Poelvoorde, Belvaux, Bonzel Man Bites Dog BeforeWeDieFilms.com

#885 Man Bites Dog (C’est arrivé près de chez vous / It Happened in Your Neighborhood) (1992)

With a $33,000 budget (or as the creators in the Criterion interviews indicate, zero budget that they supplemented by asking friends and family for money in between shoots every three weeks), Man Bites Dog is an edgy genre-busting film from three Belgian filmmakers shot while they were still in college studying the craft. The first film on our list officially rated NC-17 and banned in several nations, this movie is violent, misogynistic, racist, degrading, gruesome, explicit,…..and absolutely hilarious. This black comedy balances two worlds – the world of funny upbeat satire in the style of Spinal Tap and completely shocking “bleak criticism of our desire to watch everyday live tilt out of balance” (Mathijs). The self-awareness of the piece blurs the line between fiction and reality so well that their metafictive narrative’s characters carry their names, they refer to borrowing the money to make the film in character, and at one point their murders reach to the bizarre level of our protagonists murdering a new documentary team documenting their documentary team documenting their murders while other murderers are fighting over victims with them during a shootout in a dim and dilapidated building. The result is something unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Not for the weak-stomached or anyone who can’t recognize postmodern humor and satire when they see it.

We watched Man Bites Dog on Criterion DVD #165.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_Bites_Dog_(film)

Garrett

I absolutely loved this film from beginning to end. I didn’t know what to expect going into it, and only read internet material and the liner notes from the box prior to Mathjis’ essay in Schneider. Was it a horror film? A mockumentary? A comedy? A political and artistic statement about film? About our consumer culture as a whole? What was this film?

Honestly, it is all of the above, and more.

I loved this film. I laughed (almost) the entire way through. With a lively energy, the three creators of this film have made something unlike anything else in cinema – a self-reflective mockumentary that dances between horror and black comedy like nothing else. Where many films attempt this in a manner that is approachable by audiences in a way that is bankable, the three independent filmmakers responsible for this movie have taken a literal budget of no money and outlined and cobbled together a script and a film that not only tells an interesting and engaging story with characters and performances that are believable and fun (not to mention breaking the fourth wall and production standards the entire time in their use of the crew, their own names, and a variety of other tricks throughout), but makes a heavy and effective statement on cinema  and audience itself. The people watching the very film we are watching as we watch it are just as important to their story and thesis as their product. This culminates in amazingly well-executed hilarious, but black moments such as the birthday dinner party, and hilarious setups that turn into terrifying and disgusting black moments, such as the rape and murder sequence. No taboo is off limits in this film, from rape to infanticide, and perhaps what is most intriguing about this film is how it was made in such expert hands when the filmmakers were so poor and so new to the craft.

This film can certainly get into the ring with the works of Christopher Guest and Quentin Tarentino and hold its own – even more so considering its execution of cinéma vérité , satire, humor, violence, horror, and politics are not only effective approaches to the early years of a genre but that it almost does it better than most of the films I have seen of its kind.

Final note… I did a little research afterward and totally remember downloading a video of Bill Gates being hit in the face with a cream pie when I was a freshman in college. I remember reading that it was the work of a subversive filmmaker, and thinking it was a hilarious statement against capitalism and absolute power. Since then, Gates has retired and dedicated his life to giving his money away to great causes… Within ten years of this event, that man, Rémy Nicolas Lucien Belvaux, committed suicide at the age of thirty-nine. It is just now that I am seeing something he has created for the first time, and find myself mourning in retrospect for a young artist who sincerely had a sense of humor in wanting to bring light to changing the world for good. Today, nearing thirty-nine, I appreciate what he was able to accomplish in this lifetime and wish I could have experienced more of his work – no matter how hilariously disgusting and shocking it was. Sometimes this is precisely the kind of subversive message our world needs; Belvaux’s work is precisely the kind of art that excites me.

Jennifer

Well. This takes a page out of the “Weekend” playbook.  At first, it seems almost like a comedy about a sadistic killer and the hapless film crew making a documentary on his actions. As the film progresses, the crew gets more and more involved in the “dirty work.” To me, this movie seems like a commentary on media, violence, and the viewer. What level of horrifying violence is too much? Where is the line between entertainment and horror? To me, this film’s  commentary on violence in mass media and our apathy towards it is about as strong as you can get.

I won’t say I enjoyed watching this movie and I will not watch it again. I can, however, appreciate the contribution that this film has made.

#868 My Own Private Idaho (1991)

In My Own Private Idaho, a young Gus Van Sant explores existence and geographic identity through the lens of a beautifully reinterpreted Henry cycle. Following the intrepid voyage of Reeves and Phoenix as they search for meaning and identity around the globe while questioning their relationships, sexuality, profession, childhood, and examining where parental figures play into these questions. In this piece, Van Sant takes Shakespeare’s piece and unapologetically turns it into a strange, somewhat elusive and pointless search for “a myth of maternal love that the audience sees as the scratchy home-video footage of Mike’s mind… and (he) succeeds in…conveying the subjective experience of troubled, disaffected youth” (Shneider). A film we both truly enjoyed from beginning to end.

