I'm always looking for independent films from fledgling directors. I've often thought that it is easy to hide behind big budgets and that, when you don't have one, the flaws in your film will either sink the effort completely or drive it to some kind of legendary cult status, ala John Waters "Pink Flamingos." And many times, that low budget indeed does drive the crew to great things, spurring more originality, more energy, and more effort to do one's best.
Having seen Detention, however, Texas auteur Andy Anderson's third full-length opus, I'm tempted to revise my opinions a bit. Frankly, I don't think ANY budget could cover up the Rio Grande-size gapers in his script. I even went so far as to BUY a used copy of "Positive ID," Anderson's second film, on the off chance he was having an off day. Alas, he wasn't.
Let's assume Anderson's scripts are dynamite gems in the rough (they aren't, but let's pretend). The look of both films is sludgy and amateurish. They have dipped-in-crap looks that remind one of "Eraserhead," shot poorly on home video. The acting is either flat or wildly expressionistic.
It's obvious Detention wants to be a satire on the PC-crazed hyper-legalistic stranglehold imposed on the public school system, and with this banner it takes huge liberties: all textbooks have been banned by the ultra-right school board. The "kids" (the youngest of which has to be 25) are sewer-mouthed, willfully-stupid louts. The cowed teachers are content to be beaten and raped in the halls. Satire is supposed to be clever and sharp folks...this script is about as pointed as a dull butter knife.
Yes, there are a few inspired moments (the audio torture of Toni Basil's "Mickey" played round the clock, is one) but when the film finally swings underway, the "points" it attempts to make are equally weak, dunderheaded, and simplistic. Detention sets up a situation that is so ridiculous, it has no choice but to be parodied and then attempts to take itself seriously, which is even funnier.
It even includes a "feel good" ending to heighten the artifice even more. This is obviously a movie that was made with a lot of passion, and that's the sad part. In the hands of someone who can actually write and shoot films, it might have been really good.
"Positive ID" shares many of these same failures. I'm left wondering if Andy Anderson's long absence from the industry isn't proof that he himself can learn something, albeit slowly.
No/low budget doesn't have to mean a film will suck. Take Kevin Smith's "Clerks," fellow-Texan Richard Linklater's "Slacker," or Lizzie Borden's "Working Girls": all made on a shoestring but not looking a bit like it, mostly due to the inventiveness of what the directors were doing with the script and film they had at their disposal. This is talent AND ambition. And sadly, you need both to make a good low-budget film.
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