Why Must Joe Swanberg Make Movies?

10/26/2011 4:00 AM |

Silver Bullets
Directed by Joe Swanberg

Just about every young person who has made an indie movie in the last five years shows up in Joe Swanberg’s Silver Bullets, adding a fascinating extra layer of self-referentiality to this embittered exploration of artistic collaboration. As you’d expect from one of mumblecore’s biggest names, this is a movie about young people suffering through romantic problems. But they’re young people whose relationships double as commentaries on the filmmaking process, by which Swanberg has apparently become disgusted. Director Ti West, best known for The House of the Devil, plays himself, kind of—the director of a werewolf movie starring Kate Lyn Sheil; she also plays the girlfriend (who’s unraveling like a Polanski heroine) to Swanberg, who’s also playing a version of his real self, a movie director who makes Joe Swanberg-like movies: arty, improvised, and filled with nudity and sex. (Silver Bullets itself, though, feels sorta un-Swanberg: loose but deliberate, smartly structured and shot with forethought to composition, less perfunctory than much of his fine but forgettable post-Greta Gerwig output.) As these two filmmakers work on their very different movies in parallel, tensions emerge: between commerce and art—between werewolf movies and “new forms”—but more so between art and reality; the movie’s interested in the ways they influence each other.

Swanberg’s character is depressed: he broods over his footage and watches David Foster Wallace interviewed on Charlie Rose (eep!); he buries his nose in thick books of theory, agreeing that if we can’t have new forms then we shouldn’t have any forms at all. He’s angry, ranting about how he hates watching movies and hates making movies; that the only thing he gets from them anymore is the chance to get close to new, interesting people. Wait—is he just trying to get laid? West also uses his movie to woo Sheil, suggesting a filmmaking culture, both indie and more mainstream, in which male directors ply their trade just to pursue their lead actresses, exploiting a power advantage. (That several male directors appear in the movie—including also Antonio Campos and Larry Fessenden—along with several up-and-coming actresses, like Sheil and Amy Seimetz, complicates this idea. Look, I really want to know—does any of this have to do with Greta Gerwig?) But it’s also these romantic relationships that generate the art, in the same way non-artists make babies. “Was it worth it for the movies we made?” Swanberg wonders at the end. “Or do movies not matter?” He honestly seems not to know. And, like a child produced by a relationship, we can ask: was it about the ends? Or just the means?

Opens October 28 at the reRun Gastropub Theater