We watched My Own Private Idaho on Criterion (#277), and were quite happy that Criterion brought the film back after having been out of print for many years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Own_Private_Idaho

Jennifer

I think it is absolutely mind blowing that this movie was in theaters in 1991… literally incredible.  This movie covers a range of controversial topics (some of which are sadly still controversial today) including teen prostitution, mental illness, epilepsy, homelessness, and sexual orientation.

When I first a summary of the plot I was not feeling particularly excited to watch a movie about a homeless teen prostitute.  However, this movie is absolutely brilliant. The writing is memorable and employs many, many different and innovative techniques to move the narrative.  There are endless ways to appreciate the different nuances of the writing and the craft of story telling in this movie.

I also appreciated that this movie presents its characters to the viewer with no judgment.  They are flawed and make horrible choices and have no happily resolved endings, but the movie somehow leaves you feeling slightly optimistic.

Also, River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves…

 

Garrett

I am an absolute junkie for Shakespeare, and about a quarter of the way through this film it became clear that there were too many references to ignore (and every time I saw one, I would shout it out – ‘Falstaff Beer!’ being the first). After a quick Google, it was clear (and obvious by the time the banter shifted to high iambic pentameter in the abandoned hotel) that we were in Henry IV, and I immediately fell in love with what Van Sant was doing. I was impressed by a great deal of what he was doing in the film, and I found it difficult to reconcile this with the work he did with Good Will Hunting and Finding Forrester. My Own Private Idaho is an edgy film that is clearly way before its time. Even if it were to come out today, I think the reception would be somewhat lackluster.

I was perhaps most impressed with three major things in the film. One was the camera and editing work. His decisions to bounce between these really intimate oral history scenes, sprawling and perfectly-framed beautiful landscapes, and then strange dreamlike slow motion nature imagery and hard home-videos… It seems ridiculous but it worked so well. This is one thing that I remember being a major part of his work in later pictures – the most notable was the fourth-wall breaks in Finding Forrester. Second, I was impressed at the writing. There were some scenes that really jumped out at me at their genuineness – namely the oral history of the hustling in the Chinese restaurant, the fire scene where Phoenix confesses his love for his best friend, the scene where Phoenix’s origins are being revealed in the trailer, and the scene in the hotel where Kier sings his weird German pop tape. In the trailer scene and campfire scene I literally gasped a “wow” at the end, and as a writer I think the most amazing thing between the writing and the performances is that on paper the dialogue would be garbage and make no sense… But these characters and performances create these truly beautiful moments that capture the human condition throughout the film, and I was in awe the entire time. Third, the performances.On paper, this piece is probably ridiculous – bouncing between the oral to the Shakespearean to the dreamlike atmospheres and mid-action sex scenes, but what is perhaps most impressive is how Reeves, Phoenix, Richert, and the rest of the ensemble manage to make this dreamworld concrete and believable while we journey on the road with them to exploring self-identity, love, and existence on the same roads they travel.

A truly beautiful, genius, and well-executed postmodern fantasy masterpiece that is incredibly real without pandering or begging to be taken seriously. It just is, and works incredibly well for what it is – impressive and awe-evoking.

 

 

 

 

 

#897 Groundhog Day (1993)

Groundhog Day was kismet. We decided to watch it because it is coming up. We watched it right when we decided we would be doing this thing – randomly flipping through the book as the film was on the television, boom, the film is on the list! It was wonderful revisiting this flick, and we had some great conversations as we watched.

This is a classic film that the Schneider book argues the “best comedy of the 90s,” as a result of its “terrific conceit (one that is never explained, which makes it even better).” It is a clever movie that both of us admit to not having seen since the 90s, and it is a fun, reflective 90s movie that seemed to be the origin of the cliche-formula that followed so many times for the next thirty years.

Jennifer

Personally, I love Groundhog Day!  This year marks the 130th year Groundhog Day has been celebrated in the United States.  Phil the Woodchuck has an accuracy rate of 16%, but the tradition of watching animals coming out of hibernation dates back to our European ancestors; they would watch for animals waking up to know when to plant the spring crops.  Anyways, I had a vague memory of seeing this movie a million times growing up.  Watching it again for the first time in a long, long, time, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  Bill Murray’s performance was excellent, and the pacing and writing of the movie were engaging.  Absolutely worth the time to watch and enjoy again.

Garrett

I loved this movie when it came out… and then I watched it over and over and over, and then it was on television over and over and over. It was a seemingly endless run that one could pick up at any point and enjoy, until it got too old because you knew exactly came next… Of course… You’d still watch it. Even though it was broadcast and you had the VHS in the closet ten feet from where you were sitting with no commercials.

Then a bunch of other screenwriters and Robert McKee students started doing the same thing, and then the device of the perfectly timed, repeated comedic structure was born. Now we can hardly watch a film without it, and those that don’t follow the formula seem to stand out.

This time watching it, however, I got a lot out of it. It had been at least ten years since I saw it last. It was a lot of fun to watch as an adult without the washed-out rehashing again and again of seeing it for the hundredth time. I have to say, still a pleasing and brilliant little film. It was truly like reliving a little slice of my adolescent awe at the film after not seeing it for many years. Murray was literally perfect (and it was interesting to learn that he hated it and fought with Ramis the whole time, only patching their broken relationship just before his death), and his ability to play the same role again, and again, with such ferocity, fresh humor, and excellent timing is a testament to his talent. Toblowski and Eliott were similarly difficult to match in this film.