Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Aug. 4th
It can be easy to get jaded about the state of indie filmmaking. The past half decade has seen the rise of stripped down mumble-core auteurs, improvising small scale stories that use the latest in digital filmmaking to remove the layer of abstraction that filmmaking creates between audience and story. Yet, the increased intimacy — the reliance on small moments — has meant abandoning the power of melodramatic poetics from American cinema.
On paper, Bellflower could seem to be in the same vein. It’s a love story that runs the full course from hook-up to betrayal and break up, set against the backdrop of the lives of rudderless 20-somethings who spend their seemingly endless free time working on impractical DIY projects. It even has one of those elusive “What does this really mean?” names in the form of Bellflower.
Thankfully, writer-director-star Evan Glodell has bigger ambitions than a quiet break-up film. Bellflower is the return of sturm und drang to the American Indie scene; it’s a personal story told with the fury of Mad Max. Bellflower explodes onto the screen with a bold visual style backed by Glodell’s skill as a real DIYer: not only did he build the major props in the film — modding the muscle car dubbed Mother Medusa, and a real working flamethrower — he also custom built cameras to make this a break-up tale that looks like a grindhouse action flick.
“The hardest to build camera,” Glodell says, “the biggest camera, was only used to shoot one scene and then ended up using it for a montage later on. We thought we could get away with not ruining the look because it was so different. But that was entirely done to just have some subtle differentiation where it seemed more unreal.”
The style evokes the tilt-shift looks that have become popular in online photography and videography in the past few years. Yet this isn’t a case of an upstart filmmaker riding the coattails of trend. Bellflower began production back in 2008.
“It’s kinda sad because when we were doing it no one knew what it was. So I was on the forward edge of it and now I’m on the trailing edge of it. A lot of the stuff that people think is tilt-shift is actually large format photography.”
Glodell, who plays the lead character Woodrow, and his cast spent the summer of 2008 making the film. They took time off from and quit jobs to risk everything on the project. Actor Tyler Dawson, who plays Woodrow’s best friend Aiden, says that the goal wasn’t necessarily to have a breakout Sundance hit.
“In our minds, all we really wanted was to work more. We were like maybe someone will give us money to make some other movies. So all of this is awesome, but it wasn’t really our goal.”
The sense of unreality creates the sense that Bellflower takes place in a world of its own, one just a widdershins twist away from our own. While some audience members have a problem with how the characters seem to have no real world concerns, that would be missing the point.
“It’s not real,” says co-star Jessie Wiseman, who plays Milly, the woman who demolishes Woodrow’s heart. “To create that world [Glodell] cut out anything about the police, money or jobs.” Stripping away the banal facts of the character’s lives removes the barriers to building the gonzo-grindhouse emotional truth of the story. It’s almost counter-intuitive, and a rebuke of the prevailing indie style, but Bellflower is revealed to be a psychological fable thanks to the strength of Glodell’s gear-head imagination.
A self described “garage tinkerer”, Glodell began his fascination with tearing down and building stuff at an early age.
“When I was a kid I learned how to make shocking devices in middle school and I would sell them to make money for like five bucks a piece. They were originally just things with a button you pressed and if you hold the wires it would shock you. And then I finally figured out you could hook it up to a stereo system so that you could get electrocuted to the beat of the music. Which is like the ultimate party toy.”
Glodell originally pursued engineering as a way of bringing the images in his head to life. His time in school for engineering didn’t last long.
“They had this day when they took us on this orientation, it was engineering 101 orientation ‘You’re gonna meet a real engineer in the field’ and the guy was like totally cool but his life didn’t seem like the life I wanted at all. I freaked out and I left that day I was like ‘I’m outta here’ so I was only in school for a week. And when I left that was for some reason the thing that popped back up was ‘You know how I can make those ideas that are stuck in my head? I could get a camera and be a filmmaker.’”
Engineering’s loss is cinema’s gain.
Bellflower goes into limited release this Friday, August 4th.