American Movie Reviews

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Super Reviewer
October 14, 2014
A midwestern independent filmmaker marshals his friends to produce his horror film, Coven, a title that he decidedly pronounces "Coe-ven".
What word means the opposite of "inspiring?" I suppose it's "discouraging," but that doesn't quite capture how this film makes me feel. Oftentimes, I get a paroxysm of courage that tells me to "just make the damn movie; use your iPhone if that's all you have." But this film casts a shadow of doubt over such moments because I fear that I could look as foolish and incompetent as Mark Borchardt, whose limited cinematic vision, failure to understand basic story-telling concepts, and utter lack of self-reflection are only eclipsed by his self-assuredness and courage. He's no doubt an idiot, but he's an idiot who fashions himself an artist, and there are lower ambitions that a man might set himself to.
American Movie is Borchardt's story, and your patience with his brash, over-taxing ambition will determine your patience with the film. For my part, I found him pitiable and my viewing of the film uncomfortable.
Overall, this documentary serves as an unwelcome mirror for those who fashion themselves artists; I only wish it were required viewing for all Hollywood execs as well.
Super Reviewer
½ November 1, 2010
The story of an amateur film director in the suburbs of Milwaukee who can never seem to catch a break, this documentary follows three years in the life of Mark Borchadt as he tries to make his magnum opus "Northwestern" and has to settle for a long forgotten short film, "Coven." Borchadt is the definition of a real life character, flitting between disengaged sad sack and auteur, all the while hanging with his mousy friend Mike and his uncle and financier, Bill. The clods show the extent of their film directing, editing, and other veritable skills, not only indicating the difficulties with the constraints of budget, the tumbling down of personal finances, but costuming, cast, and staying true to your original vision. For all of the tottering examples of Borchadt's clumsy directing and the way he speaks with such naiveté about his own ambitions, he has some deep seeded talent. He is very intelligent, shown throughout the film in interviews with his family, the way Chris Smith shows his history, and in the passionate verse that Borchadt spills forth between the early nineties' slang and expletives. Listening to Borchadt it's obvious he is steeped in nineties' culture, loves the art of moviemaking akin to Fellini, and yet speaks as slow and churlishly as a grumpy Winston Churchill. His Uncle Bill is twice as bad and three times as negative about Borchadt's movie making prowess. It's saddening to see the obstacles that Borchadt has to overcome, how in debt he is, how close he is to his children and yet fights tirelessly with his ex-girlfriend, how opinionated he is and yet no one seems to agree with him. Even his good friend Mike, who is a recovering drug addict and flaming guitarist doesn't always see the truth behind his friend's vision. The film is slightly whimsical while remaining close to its subject. Chris Smith does an exceptional job of continuing the story until Borchadt finally finishes his film, watches the irretrievable moments with care, and finds conflict and resolution easily enough. Just an amazing film about a captivating individual.
Super Reviewer
August 12, 2011
I think Ebert said it best when he stated that all people who want to make movies need to see this before hand. It's a pretty good piece of advice, and even for those of us who have messed around with a camera before seeing this movie can still relate in some capacity to what it's like trying to make a movie when your ambitions and ideas are far outweighed by the realities of trying to eek out a meager existence and deal with all that reality is throwing at you.

That is the set up for this little tragicomedic documentary American Movie. Mark Borchardt is a blue collar guy with an intense passion for films with a strong desire to make it big as a filmmaker. He's in his late 20s, lives in a small town in Wisconsin, works a series of dead end jobs, comes from a poor background, he dropped out of high school and spends most of his time farting around drinking and what not, but, even then, without the necessary means (primarily money, but also a strong cast and crew) he is determined to keep all of that, plus mounting bills and other personal issues from preventing him from making his great American film.

The doc starts with him trying to make his magnum opus feature Northwestern- a project that had been in the works for quite some time. When it ultimately falls through, he decides instead to go back and finish a short of his he never completed called Coven. The rest of the tilm follows him and the other colorful characters he enlists to help him do just that.

The result is a very honest portrait of the American dream being worked out in the face of great adversity and much delusion. Mark is a guy that is both sympathetic and unlikeable all at once. You eant to root for the guy because he's just so darn driving, but he's also rather pathetic since he just can't seem to get htings to realistically pan out the way they do in his mind. In a way, this is such an odd film that it is hard to believe that it is a legit documentary instead of a Spinal Tap-ish mockumentary.

There's lots of wacky and wild people here besides Mark, with probably the most funny/sad being his blissfully burnt out best friend Mike and Mark's aging and decrepit Uncle Bill who is reluctant to give his nephew any of his money since he's struggling to produce any real results. It's that last bit especially that I can relate to personally that really stung for me, and made some already difficult to watch stuff more so.

In fact, I'm really amazed and inspired by Mark for havign the guts to allow Chris Smith to film and show some of the stuff that he does. I said this was an honest film, and I wasn't kidding. This is a really unflinching and genuine look at a guy who, I feel bad saying it, but is a loser who hasn't amounted to much, and may never will.

