Friday, January 21, 2011

Uncle Kent

Email, August 20, 2010

Uncle Kent by Joe Swanberg, 2011:

Hey Joe,

I watched Uncle Kent for the second time the other night. Really impressed by it, once again, — like all good movies, it's better still the second time through.

This time around, for me, it really solidified into a film about Getting Old — that is, aging in the context of still being 'young' and hunched on the precipice of 'old,' (which is to say 'older'). Kent's hitting 40, and there's a kind of alienation that comes with the program or, less severe sounding (though tell anyone in such a particular spot in life that it won't feel severe in ceiling-stare moments), there's that sort of struggle that comes along with trying to relate 100% with 20-year-old friends, with still being single, with still seeking some kind of anchor in life. The old habits persist — full-on bongs and the work that goes along with the career you managed to carve a niche out of when you were in your 20s or 30s, — the trying to ward off the loneliness, — the feeling of being kind of adrift, out-to-sea, what-next. Numb anxiety.

Now, I should say, I never thought of "40" as being old (I'm 32) [as of THIS VERY DAY I'm 33 —ck.], but the landscape of adulthood has, obviously, shifted in 2010. It's all much less easily definable than it was, I don't know, fifteen years ago.

There's an anecdote I've been thinking about a lot recently after I watched Peter Bogdanovich speak on the Make Way for Tomorrow piece he sat down for; this was on the Criterion disc; we just licensed the video for our upcoming Blu-ray of the film. He talks about having once visiting Allan Dwan, years back, when Dwan was, by then, 92. Bogdanovich asked him: "What does 92 feel like?" And Dwan replied: "Well, it doesn't feel any different than 32." (There's that number again...) "But every time I walk past a mirror I get startled, and I say: — Who is that old man?"

I think this picture is your most melancholy film so far. Or maybe not "most" — but there's a kind of dark cloud hanging over the proceedings, same as in Nights and Weekends, and Alexander the Last too. That sense of: "Little man (or little woman) — what now?" Maybe I say "most melancholy" because this picture is so focused upon a single individual, and this solitary, island-of-one thing has become more pronounced — like all the events around Kent circulate in a kind of orbit, or a current,... and things are starting to feel untouchable. There's the Chatroulette business on one hand, which is weirdly 'social' while at the same time just emphasizing YOU ARE ALONE. ("Only connect.") Everything that comes out of that phenomenon, in fact, — and the way Chatroulette gets presented in the movie — plays like a kind of fantasy (which is at least 60% of what meeting people on these things online is like anyway). Kent (Kent Osborne) meets this Kate (Jennifer Prediger) on Chatroulette (somehow — 'somehow'-in-quotes as anyone who's ever dipped into Chatroulette will understand), the two strike up a bond from the encounter, and Kate flies out to visit Kent in LA to spend a weekend. There's a bizarre hand-off, an unstable back-and-forth, between supposed documentary (cf. all the foregrounded documentary elements of the film) and fiction: again, the essential 'impossibility' of this encounter. The insane fucking brightness of the LA light only intensifies all this strange unreality cast upon things...

Uncle Kent by Joe Swanberg, 2011:

Two favorite shots: a close-up of Kent's face while he's talking to Kate on the first night, where it's obscured by shadow, in relief against the yellow-lit wall. Another: after Kate leaves, overhead shot of Kent on the bed, reviewing the videos he's captured ('captured' is the right word) which he can only view by popping on his reading-glasses...

Uncle Kent by Joe Swanberg, 2011:

The title: Uncle Kent — it's really perfect. It conveys everything about the film.

The whole botched threesome business, and the next-morning guilty make-up play by Kate — it's all a really brilliant scenario, and you've modulated it perfectly. The rhythm of the film is also superb, but that's something you've managed to nail from at least Hannah Takes the Stairs onward...

I think the thrown-out-there "Write on my wall" from Kate, at the end, is positively crushing.

(She has a really nice voice, btw.)

And I love the full-circle that the film arrives at with the ending. From the cat's nestling with the "I Heart Kent Osborne" button at the opening shot, to a couple crabby paw-swipes at its papa (or uncle, I guess) at the end. Kent's 'heart''s sort of gone away by that point — or, at least, has taken a leave of absence. Live to go-on another day.

Uncle Kent by Joe Swanberg, 2011:

So: excellent, excellent work. You're hitting a stride. UK's a more pared-down work than Nights and Alexander, something in a more 'minor' mode, — but just as deep and fleshed-out. In some ways, like I said, it seems like a kind of response (not going so far as to say 'corrective') to LOL. In line with that, I'll say Kevin Bewersdorf always strikes me as representing a kind of chaotic, but grounding variable (if that makes any sense, but anyway, that's my sense), and I think his persona, or presence, kind of speaks for itself; thus far you've always used him to bring things to a kind-of bust-up point, both in the end section of LOL, and also by means of the trailer-party/cock-trick section of Kent. I'm always happy to see him in your films.

You said: "I hope it's a movie that people feel like popping in the DVD player every once in a while and just hanging out with." That's exactly how I feel about this movie, among others you've made. For me, Uncle Kent's a kind of mood-booster — hard to explain. It's there in the atmosphere, the pace, the length, the story... Things here to keep coming back to, — till I hit 40 in seven years, — and then probably after too? I really love this film.



Uncle Kent premieres today (January 21, 2011) at Sundance, and on cable-TV on-demand with providers across the US, via IFC. Check your local listings.



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