Far From Unwitting: The Philosophy of, and in, the Work of Mumblecore

Curator's Note

Whether one likes the films or not, Mumblecore is saturated in philosophical rhetoric; debating modalities of self-presentation in everyday life, and the incorporeal merits of originality. As opposed to the work of method actors, aimless and restless twenty-somethings portray aimless and restless twenty somethings, over educated in philosophy and under employed. In Joe Swanberg’s The Zone he switches back and forth from making of the film to the diegesis. Richard Brody cites Socrates in his review. “Those who imitate should beware lest, from the imitation, they draw off some of the being,” as the line between imitation and being “has been effaced, and the actors—or, rather, the people onscreen—are in a zone of total vulnerability and total complicity.” In Swanberg’s Silver Bullet’s, he plays an agitated, restive director (the signified and signifier not far removed). As his girlfriend folds clothes in a dusty basement he reads from the philosophy of Anton Chekhov. “Treplov says new forms are what we need…new forms are what we need and if there aren’t any then we’re better off with nothing.” At the end of The Zone, the film cuts to Swanberg and his wife. She laments, “by the end it’s just another movie where you’re complaining about making movies.” Lena Dunam’s Tiny Furniture character is aptly named Aura (see Walter Benjamin’s), as she strives to stand out beyond her successful artist mother, and beautiful younger sister. One wonders have these filmmakers created new forms? Looking back now, do these films have an aura? The directors are self-aware about striving for originality while following in the footsteps of past, and more coveted, filmmaking waves from the French New Wave to Dogme95. In Sophia Takal’s Green a young couple possess a burning yet futile desire to out-smart each other — repeatedly challenging each other’s knowledge of art and philosophy. And, in Frank V. Ross’s Tiger Tail in Blue, a film in which one actress plays two opposing roles, an underemployed writer played by Ross laments that there is no way to say anything original, just people finding new ways to say the “same old shit.”


After watching the video and reading your note, I wonder if you've seen von Trier/Leth's documentary, The Five Obstructions? A friend did his dissertation using the film's structure/concept/philosophy, and I watched the film to get familiar with the idea/approach it proposes. Given the tension in the (film)making you talk about, you might find some interesting connections to the documentary.

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