Paul Thomas Anderson on Boogie Nights (1997):
The first time we showed this movie to an audience was in Westwood—sort of a college town, UCLA is there—and it was the first preview of the movie. We’re showing the movie, and everyone is going along and they’re having a good time. . . . And the scene comes up, and [William H.] Macy goes to get the gun, and when he got the gun—and you have to keep in mind that recruited audiences are just sort of maniacs in general, because they’re all pumped up with a false description of the movie—anyway, they’re there, Macy gets the gun, and this crowd of college kids cheers when he gets the gun.
Now, I sank in my seat, you know? I sank in my seat, and I thought, “Well, what have I done? I have really, really fucked up. I’ve done something wrong in the storytelling. I’ve guided this towards being a funny moment somehow, and it’s not what I intended. How did I do this?” And I really started to panic. . . . Now, then he shoots them, and they cheered even louder, and I sank even further in my seat, and I thought, “Well, I have fucked up big time—I have ruined this. How did this happen?” And I can’t possibly fix it. This is one big long shot.
Well, then, Macy walks out, and he shot himself in the face, and they shut the fuck up real quick. And they weren’t laughing. And they weren’t cheering. And it was dead silence, and I thought, “Good. Okay. I’ve done my job okay—it’s them that’s fucked up,” you know? It’s really the moment where you blame the audience. You go, “No, you’re wrong.”
In September, the film Blue Ruin debuted in limited release after a well-received screening at the Cannes Film Festival last May (it has recently arrived at Grand Rapids’ Celebration! Woodland).
The movie follows Dwight (Macon Blair), an unremarkable, doe-eyed drifter who learns the man imprisoned for killing his parents is to be set free. When we first meet our would-be hero, he’s long-bearded, dumpster diving, and living in a car somewhere on the east coast, though he stays clean and reads books. When a police officer with whom Dwight seems to have a history gently tells him of the upcoming un-jailing, a switch flips. He gets his car running (as if he was prepared to do so at any time), throws out his things, and, as he makes his way home to Virginia, tries to get his hands on a gun. The filmmakers call it “beach noir.”
Blue Ruin becomes a fairly standard revenge-thriller, with a little Romeo & Juliet/Hatfields & McCoys family honor-guarding thrown in. It looks great, and is legitimately suspenseful, though in all the pretty lingering it can seem like the movie believes itself to be a little more deep-delving than it is: Dwight wants to kill whoever killed his parents; the killer and his associates would rather kill than be killed. Blair’s slow-burning teakettle (a recurring image in the film) performance, on the other hand, is really something.
What may be more notable is that the movie was funded, in part, by a successful Kickstarter campaign. The director, Jeremy Saulnier, promised “Action! Gore! Laughs!,” and with the help of over 400 backers, raised nearly $38,000 (one of whom, for donating $5,000 or more, was credited as a producer). The campaign’s goal was $35,000.
In his pitch, Saulnier writes: “The violence portrayed in the film is brutal and graphic. It is by no means glorified and its futility resonates as a major theme throughout the story. But it would be disingenuous of me to pretend I wasn’t attached to cinematic bloodshed. It’s an art form unto itself, visually arresting and universally compelling.” When characters die in Blue Ruin they are not only shot, they splatter and spurt—of course, reluctantly.
The MTV.com blurb appended to some of the commentary about the film is “…the perfect example of what crowdfunding can accomplish,” though that calls for qualification. That a movie by relatively unknown filmmakers with an unknown cast outside the studio system was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign is exciting. That the word “gore,” with an exclamation point, is what an ostensibly more democratic process chose—no matter the final product— is nothing to write home about.
David Greendonner (’12) is an MFA candidate at Western Michigan University where he teaches writing and is the managing editor of the literary magazine Third Coast.