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American Movie (1999)

7.9
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Ratings: 7.9/10 from 12,440 users   Metascore: 84/100
Reviews: 139 user | 69 critic | 29 from Metacritic.com

Documentary about an aspiring filmmaker's attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

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Title: American Movie (1999)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
Filmmaker
Tom Schimmels ...
Actor in 'Coven'
Monica Borchardt ...
Mark's Mom
Alex Borchardt ...
Chris Borchardt ...
Ken Keen ...
Mike Schank ...
Friend / Musician
Matt Weisman ...
Casting director
Bill Borchardt ...
Mark's Uncle / Executive Producer (as Uncle Bill)
Cliff Borchardt ...
Mark's Dad
Tom Beach ...
Production manager
Joan Petrie ...
Mark's Girlfriend / Associate Producer
Robert Richard Jorge ...
Actor
Dean Allen ...
Props / Special effects
Tommy Dallace ...
The Movie Star
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Storyline

On the northwest side of Milwaukee, Mark Borchardt dreams the American dream: for him, it's making movies. Using relatives, local theater talent, slacker friends, his Mastercard, and $3,000 from his Uncle Bill, Mark strives over three years to finish "Covan," a short horror film. His own personal demons (alcohol, gambling, a dysfunctional family) plague him, but he desperately wants to overcome self-doubt and avoid failure. In moments of reflection, Mark sees his story as quintessentially American, and its the nature and nuance of his dream that this film explores. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Documentary

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language and some drug content | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

13 April 2000 (Australia)  »

Also Known As:

American Movie: The Making of Northwestern  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Opening Weekend:

$20,260 (USA) (5 November 1999)

Gross:

$1,160,426 (USA) (21 April 2000)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

The movie theater featured in the end of the film is the Times Cinema in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's west side. It specializes in obscure and independent films and is Milwaukee's sole surviving independent movie theater. See more »

Quotes

Mark Borchardt: There's no excuses, Paul. No one has ever, ever paid admission to see an excuse. No one has ever faced a black screen that says: "Well, if we had these set of circumstances, we would've shot this scene... so please forgive us and use your imagination." I've been to the movies hundreds of times. That's never occurred.
See more »

Connections

Spoofed in The Angry Video Game Nerd: The Karate Kid (2006) See more »

Soundtracks

Mr. Bojangles
Written by Jerry Jeff Walker
Performed by Mike Schank
used by permission of Warner/Chappell Music
See more »

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User Reviews

Don't Let This Happen To You
24 December 2006 | by (Dallas, Texas) – See all my reviews

Praised by some, loathed by others, this Chris Smith documentary tells the real-life story of a twenty-something, amateur filmmaker named Mark Borchardt who sets out to complete his thirty minute film "Coven", as a first step toward what he hopes will be a lifelong career in feature film-making. Working menial jobs, Mark lives at home in his parent's basement. He's deep in debt. And he has no professional experience. What he does have is idealism, enthusiasm, supreme confidence, and enormous determination and zeal. The question in my mind was: does Mark have ... talent?

Reminiscent of Michael Moore's "Roger & Me" (1989), "American Movie" is both funny and depressing. We watch Mark: write a script, cast players, direct, edit, and especially crucial in Mark's case, find funding. With every one of these tasks Mark plods along frustrated, but determined. All of these activities involve other people, including his mom, his spaced-out friend Mike, and other locals. One of these locals is his real-life Uncle Bill who looks to be in his eighties.

At one point Uncle Bill, sitting in his cluttered trailer, demands to be fed before he will consent to being filmed. Later, Mark, being a perfectionist, requires more "takes" since Uncle Bill can't seem to get it right. Mark to Uncle Bill: "You have to believe in what you're saying", to which Uncle Bill responds: "Well, I don't; I don't believe in nothing you're doing". After "take" 31, Uncle Bill rebels: "Isn't that enough now? That's all for me".

Some reviewers of "American Movie" have criticized it as pointless voyeurism into the life of a no-talent loser. They refer to Mark and his cohorts as "trailer park white trash". Certainly, that is one interpretation, and along with it the conclusion that the film is a sad commentary on the impossibility of achieving Hollywood's idea of the American Dream, when you have no money to work with.

But other reviewers find the film to be inspiring, a cinematic pep talk for the underdog, and brutally honest about the realities of indie film-making. These viewers point out that despite the fact that Mark had no money to speak of, he still completed his film "Coven", and got it shown at the local theater.

My own conclusion is that "American Movie" is a well-crafted documentary useful for first time indie filmmakers. It's similar to a TV reality show, but without the competition. The cinematography and the editing are excellent. Although I found Mark to be irritating at times and overconfident of his skills, I admired his optimism and determination. "Coven", included as an extra on the DVD, may be a cinematic train wreck. But Mark's overall experience is no less valid as a guide to others. In essence, the message of "American Movie" is: don't let this happen to you.


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