Parker Posey: “Queen of the Indies”

Parker Posey is an actress who, perhaps like no one else, embodies the spirit of contemporary independent films. This, of course, may be debated, depending on your definition of independent films, what kind of films you like and how you feel about Parker Posey and the movie’s she has been in.

Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another female star who has been in so many cutting edge and orginal films. For males, I can think of Steve Buscemi, who is another actor whose mere presence in a film practically defines it as “indie.” This brief look at some of my favorite Parker Posey films is by no means comprehensive. Do a search for her name, and you’ll find a surprising number of movies, some not very well known. For someone in her thirties, she already has quite a resume.

Dazed and Confused
is one of the more original and indie type teen comedies. Parker Posey does not have a very large role in it, but it’s one of her earlier appearances (her first? I’m not good at movie trivia and am lazy about looking stuff up, sorry). This was directed by one of my favorite indie directors, Richard Linkletter, who I will soon put up a page about. It’s an episodic, comedy-drama about high school students as they party, hang out, attempt to hook up with the opposite sex, get into trouble and so forth. It has some of the same themes as many standard Hollywood teen movies, but it’s way better than that mostly mindless genre.

I have not seen Waiting For Gufmann or the follow-up, Best In Show, both “mockumentaries,” but I am mentioning them in passing because Posey is in them and they have a cult following.

Party Girl is a fun, light movie that does not pretend to be anything beyond what it’s title suggests. I enjoyed it, but this is one that is mainly for her fans.

House of Yes is a weirdly original, very dark comedy that really showcases Posey’s edgy personality. Here she plays a complete nut case, a woman who spends her life playing at being Jacqueline Kennedy. She brings a hapless boyfriend home to her house, which she shares with her equally deranged brother. This is bizarre, funny and completely original.

Clockwatchers may be my favorite movie Posey has ever been in, though its a little obscure. It’s another comedy-drama, this one about the grim lives of temp workers. Clockwatchers, however, has an unexpected depth that you would not guess at by looking at the posters for it or hearing a brief summary of the plot. It is really a modern piece of existentialism, that looks at the basic alienation of the modern workplace and how it makes people feel worthless and anonymous. It accomplishes all this with a superficially slight plot, and really hones in on the meaning (or lack thereof) of everyday life. Another of my favorite indie directors, Jill Sprecher.

Personal Velocity is another very original indie effort, this one telling separate stories about women in a state of transition. Posey only stars in one of them, but all are well done and thought-provoking, especially compared with standard movie fare.

I will mention You’ve Got Mail even though it’s my *least* favorite Parker Posey film. This is almost an anti-indie film, with values that celebrate 1980s yuppie culture. Then, how indie can a movie starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan be? Even a typically edgy Parker Posey cannot save this from being a basically insipid Hollywood romantic comedy. The title, of course, comes from the annoying (and ungrammatical!) message that is endlessly repeated on America Online to remind subscribers that they have e-mail.

Oh In Ohio is more of a vintage Posey film, one that takes a theme familiar to Hollywood romantic comedies, but treats them in a far more adult and less cliched manner. Posey here is a wife whose frigidity is threatening her marriage to a rather insecure man, a high school biology teacher. Both end up on a quest for fulfillment, sexual and otherwise, that is funny, moving and unapologetically amoral. This is the type of indie film I like for the reason that, at the risk of repeating myself, it doesn’t go off the deep end trying to be arty and original for its own sake, but takes familiar material and puts a new spin on it. I can imagine this very premise being made in a more mainstream way, with a cliched ending that Oh in Ohio has the integrity to avoid.

These are some notable films Parker Posey has been in, with at least a few omissions I’m sure. I look forward to adding to this list as I dig up some more older ones and, hopefully, some new ones as well in the near future.

What the Bleep/Down the Rabbit Hole

What the Bleep Do We Know was a surprise cult favorite in 2004. Last year, an expanded edition, called Down the Rabbit Hole was released, containing new footage and a special feature that allows viewers to play the film in different sequences.

What the Bleep
is a fascinating quasi-documentary about recent discoveries in quantum physics and some of the philosophical and metaphysical implications of this new science. This makes the movie controversial, and it has attracted almost as much hostility as praise. To hardcore rationalists, What the Bleep is full of pseudo-science and unproven mystical theories. They especially dislike the presence of J.Z. Knight in the film, who is a channel for Ramtha, allegedly a spirit from ancient Atlantis.

Yes, from a traditional scientific or rationalist point of view, What the Bleep is easy to criticize or make fun of. Yet it could also be argued that this “traditional scientific” point of view is quite obsolete, relying as it does mainly on Newtonian physics. I am not even remotely qualified to discuss the validity of the physics experiments or commentary in What the Bleep. However, I can say that the film is a truly interesting and thought provoking exploration of a certain point of view, one that bridges science and mysticism. What the Bleep is really exploring the metaphysical ideas such as “you create your own reality” and attempting to show how modern physics supports this.

