Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
American Independent CinemaRites of Passage and the Crisis Image$

Anna Backman Rogers

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748693603

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748693603.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use. Subscriber: null; date: 25 May 2022

Conclusion: The Crisis Image – Mumblecore and Beyond

Conclusion: The Crisis Image – Mumblecore and Beyond

(p.149) Conclusion: The Crisis Image – Mumblecore and Beyond
American Independent Cinema

Anna Backman Rogers

Edinburgh University Press

Abstract and Keywords

By way of conclusion and further development of the notion of a cinema of crisis, I will extend briefly this study’s theoretical framework to the work of Harmony Korine, Kelly Reichardt and the ‘Mumblecore’ movement – or, more specifically, the work of Lena Dunham. However, in order to outline these further facets of a cinema of crisis, it is necessary at this juncture to summarise what its salient features are. I argued at the beginning of this book that the dominant and established approach to American independent cinema in critical and scholarly studies is to categorise it in terms of economic, production and distribution strategies.1 While this is important and useful, this focus on the meaning and context of the very term ‘independent’ has resulted in a paucity of material on the aesthetics and poetics of this kind of cinema and its specific effect or affects. By focusing on the themes of crisis, liminality, transition, mutation and transformation, I have tried to emphasise the ways in which American independent cinema appropriates and transfigures the tropes of European ‘Art’ cinema (as set forth in Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 2) for its own particular purposes in order to challenge entrenched modes of thought.

Keywords:   Cinema of crisis, Crisis, Mumblecore, American Independent Cinema, Art Cinema, Independent film, Indie Film, Rites of Passage, Deleuze, Liminality

By way of conclusion and further development of the notion of a cinema of crisis, I will extend briefly this study’s theoretical framework to the work of Harmony Korine, Kelly Reichardt and the ‘Mumblecore’ movement – or, more specifically, the work of Lena Dunham. However, in order to outline these further facets of a cinema of crisis, it is necessary at this juncture to summarise what its salient features are. I argued at the beginning of this book that the dominant and established approach to American independent cinema in critical and scholarly studies is to categorise it in terms of economic, production and distribution strategies.1 While this is important and useful, this focus on the meaning and context of the very term ‘independent’ has resulted in a paucity of material on the aesthetics and poetics of this kind of cinema and its specific effect or affects. By focusing on the themes of crisis, liminality, transition, mutation and transformation, I have tried to emphasise the ways in which American independent cinema appropriates and transfigures the tropes of European ‘Art’ cinema (as set forth in Gilles Deleuze’s Cinema 2) for its own particular purposes in order to challenge entrenched modes of thought.

To return to Bordwell’s assessment, which I referenced implicitly in my opening, American independent cinema does not merely ‘copy’ the central tenets of art cinema but transforms them in a highly ‘complex’ manner (2008). The synthesis of anthropological and Deleuzian material, used as a theoretical framework, has allowed me to examine and characterise this corpus of films in a number of useful ways, as: a cinema of crisis and transition; a cinema of liminality and ambiguity; a cinema that employs genre subversively; an existential cinema; a cinema of time and thought that breaks apart received ways of thinking and encourages creative modes of thought; and a cinema that travels between the movement and the time-image regimes. More specifically, I have characterised American independent film as one that explores situations and images of crisis; often this relates to a problem of narrative (for instance, how one relates a situation of crisis or initiates the process of understanding it, as in Van Sant’s Elephant), but as we have seen, this is made manifest on a formal level. That is, we are no longer dealing (p.150) merely with a ‘situation’ of crisis – which is commonly the case in any primarily narrative-based or -driven film – but a crisis image: an image of instability, transition and metamorphosis. Through a privileging of the uniquely cinematic elements, the ontological status of the moving image is thrown into crisis; as argued previously, bodies on screen are already inherently in a situation of flux and becoming, because this is the very essence of the cinematic. Indeed, as we know, a whole formal and stylistic system of continuity is in place to contain the excessive nature of the filmic image – its unpredictability must be harnessed in order to create a cognitively comprehensible world from the abundance of stimuli it presents to the viewer. To varying extents, these films play with the unstable and disruptive elements of the cinematic in order to present situations of becoming. In other words, what these films help to foreground is the fact that film is the artistic medium of crisis par excellence.