Since the release of this film, Mark has gone on to get a bit more aclaim and attention, not as a director, but as an actor. Northwestern is STILL unfinished, but even though I don't always have positive feelings about him, I do wish Mark luck, and have some respect for him, because god knows I'm a lot like him in some ways, so I don't have too much of a right to rip on him.

All in all, this film, and its subject are very much on the level of Ed Wood, though, I do think Borchardt is a tad more competant. Do yourself a favor and watch this film. It's alternately heartbreaking and hilarious, and some very touching and inspiring stuff.
Super Reviewer
December 5, 2011
"It's alright, it's okay, there's something to live for... Jesus told me so!"

Documentary about an aspiring filmmaker's attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

It is ironic and a little cruel that the success of this documentary by independent film-maker Chris Smith is due largely to the bungling of Smith's subject, would-be film maker Mark Borchardt. And yet, despite Mark appearing to be an object of pity for much of the film, and occasionally feeling sorry for himself, he emerges as a kind of existential hero, battling against the odds, never giving up, and living to fight another day. Perhaps the best parts of Smith's film are not directly about Mark's efforts to bring his horror movie, Coven, to completion, but about the circle of friends and relations supporting him. Mike Schank - who provides the music for Smith's film - may or may not be a good advertisement for drugs, but he is certainly a good friend, who's there when Mark needs him, as are Mark's Mom, his Uncle Bill, his girlfriend, and sundry Milwaukee residents. But it's a two way street - while they give Mark financial and material strength, they draw a spiritual or psychological strength from him; and they seem to look to him to fulfil their American dream as well as his own. American Movie is at times funny; at other times sad; but ultimately it's quite uplifting.
Mr Awesome
Super Reviewer
March 21, 2011
Amateurs in any field or endeavor often lack perspective when it comes to what they do: I'm sure minor league ball players often compare their stats to those of the pros, unsigned bands probably watch successful bands on television, comparing performances, and amateur filmmakers often think "if I could just get the amount of backing such-and-such got, my film would be as big as his". For independent filmmakers, success is more often measured purely by the scope and magnitude of the project, rather than by actual quality. Which brings us to Mark Borchardt, a filmmaker out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, struggling to get the financing to put his horror film "Coven" out (CO-ven, long "oh", to avoid sounding like "oven", for whatever reason). Once he finishes "Coven" and sells the 3000 copies at $14.95 a piece, then he'll have the $45,000 necessary to begin shooting his next project, "North Western" (oh, and also pay off some of his debt). The only thing standing in his way is the extra $3000 he needs to borrow from Uncle Bill, but why would anyone pass up the chance to get an executive producer's credit and make back their money tenfold?

Unless independently wealthy, it's just not possible to pursue such longshot dreams while maintaining a life of your own, and Mark proves to have difficulty in this area. Living at home with his mom, he drinks too much, sees his kids perhaps too little, and is in debt up to his eyeballs. He has various part-time jobs, from paper boy to custodian at a cemetary, he's determined to not be a worker drone who's just another cog in the machine. He has vague notions of wealth and success "one day", a day when all those who doubted him will eat their words. Uncle Bill, an elderly man not in the best of health, has no great faith in Mark, helping him financially more out of wanting to make his nephew happy than anything. Bill is an interesting guy: living in a trailer home yet supposedly worth over $280,000. It's hard to tell whether he's amused by Mark's exploits or just being pushed into things he might not want to do by his crazy nephew.

American Movie is just that, a slice of life from right in the center of the country. People like Mike Schank, an acid casuality who just happens to be a brilliant musician can't be created to have this kind of depth in a hollywood movie script. It's trailer park angst and the great sound and fury of nothing significant being created. The current release of the American Movie dvd has a copy of "Covan" as part of the bonus material, in what must be the producer's way of "giving back" to Mark (I assume he gets a healthy royalty from this arrangement). The bottom line: it's an awful movie, and there's nothing to suggest Mark is some great undiscovered talent. Strange that such a great documentary should be made about him then.
Super Reviewer
June 27, 2007
Tragicomical documentary, about a wannabe film-maker (Mark Borchardt) and his high-flying ambitions to make "the great american movie". What makes it sad and funny at the same time, is that whenever he talks about making his film, it sounds like he really knows what he's doing. He's got a passion and determination that is quite admirable. But the real result, however, is the worst kind of B-horror movie imaginable. It's still interesting to follow his process though, perhaps mainly for all the fascinating people that he drags into it. For while Mark is somewhat of an obnoxious, loud-mouthed and pathetic kind of person, his friends and family are really amusing to watch. Especially his uncle and friend Mike. They're pretty hilarious, without being aware of it. Sadly though, the documentary overall is more depressing than it is funny. Mark's persistency is pretty inspiring, but the fact that he constantly fails, in both his film-making and personal life, makes it more a sad reminder of all the non-talents in this world, who put their dreams before their family. Mark even lures money out of his poor old Uncle just to finance his film-making, which in my eyes just makes him more unsympathetic. And one of his friends say in an interview that "I always thought he was gonna grow up to be a stalker or serial killer". So for all it's interesting qualities, it's pretty obvious that Mark will never amount to much. In fact, he's probably slouching on a sofa somewhere right now, with a joint in one hand and a beer in the other. Just out of curiosity though, I did look up his name on IMDB, and surprised as I was, it looks like he's actually gotten somewhere since the shooting of American Movie. Not as a director, but as an actor. Apparently he's even had a role in the movie The One with Jet Li, which isn't too bad for a high-school drop-out of white trash origins. I guess it proves that as long as you have the will and the right mind-set, it does pay off to hold on to your dreams.
Super Reviewer
½ May 24, 2009
Hilarious! And I do feel for them!
Super Reviewer
½ April 26, 2009
As a film maker myself I found this doc very interesting. Mark has very little common sense but he seems to have a good grasp on the making of flicks even if he comes off a little dopey. Is his movie good? Doesn't look like it but he knows what he wants and he seems to get it done to his liking.
I liked this flick and I recommend it for anyone out there who is trying to make their own movies outside of the studio system.
Super Reviewer
½ November 21, 2006
It's great the way this guy throws 1000% of himself into getting the movie made. Then you see the movie and it pretty much blows. Sometimes it's about the journey and not the destination.
Super Reviewer
February 17, 2015
There is a particular bent in documentaries lately to take the oddest people in society and make them think that they are being filmed for a serious purpose when in actuality, you are filming them to be mocked by broader society. In this case we get our laughs in at the moronic Borchardt and later feel equally annoyed and wanting some pity to a person who will clearly never make it.
Super Reviewer
½ February 5, 2008
Every single person in here seems like taken out of a Christopher Guest film, it's hilarious - a little sad, but, yeah, hilarious.
Super Reviewer
May 21, 2008
Sometimes more pathetic than funny. However, Mark Borchardt is funny, disturbing, yet inspiring, which is what makes this movie so interesting.
Super Reviewer
½ November 17, 2008
Spoof documentry about a film makers way to long journey on making a feature film that he's seemingly destined to never make due to debt and lack of funding so he goes about trying to finish a previous short film in an attempt to make funding for his dream project, Northwestern.Unfortunately i missed the last 5/10 minutes which has obviously effected the final scoring.When i've finally seen it all i'll come back with possibly a new score!Very good and very funny from what i saw though.
Super Reviewer
½ February 8, 2008
Great and hilarious doc about a struggling amateur filmmaker. I'm sure the filmmakers were inspired by Ed Wood, showing the director as someone with tons of heart and half a gram of talent. Still, a compelling story. It's only weakness is that it makes me and a couple other aspiring filmmakers I know sad because we don't like to think of ourselves this way.
Super Reviewer
March 23, 2006
Funny, Tragic & Inspiring. Engaging documentary on a small-town filmmaker.
Super Reviewer
½ September 10, 2006
These guys are a hoot.
August 24, 2014
At times it is hard to shake the feeling that these people are being exploited. Like, all over the place. Uncle Bill is getting money taken from him by Mark that is not really going to the most worthwhile pursuit, all the while we the audience point and laugh at these not-quite-high functioning alcoholics. But you know what? They signed the waivers so screw 'em.
January 31, 2008
(5 Stars) American Movie is one of my all time favorite documentaries, blending tragedy and comedy expertly. It's one of those films that seems unreal and amusing enough to be a mockumentary directed by Christopher Guest with all of its fascinating characters and moments, but it's astoundingly real. It's a genuine and sad look at truly independent (self-financed) filmmaking; every filmmaker has a dream of making their magnum opus, but how do you do it with an extremely limited budget, a family to take care of, and a million different schedules? The making of Northwestern and Coven is brutal, but it also manages to be somewhat inspiring, cathartic, and extremely funny. I think something funny happens in every scene, due to the speech of the very quotable Mark Borchardt, an amateur filmmaker who is fueled by a love of the horror genre with a shaky understanding of the craft. His friend Mike Schank is also very funny; he seems like a funny side character out of The Office.

There are many documentaries that filmmakers could watch to learn from. You could watch Burden of Dreams, Hearts of Darkness, Lost in La Mancha, or Overnight... all great looks at the struggles of making a film. But American Movie looks at the dreamer's approach to films; those who don't have millions of dollars or a studio to back them, only themselves and their vision. I also guarantee American Movie is way funnier than all of them.
½ December 24, 2010
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction... I was laughing hard through the first half of the movie, thinking what a joke this is, and then I started to realize the guy was making a movie for real... which made it even more hilarious.
March 4, 2010
It is amusing, but not quite sure what all the fuss is about, it goes over the top a little too much, and at times it's just plain stupid. Generally entertaining, just not enormously so. It does show the struggles of making a low budget independent film in a mostly funny way.
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