to go back and finish watching. The same thing applies to Alverson's body of work. Sometimes when I find myself immersed in Alverson’s movies I want out (or I at least want to fast forward to the next scene). Not because I dislike his movies obviously, but because there’s always some scene that leaves me feeling incredibly uncomfortable (sometimes a little horrified). Whether it’s the pregnant woman in the bathroom in Entertainment, or Tim Heidecker casually watching Kate Lyn Shiel have a seizure in The Comedy – I’ve found myself going; “what the fuck?” or “Get me out of here” on more than one occasion.
The Comedy
New Jerusalem
Entertainment
Even If We Try (Night Beds music video)




VISUAL SIMILARITIES & (POSSIBLE)INFLUENCES
(with the exception of Two-Lane Blacktop it's HIGHLY unlikely that Rick Alverson was influenced by any of the films below. It's totally speculation on my part)
Two-Lane Blacktop/Entertainment
A Woman Is A Woman/Entertainment

A Woman Is A Woman/Entertainment
Entertainment/A Woman Is A Woman
Entertainment/A Woman Is A Woman
Entertainment/The Color Of Money
Entertainment/Blue
Entertainment/Blade 2
Entertainment/The Empire Strikes Back
Entertainment/The Brown Bunny



RECURRING IMAGERY

continuous/unbroken tracking shot
New Jerusalem
The Comedy
The Builder
Even If We Try

"the washing of hands & feet"
The Builder
New Jerusalem
From The Sun

"the lonely road"
Even If We Try
The Builder
The Comedy
Entertainment




THE (SOMETIMES) POINTLESSNESS OF DIALOGUE & COMMUNICATION
I feel like one of Rick Alverson’s unofficial mission statements is to challenge the norm in a non-pretentious way. In The Comedy he challenges the idea of provocative humor. In Entertainment he, along with Gregg Turkington, challenges the idea of stand-up comedy while New Jerusalem challenges religion. But the one general thing he challenges in all of his films is the idea of dialogue & communication. Do we need to talk with each other all the time? What is the point of saying certain things?








DEPRESSION, ISOLATION & LONELINESS
It’s already been established that the characters in Alverson’s features are quite depressed (I know I’ve mainly been focusing on The Comedy & Entertainment, but I assure you that some of the characters in The Builder & New Jerusalem are quite sad and/or depressed as well).
Even when you take some of the images in his films completely out of context, his characters still look painfully depressed...
The Builder
The Builder
Even If We Try
New Jerusalem
New Jerusalem
Entertainment
The Comedy
Minor Careers
From The Sun
Have You Seen My Soul (music video for Benjamin Booker)
Strand Of Oaks (music video for Goshen '97)




ART IMITATING LIFE
I don’t know Will Oldham, Gregg Turkington or Tim Heidecker personally, but from what little I do know (through interviews, Q&A’s and other random pieces of info that they have shared about themselves), it’s more than clear that bits (sometimes lots) of their real selves end up in the characters that they play in Alverson's movies. From his lyrics to his early performance in Matewan, it’s clear that Will Oldham has some Christian/religious background which turns up in New Jerusalem. The connection between Gregg Turkington and the character he plays in Entertainment goes without saying (both are ”alternative” stand-up comedians) and Tim Heidecker seems to be playing a heightened version of himself in The Comedy.
Tim Heidecker in The Comedy
Gregg Turkington as Gregg Turkington in Entertainment
Rick Alverson appearing in his Spokane music video
A young Will Oldham as a preacher in John Sayles' Matewan / an older Will Oldham as an evangelical christian in New Jerusalem




THE GREAT OUTDOORS
Alverson usually shies away from urban landscapes and sets the majority of his filmography in rural areas...
Windows
The Builder
The Builder
Entertainment
Even If We Try
Minor Careers
Magic Chords (music video for Sharon Van Etten)
Thankless Marriage (music video for Spokane)


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