We can now ascertain what the crisis image is in its multiple facets, and also broach the applicability of this theory more generally to American independent cinema, as well as some of the issues this raises for further study. Succinctly put, the crisis image is one that deals with surfaces in order to convey what is ordinarily hidden or kept from the viewer. The crisis image engages with genre to open out its boundaries and to signal new ways of seeing and thinking; it defamiliarises the quotidian or mundane in order to reveal, in some cases, its systematic brutality or its suffocating limitation and in other cases to bring us back to this world rather than to transport us to a transcendent or ideal one; it presents the viewer with images of transformation and metamorphosis – a perpetual becoming-other; it reveals lines of flight within stasis and repetition. Above all, the crisis image is one that solicits from the film viewer attentive rather than habitual patterns of thought. A cinema of crisis is one that delineates ‘crisis’ as ‘transformation’; the latter term refers not only to the metamorphosis of the characters and diegetic world, but also to the manner in which the viewer is compelled to think about and through the images on screen. That is to say, a cinema of crisis is one that, above all, challenges and renews the possibilities of thinking about and engaging with cinema and, by extension, our world. It fosters, so to speak, a form of cinematic thinking.

Deleuze, writing in 1983, said of American film:

the American cinema [has found] its limits. All the aesthetic or even political qualities that it can have remain narrowly critical and in this way even less ‘dangerous’ than if they were being made use of in a project of positive creation. Then, either the critique swerves abruptly and attacks only a misuse of apparatuses and institutions, in striving to save the remains of the American Dream, as in Lumet; or it extends itself, but becomes empty and starts to (p.151) grate, as in Altman, content to parody the cliché instead of giving birth to a new image. (2005a: 215)

This book has aimed to challenge or intervene with this idea by demonstrating that a significant corpus of American independent film is not merely ‘content to parody the cliché’, because it seeks to challenge the film viewer to think and see anew in a variety of ways, especially through reference to genre and to various cinematic clichés.

Another aspect of the cinema of crisis, then, is its deliberate engagement with film history. The films discussed here play with genre and intertextuality on some level. However, this employment of what is recognisable or easily read by the cinematic audience is undermined by the directors’ dissident or destabilising use of genre and the cliché. Either our attention is drawn towards the very surface of the image, or we find ourselves wondering about what the image conceals from us. In other words, the adoption of generic form is only useful to these directors when it allows them to signal beyond exhaustive definitions that are readily grasped and assimilated, something that can only be reached through new and affirmative processes of thought rather than received ways of thinking. In using, initially, imagery that is immediately comprehensible because of cultural codification, these directors are really harnessing it as a way to show what is not usually seen and to help the viewer to think what is not ordinarily thought. For instance, in The Virgin Suicides something sinister and foreboding exists beneath the surface of the beautiful images that fill the screen. These images, through their abundance, become disturbing rather than lulling or pacifying for the viewer. Pam Cook (2006: 36) notes astutely: ‘The Virgin Suicides is not nostalgic. Beneath its glowing, dreamy images is something dark and desperate that lies secreted in suburban American life, evading rational explanation.’ As we have seen, by adopting the aesthetic of soft pornography and advertising campaigns, Coppola not only suggests that the limitations placed on adolescent self-hood by a society that functions through pre-formed definitions of identity are thoroughly dangerous, but also hints at a collective inability to deal with the reality of the adolescent experience and a complete denial of its inherent brutality.

Elephant provides another case in point, as the viewer is thrown into a world that is already in crisis; the labyrinthine corridors of a high school are places within which the protagonists are isolated and vulnerable beings on the verge of disintegration. The violence that breaks through into the image at the end of the film merely helps to render obvious that which was already there within the school’s controlling infrastructure. Murray Pomerance (in Siebel and Shary 2007: 215) states:

(p.152) That high school [in Elephant] is the epitome of a capitalist social structure that has forgone sensation and pleasure, poetry, affect, philosophy, and experience for commodification, regulation, packaging, manipulation, indoctrination and profit. The corridors through which Nathan [one of the students] softly parades are ideal for target practice; the persons we see and move past here are nothing but figures against the ground. If they become targets, gruesomely, this school was already designed for such transformation.

In other words, Van Sant consistently directs the viewer’s attention towards the surface of the image because everything is already there to be seen, but it requires an adjustment in vision and thought. This world is made strange to the viewer in order to make him/her think anew, to recognise the altered ‘everyday’ contained within these images as his/her own world, and, above all, to reclaim both the banal and the violent as part of the tapestry or fabric that is our world. As a form of conclusion, I will now draw some initial connections between this notion of the crisis image and the work of Harmony Korine, Kelly Reichardt and Lena Dunham, whose work I will read as emblematic of the Mumblecore movement, as three further examples of a cinema of crisis. Although it is not within the scope of this book to provide a thorough analysis of an additional corpus of work, my purpose in concluding with such an exploration is to signal briefly towards possible areas of development.

The concerns of Harmony Korine’s cinema are most strongly exemplified in Gummo (1997), Julien Donkey-Boy (1999) and Trash Humpers (2009). Taken together, these three films can be viewed as an experimental corpus that places the disintegrating, grainy, distorted, provocative, perplexing and ‘unreadable’ image at the forefront of the cinematic experience. Korine sets out to bewilder the film viewer by playing on the idea of refuse or detritus; these aforementioned films in particular are made up of images that seem to be undergoing a process of decay in front of the viewer’s eyes (Korine deliberately uses ‘outmoded’ visual materials such as VHS and often manually works on his chosen medium to heighten its inherently ‘lo-fi’ qualities). Dissolution and metamorphosis are an intrinsic part of the cinematic experience Korine creates, then. Moreover, the setting and characters in his films represent or stand in for the ‘detritus’ or underside of the more standard modes of narrative filmmaking. Korine’s films centre on intensely disquieting situations and disenfranchised people who are left out or written out of mainstream visual culture. As such, Korine’s cinema represents a radical break with the regime of the clichéd image and entrenched ways of seeing and thinking. Indeed, he is deliberately incendiary in both his choice of subject matter and his aesthetic approach and is often accused of exploitation and being intentionally grotesque.

(p.153) Upon its release, Gummo was described as ‘boring, redundant and sick’, while the New York Times critic Janet Maslin denounced it as being full of ‘sourness, cynicism and pretension’ (Maslin 1997).2 Korine has professed that he is not offended by such assessments – in fact, this is an entirely accurate description of a film such as Gummo which deals in images of repetition and decay to the point of redundancy (it is set in a town called Xenia in Ohio, two years after a tornado from which it has never recovered). This is to say that, in pushing the cinematic image to its very limit, in expressing and visualising the obsolete and, at times, downright disgusting, Korine also performs a Deleuzian manoeuvre. These images come to function as opsigns: unplaceable, unreadable and inassimilable. By extension, if they are therefore redundant, it is because they work against the regime of the cliché: these images, like the lives they visualise and represent, seem to have no immediate use within capitalist economy and are all the more troubling for this. Trash Humpers centres directly on notions of detritus, boredom, uselessness and nihilism. Tina Kendall argues persuasively that Trash Humpers harnesses its ‘feel-bad’ (see Lübecker 2011) aesthetic as a form of ethical engagement; that is, by deliberately eschewing a narrative of redemption, it forces the viewer to engage with the very notion of what it means to be human by creating parity between waste and the human body. Kendall writes: ‘[w]hat this means is that in the film’s aesthetic and affective economy, a human life is exactly equivalent to a smashed light bulb, a derelict building, obsolete electrical equipment, empty beer bottles, or any number of wasted items that make up the film’s mise-en- scène’ (2013: 56). Human life is not placed above and beyond its environment, but is rendered immanent within it.

Controversially, Korine equates ‘white trash’ with refuse and detritus: the human body is the impact and mark it leaves on the landscape as defilement and degradation. Yet, as Kendall points out, ‘[i]n making us feel bad, Trash Humpers necessitates a different approach to ethics: one that works not simply by cultivating our ability to discern non-human vitality, but also by bringing us into contact with the ambivalent, disturbing, desublimating and thought-provoking image of the inhuman that is also a facet of material life’ (2013: 59). I would argue that this, admittedly challenging, ethical perspective is what takes Korine’s work over into the territory of a cinema of crisis that engages with new modes of thought, or a thought of the outside. Yet if there is parity between Korine’s portrayal of the human body and landscape as wasteland, his relentless focus on the human body and its distortions, disfigurations and downright awkwardness serves to bring out, in Deleuzian terms, the glorious body. Korine has frequently been accused of making an exploitative form of cinema that preys on weak and vulnerable beings and transforms their performance into a kind of freak show; in a film such as Mister Lonely (2007), (p.154) he seems to tackle directly this indictment of his work as the diegetic world centres on a band of outcasts or social misfits (who impersonate famous figures from Charlie Chaplin to Marilyn Monroe). This kind of cinematic experience is one that harnesses the powers of the false in order to reveal the inherent mutability of any identity we might lay claim to. If these characters perform for us, what they reveal in that process is that identity is, to employ Erving Goffman’s (1990) thesis, ‘performative’. Iconoclastic though Korine can be, then, he can also be profoundly celebratory of the human experience; however, in order to connect with his work one must forsake the luxury of standing back in judgement from or taking a wholly or primarily negative perspective on the characters (even a film such as Trash Humpers contains surprising moments of psychological insight and visual beauty). Just as he mixes high and low cultural reference points, so too he demands that the viewer abandon specific hierarchies and received ways of thinking.

Lena Dunham’s debut film Tiny Furniture (2010) and her television series Girls (2011–) are, to some extent, indicative of the themes and concerns of what has come to be known as Mumblecore. This movement, which is broadly associated with the work of Andrew Bujalski, Mark and Jay Duplass, Joe Swanberg and Lynn Shelton, has produced a corpus of films that are characterised by extreme stasis, indecision and lassitude. As such, Mumblecore deals with situations of protracted liminality in which the everyday or pedestrian figures as, or indeed is, crisis. While these films are frequently humorous, they also intimate themes of resignation, depression, apathy and hopelessness (for instance, Bujalski’s Funny Ha Ha (2002) manages to be both amusing and heartbreaking in its portrayal of a young, lovesick and adrift college graduate).

Conclusion: The Crisis Image – Mumblecore and Beyond

Figure C.1 The human figure as detritus in Trash Humpers

(p.155) Often, the young protagonists are as troubled by notions of who they should be and what they should do (as a set of clichés to which they could or should subscribe) as by their inability to act in any decisive manner: these characters live out their lives as conditional and always provisional. My contention is that it is within the context of this movement that Dunham’s work is most appropriately considered.

Dunham’s oeuvre to date draws on a youthful Zeitgeist and centres on protagonists who are undergoing a situation of seemingly interminable liminality; unable to make decisions or even to form a sense of self, the female figures in particular seem unable to progress into adulthood. It is telling therefore that the title of Dunham’s television series for HBO is Girls and not Women; yet rather than being on the cusp of becoming-other as girlhood suggests, these characters are stunted, closed off, and suffering immensely from the burden of their own superficiality; they are clichés based on other clichéd figures from television. As Jemima Kirke, who plays Jessa in the series, remarks of her character, ‘she is very close to being dead on the inside’.3 While Dunham has been rightly criticised for the show’s lack of diversity in its examination of a privileged, white elitist social group, it would be erroneous to argue that the series contains little critique of the demographic it seeks to represent. There is a clear discrepancy between the somewhat pitiable character of Hannah Horvath (played by Dunham herself) and the overarching authorial voice that is clearly manifest in the ironic and biting tone of its narrative. As Katherine Bell argues, ‘[a]nxious self-absorption abounds, but it does not stem entirely from the desire to maintain femininities. To see the girls’ drive for self-improvement as simply another sad by-product of postfeminist ideology is to maintain a fragmented understanding of these youth’ (Bell 2013: 264). I would argue, then, alongside Bell, that what Girls poses broadly is an implicit indictment of post-feminism and its promulgation of choice, especially in the form of buying into a specific lifestyle via a cornucopia of products or philosophies as a form of self-actualisation. For if Girls has a message, it is quite clearly that this mode of self-fashioning is at best impossible and precipitates an impotence that feeds into social and bodily anxieties, or at worst pernicious in its promotion of self-scrutiny and self-centredness.

As such, critics have been right to point out that the main characters are dangerously myopic and shallow because this is precisely the culture which the series sets out to critique: the tenets of post-feminism may dictate that women have an abundance of choice, but the reality is that this choice is severely limited and limiting as it determines precisely who and what a person should become – it is always already decided. Moreover, as Anita Harris (2003) has argued persuasively, this ideology pertains almost exclusively to a specific demographic, which she labels the ‘can do’ girl; by contrast, the ‘at risk’ girl, (p.156) who is unable to subscribe to and uphold the tenets of post-feminism as a form of neoliberalism because of her social status, must be contained and explained away as ‘societally problematic’ in order to shore up the ideals of self-sufficiency, adaptability, responsibility and choice expressed through consumerism which are so crucial to the neoliberal ethos. Girls centres on the notion of the ‘can do’ girl who is uniquely privileged and comfortable, but who must invoke a variety of coping mechanisms – often expressed here as a form of mental illness such as obsessive compulsive disorder and drug abuse – in order to sustain the image of herself as a successful and responsible citizen who actualises herself through choice. As Imelda Whelehan notes of post-feminism:

at the beginning of the millennium, feminists have been positioned as the cultural oppressors of ‘normal’ women against which a younger generation of ‘new’ feminists offers as antidote a marked individualistic kind of ‘radicalism’. This radicalism pretends the power of self-definition is all about being ‘in control’ and ‘making choices’ … but control always seemed to be about the right to consume and display oneself to best effect … it was an expression of withdrawal from a wider political arena.

(Whelehan 2000: 4)

It is my contention that Girls stages an intervention in this scenario of cosmopolitan feminism, in that it portrays the young women brought up within this culture – they are the inheritors of post-feminist franchises such as Sex and the City, which successfully sold a very specific and heavily commodified version of femininity as the image of success. If young women are now told that they are the sum of their own volition and choices, Girls presents us with a group of young protagonists who continually make disastrous choices for themselves. In other words, there can be no becoming, because, in such an environment, it is already impeded. Additionally, the obsessive nature of self-examination and deliberation that the show presents to the viewer also suggests that the formation of bonds between self and other and the ability to think outside of oneself (an outside of thought) is utterly impossible.

That Dunham’s critique is directed at contemporary post-feminist principles is evident in the very setting of her work; this is a highly narcissistic and noisy environment governed by the norms of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and as such it dramatises the impasse between the virtual and the actual, the imaginary and the real (read as a fracturing of the very possibility of identity) that perpetual connectivity and exposure can cause. Emotions are highly mediated or actualised through technology as a way of cushioning or syphoning off reality (Marnie only falls in love with her anodyne ex-boyfriend Charlie once his new relationship is exposed on Facebook). Everything is on display, especially the female body, because the self is defined through (p.157) public revelation and confession to the other: if one is not seen and heard continually, one does not exist. Matching this is Dunham’s own militant over-exposure of her body on screen, which can be read as a need for constant attention. As a character who does not have any boundaries, Hannah is unable to maintain dominion over her own body and frequently allows her sexual partners (especially Adam) to denigrate her. She is unable to refuse or to set boundaries for herself and she frequently engages in sexual activity ‘for the story’, yet she is unable to see outside of herself and frequently couches this impotence in terms of choice. As such, Hannah is someone who tries to be open to experience and to becoming-other in all the wrong ways, and ultimately she ends up harming her own ability to flourish. ‘I do explore, I do explore. For instance, right now I am seeing someone who hits me on the side of my body’, she states to her ex-boyfriend who has just extemporised on the idea of authentic selfhood as sexual orientation. Post-feminism tells us that the self is created through a series of choices and rampant consumption, yet the case of Hannah Horvath makes clear that many choices merely highlight the impossibility of achieving coherence of self and connection with another being, which is figured powerfully as a form of delusion when Hannah tells her parents in the pilot episode that she is ‘the voice’ of her ‘generation; or at least, a voice of a generation’. Even personal relationships are pre-determined through a set of criteria for what constitutes being a ‘good friend’, a topic over which Hannah and her ‘best friend’ Marnie argue to the point of tedium. These girls are hemmed in at every juncture by a culture that will not allow them to function as affective agents in the wider world. The diegetic world of Girls, then, is one of depressing, suffocating and extreme crisis in which the action-image, as the ability to choose and act, has broken down in extremity. It is perhaps the quintessence of Deleuze’s notion of an American visual culture that parodies the cliché, yet this does not preclude biting and satirical critique. Girls is not an uplifting or redemptive viewing experience – it is the endgame of post-feminism. While it does not offer any line of flight out of this world, the very absence of one, designated by a sense of depressing and repetitive ennui, calls for this strongly.

I would like to end with a short reading of the films of Kelly Reichardt, with particular reference to Wendy and Lucy (2008) and Meek’s Cutoff (2010). Both these films can be described as loose narratives that examine the search for identity within the American landscape. In both films, the characters function as ‘passengers’ within a Deleuzian any-space-whatever, through which they wander seemingly without end. These films centre on a protracted state of liminality within which the human figure is ground down and made anonymous. In her work, Reichardt exposes the impossibility of reintegration into a society that will not accommodate those who cannot fit within (p.158) the strictures of a highly specific identity or way of life. As such, the films are characterised as a form of political indictment of contemporary American culture and its central value system that measures success in terms of material gain or wealth and ownership of land, of people, of an identity. Reichardt posits the wanderer (read here as a kind of Deleuzian nomad) as a counterpoint to the figure of the ‘settler’; these protagonists slip through and disturb stratified and hierarchical structures or undergo an experience that radically destabilises their entrenched systems of thought. At the conclusion of these films, these characters are left as they depart into the unknown as an outright rebuttal of the trope of the ‘happy ending’.

