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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: Bellflower

“Bellflower” (Two and a Half Stars)
U.S.: Evan Glodell, 2011
Bellflower — a Sundance sensation reportedly shot for only $17,000 by first time writer-director-costar-co-editor Evan Glodell — introduces us to a couple of dudes, Woodrow from Wisconsin (first-timer Glodell) and Aiden from the neighborhood (first-timer Tyler Dawson) who live north of L. A. and are obsessed with Mad Max, the coming apocalypse, muscle cars, WMDs and two gals named Milly and Courtney (Jessie Wiseman and Rebekah Brandes). They all meet up at a barroom cricket-eating contest, where Milly wins. They dally awhile. Then Bellflower pulls us down into screaming ink-black, bloody macho-creepo pathology.
The movie fakes us out. At first it looks as if it’s going to be a funny-sad romantic comedy about twenty-somethings on the fringe, with a lot of bar scenes, four-letter talk and onscreen sex, and then it descends into the same road warrior-ish violent fantasies as those self-absorbed, fantasizing guys.
I didn’t like it all that much, or as much as a lot of other critics. I thought it was entertaining but a little light on real depth or truth or imagination, and often as obsessed with movie fantasies as its main dudes. Things began to strike me as odd, the moment that Milly, on their first date, said she wanted to be taken to a really grungy, dangerous eatery, and Woodrow suggested one in Texas, and she said sure, and they took off. I didn’t buy it, especially the way it played out. 

But I‘ve got to admit, Bellflower is an incredible achievement for a Z-budget indie. (If it‘s partly an audition tape for Hollywood, it should be a successful one.)
Glodell and his cinematographer, Joel Hodge, get a really strong visual style; they shoot their Valley scenes with a custom-built (by Glodell and guys) digital camera that makes everything look smeary and hot and dirty. The actors simultaneously play their scenes sort of Cassavetes-real and B-Movie-overblown, and there’s a scary, edgy feel to it all, that makes you genuinely uneasy and uncomfortable.
In the first part of Bellflower (which is the name of a street where part of it the picture is set), the main story is a quadrangle, or a pentangle, surrounded by slackerisms. Woodrow loves Milly, who cheats on him and splits with Mike (co-editor Vincent Grashaw), and so the distraught Woodrow takes up with Courtney, who’s the big crush of Aiden.
Aiden meanwhile, seems to love Woodrow as much as his muscle car. He devotes himself to building and fine-tuning that custom baby for his best bud (a black hipmobile with “Medusa” slash-painted on the side) and also to exotic weaponry (including a flamethrower). Since Glodell and his company apparently rebuilt the custom cars and the custom cameras and maybe even the flamethrower, we can see why this movie is so hipped on outlaw technology — especially technology that has a hip movie source, like Mad Max.
The unease we feel though is not always pleasurable movie anxiety. Some of the last act of Bellflower is so bloody-violent and misogynistic that a number of Bellflowers’ partisans (the majority of the reviewers) and especially the ones hailing the film as a work of genius (Godard and Linklater crossed with the George Miller of Mad Max), have felt compelled to explain or excuse the gory, nutty-seeming climax by saying that it’s all a fantasy (a dream sequence brought on by trauma maybe, like the one in Du Barry was a Lady) and not really happening. Maybe. I hope so. I didn’t catch it.
Anyway, it occurs to me that a movie about a bunch of Valley guys making a low-budget indie movie like Bellflower, and with the writer-director-star maybe using that film as part-revenge for a bad relationship, might have been really interesting. Maybe that would have been the masterpiece. But I’m always glad when somebody makes an American indie breakthrough — or a foreign indie breakthrough for that matter. More power to Glodell and his gang. I’d be astonished if this movie doesn’t get him bigger chances and higher budgets, and he deserves them.
Of course it would be hard not to muster more of a budget than $17,000. Or to get more production value out of it than they do here. This movie’s credits list fourteen producers, four camera people (cinematographer Hodge, a camera operator, an assistant camera and a steadi-cam operator), a Foley artist, six mixers, a sound effects editor, a boom operator and a digital visual effects artist. All that, and more, and a cast, and the fixes on the camera and car, and maybe a little catering from Fatburger, for $17,000?  Maybe they just meant the initial pre-post-production budget. Or the pre-production budget. Maybe Glodell is a genius. At any rate, he’s certainly a guy with a big future, maybe in chop-shops as well as in movies.
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One Response to “Wilmington on Movies: Bellflower”

  1. Aaron says:

    Thank YOU! I have read many reviews, good and bad, that hint that none of the end was real. While viewing it I didn’t pick up on any references to a fight club style ending and thought everything except the mushroom cloud shot was meant to be reality. feel good now that someone else is reviewing less as as that kind of movie and as the movie I thought I watched.
    I personally loved this movie and its definitely my favorite so far this year however i can understand why some people don’t like it.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon