Author Topic: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries  (Read 1345 times)

The Mollusk

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"American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« on: July 17, 2020, 12:15:55 PM »
I rewatched "American Movie" last night, as my partner had never seen it, and it's easily one of my all time favourite documentaries. I got more out of it last night than I had on previous viewings, where before I was certainly awed by Mark's indomitable spirit but I confess to have found other characters like Mike and Uncle Bill to be more chucklesome than endearing. They are funny to watch, of course, but part of what makes this documentary so great is the way that all of the people featured have the perfect amount of screen time in order to paint a magnificent picture, detailing the beautiful imperfections of the human condition without stooping to cloying sentimentality.

There is obviously an alluring central premise to the film and you certainly are rooting for the underdog, but it's presented in such an admirably barebones fashion. The only music featured is that of Mark's best friend and lysergic casualty Mike Schank. There's very little in the way of post-production gimmicks aside from the splicing in of footage from Mark's film work. The talking heads bits are just folks sat at their kitchen tables. It doesn't need bells and whistles to tell a story (arguably, no good documentary does), the story is just there, ready and waiting to be discovered. Sure, it might not have been quite as entertaining without Mike's sobering, absolutely fucking frazzled demeanour or Uncle Bill's almost tragic lack of faith in his nephew, but the events depicted here are not influenced whatsoever by the fact they're being followed by a film crew. They would have all taken place whether they were being documented or not. It's just perfect, not a single wasted moment of screen time.

"He came over and he put a smile on my face. I didn't even wanna wake up tomorrow morning, man. I had nothing to look forward to, and I'm thankful that Mike came over, and he put a smile on my face talking his shit." - Mark, whispering in the living room, late into the evening on Thanksgiving. I damn near cried at this scene.

In some ways you could compare this film to "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters", which is a similar tale of one humble man's quest to succeed despite the odds seemingly being stacked against him. However, "King of Kong" suffers in that it does feature a great deal of bells and whistles. It's been years since I last watched it, and I have failed to stay abreast of whether or not Billy is a fraud or not, but I do recall a heavy amount of editing, ramping up the energy with dramatic music, and Billy being depicted as some sort of shadowy demon, hell-bent on destroying Steve and voraciously eating his still-beating heart. I think ultimately if you come away from shooting a documentary and you don't think you have enough of a good story to share with the world without misrepresenting your subjects or slathering on a load of ramped-up dramatics, then as a filmmaker you have to admit you've failed at least somewhat.

I'd love to hear others' thoughts on this subject and even more than that I also really want some recommendations of stuff similar to "American Movie" based on the above comments.

QDRPHNC

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2020, 05:35:31 PM »
I haven't seen it in years, but I must have watched it a dozen times. Could well be my favourite documentary of all time. The commentary on the DVD was good too, I believe Mark apologized to the director for that scene where Mark cornered him in the basement, drunk and eating an enormous turkey leg.

An uplifting and unsentimental film, I think. It shows the truth of being an artist, the day to day grind, which I'm sure directors and writers much more famous and successful than Mark would identify with.

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2020, 05:43:47 PM »
Demon Lover Diary and Giuseppe Makes A Movie both fit your criteria well. They also depict low budget/high ambition filmmaking, with the stresses and setbacks, but also the sense of community and camaraderie it can bring. I love them every bit as much as American Movie.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2020, 06:40:45 PM »
Demon Lover Diary is interesting. As well as Donald Jackson being a horrible asshole (him complaining about being fired when he was off work sick, even though he appeared on the local news to talk about the shooting of his movie; plus, the whole thing about his mate chopping a finger off for the insurance so they'd have the cash to make it), you've got the people who made the doc being sort of assholes too. Like, they agree to help Jackson out, then just turn up a week late with no explanation at all. The thing about them wrecking his mother's house might be true or might not, I guess.

I remember the woman who just told a bunch of racist jokes too...

It doesn't help that "Demon Lover" is dogshit, as is everything else Donald Jackson ever made (with the possible exception of "I Like To Hurt People").

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2020, 07:04:17 PM »
I used to say Uncle Bill's line all the time; " It's alright, it's okay, there's something to live for, Jesus told me so ".

I too have not watched it for years.

The Mollusk

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #5 on: July 17, 2020, 08:32:35 PM »
I used to say Uncle Bill's line all the time; " It's alright, it's okay, there's something to live for, Jesus told me so ".

I too have not watched it for years.

Yeah me and my friend often say “it’s got a good taste” (when he suddenly perks up after Mark gives him a glass of peppermint schnapps) when we have a drink together, or “it’s for the birds” when something is fucked beyond repair. Uncle Bill is an icon.

Thanks for the reccs so far!

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #6 on: July 17, 2020, 08:37:42 PM »
Hoop Dreams.

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #7 on: July 17, 2020, 09:24:52 PM »
If it's anywhere near as good as Scary Movie, Epic Movie, or Date Movie, you can count me in!!

Small Man Big Horse

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #8 on: July 17, 2020, 10:21:07 PM »
Demon Lover Diary and Giuseppe Makes A Movie both fit your criteria well. They also depict low budget/high ambition filmmaking, with the stresses and setbacks, but also the sense of community and camaraderie it can bring. I love them every bit as much as American Movie.

I watched Giuseppe Makes A Movie after your recommendation and can't thank you enough, it's very funny but also very funny sweet and surprisingly touching in places. Here's the mini-review I did of it:

Giuseppe Makes A Movie (2014) - Former child star (and occasional adult actor) Giuseppe makes movies in and around the trailer park that he lives in, most of the time shooting only for two or three days and using either those who live in the park or homeless people as actors. It's a slice of life affair as he and his producer (and father) Ed put the films together with a big chunk of the documentary seeing them making one of them, with the plot being about a cow who's given an all expenses paid holiday by the slaughter house he will eventually be murdered in. Giuseppe shoots without rehearsals and feeds his actors the lines they're to say so this isn't exactly arthouse cinema at it's finest, but they're undoubtedly unique movies and everyone involved is fully aware that Giuseppe isn't exactly making the next big Hollywood smash, but they have fun shooting the films and the the friendships and sense of camaraderie between those involved is genuinely touching, while the snippets of the films themselves are often hilarious. 8.0/10

chveik

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #9 on: July 17, 2020, 10:26:03 PM »
I watched Giuseppe Makes A Movie after your recommendation and can't thank you enough, it's very funny but also very funny sweet and surprisingly touching in places.

where is it 'available'?

Small Man Big Horse

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #10 on: July 17, 2020, 10:31:34 PM »
where is it 'available'?

I found it on Cinemageddon but I'm not sure if it's anywhere else. Just about to crash now but I'll upload it somewhere tomorrow if you can't find it elsewhere.

Sin Agog

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #11 on: July 17, 2020, 10:35:36 PM »
I've really loved checking in on Ross McElwee's film essays about his own relationships over the years since Sherman's March.  They often start with slightly pretentious themes before d/evolving into funny and earnest examinations of himself and the characters in his life, but I wouldn't really want them any other way.  Again, the director's obsessive need to gather reams of footage wherever he goes does not go unaddressed.

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #12 on: July 18, 2020, 04:59:37 AM »
American Movie is the greatest and I'm glad to see it getting such love here, it's endlessly quotable.

Quote
Last night, man, I was so drunk, I was calling Morocco, man. Calling, trying to get to the Hotel Hilton at Tangiers in Casablanca, man. That's, I mean, that's, that's pathetic, man! Is that what you wanna do with your life? Suck down peppermint schnapps and try to call Morocco at two in the morning? That's senseless! But that's what happens, man.

I could talk for hours about it for hours but instead I'm just going to link to two of my favourite moments.

https://youtu.be/4o3lU2UFKmE?t=16 (I think the talking head in this scene is the funniest of all time, including any mockumentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNFMf9JBzEA


The Mollusk

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #13 on: July 18, 2020, 11:05:50 AM »
It was seeing your review on Letterboxd that reminded me it was due a rewatch!

Small Man Big Horse

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #14 on: July 18, 2020, 02:19:25 PM »
where is it 'available'?