I call it a “quasi” documentary not because of the controversial nature of the science (after all, most documentaries contain debatable opinions or points of view), but because there is also a dramatic element to the film interspersed with the interviews. Marlee Matlin stars as a rather unhappy person who is searching for a more meaningful existence. Her travels through an unamed city (Toronto?) lead her to encounter people and ideas that gradually change her perspective. This adds a dramatic and human quality to the purely theoretical content, though some viewers have complained that it’s distracting to go back and forth between drama and documentary styles. I did not have a problem with it.

I would recommend What the Bleep, or Down the Rabbit Hole to anyone interested in scientific or metaphysical topics, no matter what your point of view. It may change your mind about some things, or it may convince you further of your present point of view. Either way, it can be a worthwhile piece of modern (or postmodern) thought to consider.

Office Noir: alienation and black comedy in the modern workplace

Do you work in an office? If you do, or if you have ever worked in one for any length of time, the environment probably reminds you of the Dilbert comic strip. Absurd rules, meaningless corporate mission statements, dimwitted, self-important managers, and so forth.

Several movies have used the sillier and more depressing aspects of modern work life as a theme. I am dubbing this genre of film Office Noir. I’m sure there are more examples than I am listing here. As I think of them or discover them, I’ll add to the list.

Office Space , directed by Mike Judge, is the best known, and has achieved something of cult status. Starring Ron Livingston and Jennifer Anniston, it is a black comedy that, sadly, rings true in its portrayal of office life. I found the best part of it the early scenes that illustrate the overall mindlessness of corporate culture . Several cubicle serfs rebel by concocting a farfetched plot to steal money from the company. Office Space is an often hilarious, sometimes depressing look at a way of life too many people are stuck in.

My favorite of the “office noir” genre, however, is a lesser known film called Clockwatchers . Directed by Jill Sprecher, who also did the brilliant 13 Conversations About One Thing, this movie is more subtle and slow moving than most, which probably accounts for its obscurity. The cast includes Toni Collette, Lisa Kudrow and Indie film favorite Parker Posey. Clockwatchers is about the grim lives of temp workers in a company setting that seems intent on reducing their lives and personalities to that of non-entities. By focusing on small things that make life miserable, and an increasing sense of anomie and paranoia, Clockwatchers captures a kind of existentialist mood that, sadly, is appropriate in many ways in regard to the modern work place.

A more recent addition to the genre is He Was a Quiet Man, directed by Frank Capello and starring Christian Slater (who is almost unrecognizable as a balding, middle-aged nerdy type). This film is the most uneven and ambiguous of the three. It hovers between drama and very dark comedy. Slater plays Bob, the stereotypical repressed, inwardly seething “quiet man” who fantasizes about killing his coworkers. In a bit of movie contrivance that stretches credibility to the limits, on the day he plans to carry out his mission, another killer emerges and Bob ends up shooting him.

Bob ends up being not only a hero, but winning the love of a young woman whom he saved. This film is less about the day-to-day absurdity of office life (though it uses this effectively as a backdrop) and more about the psychological complexity and inner struggles of potentially violent people like Bob.

Richard Linklater

Richard Linklater has directed at least as many innovative, cutting edge films that are also highly entertaining as any other director out there. The only other director I can think of who may be his equal in this regard is Jim Jarmusch (who has an equally original but very different style).

Slacker was his first film, an underground tour of Austin, Texas and its quirky inhabitants. I’m not sure if this is a pure documentary or mockumentary, but it is funny and enjoyable all the same. Look for conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has appeared in later Linklater efforts as well.

Dazed and Confused is a teen comedy without the mindless quality of most Hollywood versions of this genre. It takes place in the 70s on the last day of high school. It’s an episodic tale of the various kinds of kids who populate any school and their goals, desires, fears and, as the title suggests, confusion.

Before Sunrise is one of the best dialogue-centered movies ever made (among the others I’d include the sequel, Before Sunset, My Dinner With Andre and Coffee and Cigarettes). It’s very difficult to pull of a film with little conventional action, almost all talk, that is not only interesting to watch but doesn’t feel like a play. The fact that it takes place in scenic European cities, and on board trains, doesn’t hurt, nor do the performances by Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. The conversations seem real and spontaneous rather than scripted, yet they are intelligent and interesting as well.

Before Sunset
is one of those rare sequels that is just as good as the original, no small feat in this case. Delpy and Hawke continue where they left off, rekindling their tentative steps towards romance.

Waking Life
is another of my favorite Linklater films. This is an animated exploration of dreams, and it raises some timeless philosophical questions, such as how can we ever be sure what is “real” and what is a dream? Waking Life features the voices of many Linkater favorites such as Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy and radical libertarian activist Alex Jones. A fascinating film, worth seeing several times.

Fast Food Nation
is based on the book by the same name, though this is a fictionalized version while the book is nonfiction. While this film has a definite and somewhat heavyhanded political message, Linklater’s good sense of dialogue and character save it from being tedious. Still, I would not call this his best film.

