Someone once told me that “something great starts small”.
Influenced by Dogme 95 and French New Wave, combined with the advent in the early 2000’s of affordable, high-quality digital camera and editing software; ‘mumblecore’ came to us in the mid 00’s. The name “mumblecore” began with the sound mixer of one of the earliest mumblecore films, Funny Ha Ha, and the genre has gone on to change cinema forever.
Mumblecore films started off using consumer digital camera and non-actors to tell a story. They were initially shot as cheaply as possible; often times one person wrote directed, acted, and edited the films. This allowed some of the directors to to make 6 films in a single year. The dialogue is often improvised and very realistic, which can be strange to hear at first.
I remember the first time I saw a mumblecore film, 2005’s The Puffy Chair by Mark And Jay Duplass. I was caught up in the magic of it. I had never seen anything like it; it was the first time where I had seen a movie and knew I could have made it, in a good way. It starred people that looked like me, were of similar age to me, and the characters were dealing with similar things that I was going through.
All the mystique of filmmaking went away, and I knew I could be a filmmaker.
Interestingly Andrew Bujalski and Joe Swanberg’s early films were not accepted into Sundance, which was the most influential platform for independent cinema at the time. The films were welcomed by the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas making it the main sort of hub of mumblecore genre.
This style of filmmaking has even revitalised the horror genre.
The horror offshoot of mumblecore has been happening in recent years called “mumblegore.” It involves the same improvised, realistic style of dialogue, but adding horror and suspense into the films.
Due to budget reasons, or personal choice, a lot of the directors would cast themselves, their friends, and lesser known actors. To me, this makes the movies scarier and more realistic, because I don’t recognize any of the actors. They also makes it seem like the horrors could happen at any time, to me.
Spearheaded by Ti West and the directing/writing team of Adam Wingard (director) and Simon Barrett (writer), mumblegore has built upon the legacy of The Blair Witch Project and continues to scare and thrill us in new ways.
It’s interesting that Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard’s most recent film is a sequel to The Blair Witch Project.
Going beyond horror, mumblecore has begun to plant its roots in ‘mainstream’ cinema, as well.
One example would be Judd Apatow.
After seeing the film Tiny Furniture, Judd Apatow decided to produce Lena Dunham’s hit TV show Girls on HBO.
Also, many of Apatow ‘regular cast members’ in the films that he directs and produces, such as John C Reilly, Jason Segel and Jonah Hill, have all acted in mumblecore movies.
Beyond the comedy world, other actors, such as Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Kristen Stewart, Felicity Jones, Sam Rockwell, Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom, Guy Pearce, just to name a few, are drawn to mumblecore filmmakers.
The genre has also given successful acting and directing careers to the Duplass Brothers, Greta Gerwig, Joe Swanberg amongst many, many others.
In recent years, mumblecore has transitioning into the ‘mainstream’ with films like Cyrus, Drinking Buddies, Laggies, and Results, starring A-list Hollywood stars: Sam Rockwell, Anna Kendrick, Orlando Bloom and Jake Johnson seem to have taken a particular liking to it, having continued to work with different directors that have come out of the mumblecore movement.
It’s also interesting to see how it has infiltrated over into sci-fi/fantasy with movies like Primer, Bellflower, and Equals, giving us a different take on what a movie can be.
A-list Directors like Steven Soderbergh have even taken notice; he hired mumblecore director/actor Amy Smitez, as well as Lance Kerrigan, to direct the TV show The Girlfriend Experience.
Even though it has grown and changed, how could any lover of cinema not take notice of the impact that mumblecore continues to have over all of cinema?
My Mumblecore Viewing Guide
The Puffy Chair
Funny Ha Ha
Hannah Takes the Stairs
Nights and Weekend
Medicine for Melancholy
The House of the Devil
The Exploding Girl
Your Sister’s Sister
The Color Wheel
Sun Don’t Shine
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Martha Marcy May Marlene