The Middle Of Somewhere

With American Movie, director Chris Smith finds the heart of cinema in the unlikely environs of Milwaukee

"That was one of the things that really intrigued us over the course of making American Movie: Where does Mark's passion come from? I mean, this isn't somebody who's jumping on the bandwagon of independent film. Whether this whole indie film resurgence had happened or not, Mark would have still been there in Menomonee Falls making his films."

And so he might remain, but by choice. One of American Movie's many indelible scenes has Borchardt and his then-girlfriend staring cynically at the 1997 Oscars telecast, as the tuxedoed Billy Crystal rambles through his fatuous monologue about "the year of the independent film," with "great films, unusual films, risky plots, great direction, great..." On those words, Smith cuts to a particularly unglamorous shot of Borchardt's mom and three loyal crew members dragging a ponytailed young man through the muddy woods of outlying Milwaukee, while the director trails close behind with his microphone. Could such lavishly produced, Academy-endorsed "independent films" as Shine and The English Patient have involved anything like the tireless passion of the "Coven" crew?

The title of Smith's film suggests it as an emblematic American movie, and indeed it is. No less than any of Frank Capra's John Does, Mark Borchardt is an American Everyman who, through infinite hard work and dedication to his principles, emerges as a hero--in his own mind, certainly, and Chris Smith's, and perhaps in yours.


American Movie is playing at Lagoon Cinema.

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