A Scanner Darkly is based on Philip K. Dick’s paranoid dystopian world of the near future where the Drug War is the dominant fact of life. This is a strange film, full of ambiguity and not always easy to follow. We are never sure exactly what is going on, but then neither are the characters themselves. Perhaps being familiar with Dick’s work (which I’m not, unfortunately) would make it clearer, but the movie is still interesting and illustrates some of the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in the war on drugs.

Jim Jarmusch: Indie Film Pioneer

Jim Jarmusch is a director who has helped to define the modern independent film. His films are always interesting, often brilliant and possess a unique combination of minimalism, deadpan humor and keen observation about the human condition.

What follows are brief descriptions of some of Jarmusch’s better-known films. While I have seen all of these, some I’ve only seen once and quite a while ago, which will explain the extreme brevity of some of them. More information is available on the links.

Stranger Than Paradise is often cited as a breakthrough film, even the first indie film. However you define it, Stranger Than Paradise is a brilliant and hilarious look at the aimless lives of two drifters. This movie is practically a crash course in existentialism. Well, at least as I see it; I’m sure some scholars of Sartre or Heidegger would disagree, but it’s still a movie worth seeing, or seeing again.

Down By Law is almost a sequel to Stranger Than Paradise, coming a couple of years later and having a similar style. This one is about three convicts who escape from prison, but like its predecessor, it’s really about the absurdity of life and relationships. I enjoyed this one, but not quite as much as Stranger, because it seemed to be coasting a little on that film’s style and energy.

Mystery Train is a film where Jarmusch takes off in a new direction, using some of the techniques that became popular quite a bit later with directors like Quentin Tarantino, such as combining storylines of different characters and jumping around in time. Mystery Train looks at several people in a Memphis hotel, many of them obsessed with Elvis.

Night On Earth
again contains several sets of characters, this time in different cities around the world. The common denominator is that all of the action takes place during taxi rides. Some great scenes of nighttime city life.

Ghost Dog is one of my favorite Jarmusch films. Here he once again breaks new ground and explores the intersecting (at least in this film) underworlds of the mafia and samurai warriors. Forest Whitaker is great as a modern-day samurai who wanders city streets enforcing an ancient code of honor. This is another film with unique idiosyncrasies that add to the enjoyment, such as the Whitaker character’s fondness and skill with carrier pigeons. One of the themes of Ghost Dog is the question of whether it is possible to hold on to a meaningful set of values in the wasteland of modern culture.

Dead Man
stars Johnny Depp in Jarmusch’s foray into the Western genre.

Broken Flowers stars Bill Murray, who might seem an unusual actor to appear in a Jim Jarmusch film, but he is a versatile actor who does well in everything from mainstream comedies to offbeat indies like this. Here he is on a road trip where he meets various women he’s been involved with over the years.

Coffee and Cigarettes
is yet another very different kind of film. It is almost entirely dialogue centered, and yet it remains fascinating and, to its credit, never feels like you are watching a stage play. There are a series of encounters between people, who literally do smoke and drink coffee, all in black and white.

There is a wide diversity of talent here, including Jarmusch favorites Tom Waits and Roberto Benigni, as well as Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, comedian Steven Wright, and Alfred Molina. What I love about this film is similar to what I admired so much in his earlier Stranger Than Paradise -the ability to convey so much with so little. The conversations in Coffee and Cigarettes all hinge on mostly subtle points, differences of opinion, concealed resentments and the like.

Whereas the average mainstream movie hits the viewer over the head with huge concepts and then usually disappoints when it comes to delivering anything meaningful, Jarmusch takes acorn-sized ideas and allows the viewer to watch them grow.

Of course, not everyone has the patience for this. People weaned on special effects, comic book characters, car chases and explosions will find a film like Coffee and Cigarettes boring and difficult to sit through. For Jarmusch fans, however, this is one of his trademark efforts.

Welcome to Indie Movie Hub!

This site will cover all aspects of independent film, from the perspective of fans as well as filmmakers. We will discuss and review movies, talk about film festivals, and resources for making and financing films.

The term “indie film” will always be a little fuzzy. For the last decade or two, the line between commercial and independent movies has gotten ever thinner. Those of you old enough  to remember the 70s or earlier –or anyone who has seen lots of older films– may recall that “art” movies were once a more distinct breed of film. These usually played at special theaters and included foreign and experimental films. Of course today, many of the films that were fairly commercial in earlier decades now have an indie flavor, if for no other reason that time has rendered them exotic.

Today we might ask if movies by people like Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorcese, Spike Lee or Woody Allen really qualify as independent. I would not spend too much time worrying about such questions of definition. I think most of us can agree which films are definitely not indie –blockbuster action and horror films, mainstream romantic comedies, and the vast majority of sequels and remakes of whatever genre.

So this site will cover indie films, using a loose and broad definition of the term. The real point is to enjoy and learn from the art of movies, whichever side of the camera you happen to be on!

Reviews, news and information related to independent films.