I've uploaded Giuseppe Makes A Movie to mediafire now, so if anyone else wants to see it just pm me.

phes

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #15 on: July 18, 2020, 04:31:16 PM »
My favourite types of movies these. Here's a few that spring to mind and qualify to some degree

Vernon, Florida
American Job (1996)
Motel https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0158807/
Alone in the Wilderness
The Parking Lot Movie
Word Wars
The Outdoorsmen: Blood, Sweat and Beers
Hands on a Hard Body
Chasing Ghosts

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #16 on: July 18, 2020, 09:39:38 PM »
Hands on a Hard Body

Can vouch for this one too. It's excellent.

phes

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2020, 09:58:55 AM »
Few more

Living without Laws: Slab City, USA (I think this is the film I'm recalling. It looks interesting regardless
Darwin (2011)
The Seven UP! series, of course
The Canadian Doc Series 'Weird Homes' which used to be on Netflix or Amazon is fun and is as much miniature slices of life as it is houses https://m.imdb.com/title/tt0292868/

Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #18 on: July 19, 2020, 10:41:13 AM »
Kenny-About an Aussie portalo cleaner.

The Mollusk

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #19 on: July 19, 2020, 02:28:00 PM »
I think this is an appropriate enough place for me to mention the somewhat under-the-radar and very niche mini-documentary "Bashers" which aired on Channel 4's "The Other Side" in 2000.

Basically a bunch of "big boys with big toys" professing their undying love for the class 37 train engines, following them up and down the country as they have done since they were kids, getting rat-arsed and flailing their arms out the window as some sort of ritualistic obsession. To other rail enthusiasts they're seen as yobs, and hey, in some cases I daresay they are, but this film is nonetheless bizarrely endearing and sweet. A proper insight into a very small and intriguing subculture. I mean, there's a bloke called Fat Daz who wears a tracksuit and skulls tins of cheap lager who's besotted with a very specific type of train. How can anyone say that's not great?

The full thing's available to watch here and is definitely worth 25 minutes of your Sunday. Plenty of amusing moments, like Andy Kershaw making an appearance giving railway staff a bollocking at around 8:30.

Small Man Big Horse

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #20 on: July 19, 2020, 10:31:33 PM »
Hands on a Hard Body

Can vouch for this one too. It's excellent.

Thank you for both for this, just watched it and enjoyed it, and here's my mini-review of it:

Hands On A Hardbody - Documentary about a group of people involved in a "Touch The Truck" competition where to win one they have to be the last person standing. Those involved are often fairly unusual people and getting to know them is half the fun, but seeing what happens them to over time is fascinating too, it's a bit of a shame we don't hear from many of the contestants after they flunk out but otherwise it's an enjoyable affair watching this crazy feat of endurance go for a stupid amount of hours. 7.1/10

If anyone else fancies watching it I found it here: https://mailchimp.com/presents/film/hands-on-a-hardbody/

Famous Mortimer

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #21 on: July 20, 2020, 02:37:12 PM »
I think this is an appropriate enough place for me to mention the somewhat under-the-radar and very niche mini-documentary "Bashers" which aired on Channel 4's "The Other Side" in 2000.

Basically a bunch of "big boys with big toys" professing their undying love for the class 37 train engines, following them up and down the country as they have done since they were kids, getting rat-arsed and flailing their arms out the window as some sort of ritualistic obsession. To other rail enthusiasts they're seen as yobs, and hey, in some cases I daresay they are, but this film is nonetheless bizarrely endearing and sweet. A proper insight into a very small and intriguing subculture. I mean, there's a bloke called Fat Daz who wears a tracksuit and skulls tins of cheap lager who's besotted with a very specific type of train. How can anyone say that's not great?

The full thing's available to watch here and is definitely worth 25 minutes of your Sunday. Plenty of amusing moments, like Andy Kershaw making an appearance giving railway staff a bollocking at around 8:30.
This was shared on here a few years ago, and I watched it then too. I'm still no clearer on why anyone would want to take part in this activity, and how it started, but it's a lot of fun nevertheless.