Stylistically and thematically, Reichardt’s work has much in common with Italian neo-realism. Indeed, Reichardt has stated, in interview with Gus Van Sant (2008):

The seeds of Wendy and Lucy happened shortly after Hurricane Katrina, after hearing talk about people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and hearing the presumption that people’s lives were so precarious due to some laziness on their part … [I was] watching a lot of Italian neorealism and thinking the themes of those films seem to ring true for life in America in the Bush years.’4

As such, Reichardt’s work centres on extreme crisis within the everyday, and on characters who, either in their rejection of the norms and ideals of the American Dream or in their desperate struggle to pursue it, are unable to retain a steadfast connection to the social world. While one should not confuse liminality with marginality, Reichardt draws out the implications of the choice to live a life less ordinary or the struggle of trying to make it from one place to another in a society that is devoid of care and attention to its most vulnerable citizens. In-betweenness, the refusal to fit it, or the impossibility of finding one’s place in the world nearly always result in marginality in Reichardt’s work. (In her latest film, Night Moves (2013), the main character is even divested of his name by its conclusion.) Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff work on the viewer in a similar fashion to Deleuze’s delineation of the breakdown of the action-image: extreme crisis leads to the loss of coordinates and stasis; indeed, in Meek’s Cutoff, the main characters lose their path entirely on the Oregon Trail – the quintessential American narrative of the pushing back of the frontier and the founding of civilisation and wealth. This grand narrative of progression, suggested by the Western genre, is altogether rejected through Reichardt’s choice to shoot the film in standard academy ratio format, which seals off the epic landscape and reduces it to a dusty and dirty environment that swamps and overwhelms the protagonists. As they get lost in the wilderness, so do their ideals. In Wendy and Lucy, the young female character’s (p.159) crisis is played out in liminal spaces such as parking lots, shopping mall strips, roads and forests. She lives in her car until even that is removed from her, which marks her out as belonging nowhere – a being in permanent transition. The film’s tragedy is that this young woman, despite her best efforts to stay within the system (‘you can’t get an address without an address; you can’t get a job without a job’), ends up with no choice but to lead an itinerant life in which she ‘steam punks’ her way to yet another destination. Reichardt may not give the viewer a moral framework through which to read her films, but there is no doubt that they constitute stringent explorations of the people who get left behind, who fall through the net or do not have a safety net, and whom society fails. I would argue, then, that Reichardt’s films are a sobering counterforce against the clichés peddled by Hollywood or mainstream film culture as a vision of the ‘American Dream’ in which the main character always wins and triumphs over adversity. Here, the pursuit of happiness ends in desperation and marginality, in an inability to form connections and to make ends meet. These images are powerful reminders of what is written out of our contemporary and popular visual culture, what we do not want to see and address. This vision of the underside is also the outside: it persists, it lingers, it haunts and it subsists as the counterbalance to those images that are readily grasped, intuited and sold. Ultimately, Reichardt’s crisis image is one that returns us to this world, and asks us to attend to it without apathy or cynicism and to re-view/rethink it actively and politically.


(1.) In his recent studies (2009 and 2010), John Berra claims that the field of independent cinema remains ‘largely untouched theoretically’ (2009: 13); although Berra uses the work of Pierre Bourdieu on the class system and culture (as does King 2008 and 2010) as a framework for assessing American independent film, his research nevertheless focuses on the history of the independent film industry and its financial collaboration with major companies. Berra (2009: 13), along with scholars such as Merritt, defines independence somewhat negatively: ‘[t]he stranglehold which the Hollywood studios have over the film business has contributed to the “commercialization” of American “independent” cinema, the gradual erosion of its values, the restraint of its cultural impulse, and the labelling of a “movement” that has become an invaluable aspect of Hollywood’s industry of mass production.’

(3.) Kirke says this on the DVD extras to Girls, Series One.

(4.) See <http://bombmagazine.org/article/3182/kelly-reichardt> (last accessed 4 April 14).