J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

DIY Run Amok: Bellflower

It is either the apocalypse or an average day on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Who’s to say which? Whatever the case might be, there is a palpable sense of menace in the air, but at least nobody has to hold down a regular job in Evan Glodell’s extreme DIY indie production Bellflower (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Woodrow and Aiden moved to LA more or less out of aimlessness. They drink a lot and speculate about the fall of civilization, which happened in LA around 1978. As part of their fantasy wish-fulfillment, they begin building a flame-thrower and pimping-out Medusa, a Mad Max style set of wheels. To put it more accurately, Aiden constructs all their hardcore hardware. Woodrow by contrast, does not seem to be especially handy, but to be fair, he is a bit distracted by his love life.

If you consider a bug-eating contest at a downscale Coyote Ugly an endearing ice-breaker, then Woodrow and Milly do indeed meet cute. She pretty much tells him straight out she is a problem chick, but he falls for her anyway. The fact that she is still sharing a crash-pad with her ex is of no never mind, until he inevitably walks in on them. From there things get really heavy, but Aiden has the flame-thrower operational, so they can set fire to stuff, which is always a good release.

Evidently a guerilla production of epic proportions, the behind-the-scenes story of Bellflower is probably more interesting than what made it onto the screen. Reportedly plagued with long involuntary shooting hiatuses, one would have thought Glodell could have used the time to tighten up the script. Frankly, his story is a real shrug-inducer, not in an obscure postmodern sense, but just for the baffling way it strings together scenes.

Yet, for all its deliberate eccentricity, there is something effectively eerie about the atmosphere Glodell crafts on his blue light special budget. While cinematographer Joel Hodge was probably forced to shoot on cast-off film-stock salvaged from dumpsters, Bellflower’s grainy look is appropriately suggestive of its apocalyptic themes, while evoking glorious exploitation movies past. Likewise, there is no denying the inventive design work that went into the creation of Medusa.

Not surprisingly, the performances in Bellflower are rather scattershot. Still, there is an interesting dynamic going on between Glodell and Tyler Dawson, as Woodrow and Aiden, respectively. While there are host of dark undercurrents at play, they still convey a sense of unconditional friendship that is surprisingly redemptive.

The term “rough around the edges” does not say the half of it for Bellflower. Yet, the craziest thing is the sense one gets that Glodell made exactly the film he intended. He definitely has strange knack for establishing mood, but he probably ought to work from someone else’s scripts in the future. A decidedly mixed bag, but admirable nonetheless for its scrappiness, Bellflower opens this Friday (8/5) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.

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