The Mollusk

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #22 on: July 20, 2020, 03:46:33 PM »
It sort of reminds me of “Homer Goes to College” where Homer is completely unaware that his new friends are massive nerds until his family points it out to him. The Bashers are adamant that they’re a million miles from the geeky lifestyle of train spotting but they’re exactly the bloody same, albeit treating every outing like they’re on their way to a Millwall away game.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #23 on: July 20, 2020, 05:41:56 PM »
There were a couple of rather fishy-looking salutes among that lot, too.


Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #24 on: July 22, 2020, 09:06:52 PM »
literally anything by Fred Wiseman. does a film a year and has since the 60s. films 100hrs of footage in whatever the circumstance outlined in the title (Belfast Maine, Juvenile Court, Welfare, In Jackson Heights) and assembles a wide-ranging semi-narrative from it.

buzby

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #25 on: July 23, 2020, 09:24:09 AM »
This was shared on here a few years ago, and I watched it then too. I'm still no clearer on why anyone would want to take part in this activity, and how it started, but it's a lot of fun nevertheless.
There are basically a few subgenres under the collective 'trainspotting' activity:
Gricers - these are the people who try and collect as many loco/multiple unit numbers as possible, the traditional 'trainspotting' activiy.
Track Bashers - these people try to cover as much of the track in the rail network as possible, including going on specialised railtours into marshalling yards, goods lines, private sidings etc.
Haulage Bashers - these are people devoted to specific types of locomotive or multiple unit, like the Class 37 fans in the documentary. They try to log as many trips/track miles behind ther favourite piece of motive power as possible.
Shed Bashers - these people try to visit as many maintenance depots and loco sheds as possible, either through legal means like on railtours or open days, or by sneaking in.

The people who go on railtours are usually made up of Haulage Bashers and Track Bashers, as the organisers usually use preserved or non-passenger locomotives to get the Haulage Bashers in. Having been on a couple accompanying an old work colleague who was a track basher, I can confirm that Haulage Bashers are the equivalent of football hooligans of the trainspotting world. There is a big crossover between CAMRA and trainspotters, which the railtour organisers exploit by putting on cask ales in the buffet car, though from what I saw there was a fair amount of people who brought their own carrier bags full of cans as well. As the trip progresses, the behaviour gets more drunken and boorish.

They also have their own terminology and behaviour, some of which is sort of embarassing to see, such as bellowing 'Hellfire!' 'Epic Thrash!' or 'My Lords!' as an engine revs up to speed or to climb a gradient while failing their arms out of the windows or running to the end of the first coach as an engine stops at the buffers in a siding so they can claim the maximum distance down the track (and then calculating the length of the locomotive to record the actual distance from the buffers).

There were a couple of rather fishy-looking salutes among that lot, too.
That is called 'Flailing', the traditional 'salute' of the haulage basher (see the glossary I linked to above)

phes

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #26 on: July 23, 2020, 10:23:26 AM »
On the subject of enthusiasts, Sheffield's BeerTickers documentary probably fits the slice of life bill. Amazing to think it was only a decade ago as it's a different world

Sebastian Cobb

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #27 on: July 23, 2020, 10:27:06 AM »
How about Rubble Kings and Style Wars?

Famous Mortimer

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #28 on: July 23, 2020, 03:35:00 PM »
That is called 'Flailing', the traditional 'salute' of the haulage basher (see the glossary I linked to above)
There were a couple of single-arm salutes that seemed a little different to the flailing going on, but this might have been nothing.

Your info was interesting, but I'm still no closer to understanding the "why" of it. Not that I'm expecting or needing an answer other than "one idiot did it and a bunch of people thought it looked like fun and joined in", but I found it odd that the documentary about them didn't delve into that a bit. No different to any other hobby, I suppose.

The Mollusk

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Re: "American Movie" and other 'slice of life' documentaries
« Reply #29 on: July 23, 2020, 04:06:36 PM »
There were a couple of single-arm salutes that seemed a little different to the flailing going on, but this might have been nothing.



Questionable indeed.

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