Bellflower finds success through collaboration, not flamethrowers

by Beacon Staff • September 28, 2011

Staff and Ben Schwartz, Film ColumnistBellflower, which is wrapping its theatrical run in Boston today, is an independent film that has been cobbled together over the past several years by a small group of friends, including Emerson grad Jet Kauffman.The film, picked up for distribution at Sundance by Oscilloscope Laboratories, follows the lives of two bro-ish friends living in Southern California and their romance with two female characters, sliding from “good times” into a sickening breakup. It starts off as “indie” in every sense of the word.However, the film is actually a whatever, just-getting-by, life happens, kitschy, brain-damaged, booze-bellied fantasy where men are faux-sensitive kings, women are capricious frills and life is all about the thrills.The angry post-college adultolescents frequent dives in a wasteland of blazing yellow, coping with their tattoo-tortured scars of disconnected anguish by focusing on sex, muscle cars, and delusions of invincibility. They are late 20 year-olds who, having presumably graduated from school a while ago, aimlessly search for meaning in a life devoid of any formal structure or safety nets.What does this end up as? It becomes a visual manifestation of the inner feelings of a boy going through a failed romance and the characters’ haphazard existence. Besides continually relying on music to bring out feelings (specifically sadness) the real emotions are translated into violence. The intentional dust and specs of dirt on the lens add to this damaged feeling.Opening with a trailer-like montage, the viewers are immediately plopped into a mosaic of impulses and perception, which presupposes its style of editing. Jump cuts and fractured chronology suggest a tangle of possible outcomes, mimicking pop-culture’s production of schlocky entertainments.This saturation of the “choose-your-own-destiny” paradigm has taught gifted, but impressionable, kids to dream of global disaster and comic-book mayhem, leaving them isolated in their individuality.Maybe the creators are self-aware of all that is happening in their film, but they still obsess over the same gear-headed pyrotechnics their characters do, making the film with much of the energetic recklessness its heroes exhibit.These ideas are imbued into the audience, no matter how aware they are of the message. “Wow, I want a flame-throwing speedwagon!” we may find ourselves thinking. According to The New York Times, Beastie Boy and Oscilloscope Laboratories founder, Adam Yauch, was so infatuated with the flamethrowers that the contract requests one for him and a child-size version for his daughter.The mixed messages and search for answers — by the characters and the film itself — give it a jumbled feeling of confusion. It’s a feeling a lot of us students are grappling with.Which brings us back around to education and what comes after. Most students go to college and end up specializing in one thing, all in a very contained small world; learning what to learn instead of how to learn. In my experience, Emerson is no different.We (for the most part) are not being taught mind-expanding ideas, but instead told to focus on learning how to be a workhorse in a specialized industry. We learn specific vocational functions in our concentrations, effectively isolating ourselves from others in our field.quot;Adultolescentsquot; live aimlessly and dangerously in Bellflower. The film embodies collaborative art. Photo courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories]a href=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ben-s.jpgimg class=size-medium wp-image-3813522 title=ben-s src=http://berkeleybeacon.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ben-s-292x300.jpg alt= width=292 height=300 //a[/caption]

Some make it, many don’t.

Where do we go if we don’t make it? Possibly to an aimless and unsatisfying little town in southern California on Bellflower Ave. But don’t fall into that pit of self-loathing just yet — there is hope! emBellflower/em was only created because Evan Glodell (director, writer, and lead actor) and a group of friends were dedicated to making their idea come to life. They had a budget of only $17,000 and worked together to create their art, according to an Oscilloscope press release.

“We’re just a group of friends who made a movie,” said Kauffman in an interview with California newspaper Ventura County Star. “Many involved got cameo roles. People loaned their residences for scenes. Moms stopped by with food.”

A creative environment was established between a collective of friends; the growing connection they felt for one another coincided with a more fully realized final project.

The camera was pieced together with a combo of modern and vintage parts: a bellows system, Russian lenses, and a digital cinema camera. Self-described as a “handmade film,” Glodell said in an interview with the Boston Examiner, it “had a lot of work and love poured into it by many people for years. I plan on working with a lot of the same guys over and over again. I hope the majority of us can stick together.”

Other independent collaboratively-made films, like Shane Carruth’s lo-fi time travel movie emPrimer/em (2004), also turn out as critical successes on the festival circuit. emBellflower’s/em message is misguided, but filmmakers should still strive to emulate the process: Community with ambition.

emSchwartz is a senior visual and media arts major. He can be reached at benjamin_schwartz@emerson.edu/em