Screenwriting schools will teach you to place your audience in your story. It apparently serves to authenticate what we’re watching. For example, juries in court dramas are our surrogates, watchful, anonymous, brooding. The crowd in the stands in sports movies is the same, cheering, holding breath, applauding.
It comes down to pulling us inside the world of the movie. And its probably the reason why most avant-garde film is seemingly unacessible. No space for us.
So when you see a movie that has a movie within, you’re being tricked into engaging yourself. It works very simple; let’s say we have a movie about a movie being made (old trick) with actors engaging into the film-within with a kind of troubled passion, it is by sheer intuition that we do the same, engage ourselves in the movie with this troubled passion. Such wrappers can be wonderful spaces to be in, the dynamic of the shifting of worlds can be magical. Almodovar specializes in this shifting.
So when you have performances in a movie, it comes down to the same thing. A movie (a performance) about performances. This is how Bujalski designed his second film. He is not particularly clever with this but it’s there, and I would say, it works, and thus is worth mentionning.
Our main story is about a musician (a performer) preparing for a crucial performance (which we see as though it was a Pennebaker film) and which helps him land a record deal. In cause of celebration, he attends a party and gets drunk. Under the influence, he attends a second party (this time an all-girl party) and acts a tad silly. It’s a druken act ( of which we have a cinematic tradition though Fields and Chaplin), performed with natural nuances which give it a fabulous cinematic quality. After this performance, he is asked to give another performance, this time in drag, wearing a wig and a dress, and referencing David Bowie.
The other interesting thread involves Bujalski himself who plays a friend of our musician and one of the women who orchestrated the “drag” act. She is a producer and working on a “feminist” play where local women write out monologues to be recited aloud by men. She asks Bujalski to be one of these men. He agrees and we later watch him rehearse. Whoa.
As I’ve said, it’s small, but it’s there, and otherwise try to denote any functional meaning to these threads. Bujalski will tell you it’s all personal experience, but he’s a dream merchant, he is supposed to say such things.
But overall, in terms of cinematic value, what we have is something more akin with Cassavetes and Pialat than say Winterbottom or Cronenberg.
Cassavetes and Pialat discovered in the mid-60’s, a method of acting that was as natural as possible with the same nuances of enunciation and body language as people in everyday life. This acting method allowed for actors to inhabit characters in a way that made their life reach far beyond the world of the movie. So we have a new and strange seducing quality of authenticity in the display of the emotions . It created a space for us to accomodate our internal thoughts on our own dramatic struggles. It had a powerful affect because it intuited to touch the soul.
Bujalski does the same here, successfully. Nobody else making films today is even close, so he takes legitimate risks. But I usually expect much more than emotional value to judge a film as competent in its cinematic execution. However, this here creates a placeholder on which we can weight out the emotional value of other films. So I suggest you watch it; it’s somewhere in between getting to know someone, and filling their shoes as they get to know you. It is a pleasant space to be in.