DISTANCE FROM WEIRD by Noah Buschel
Having been in Park City last year for my movie The Missing Person, I was very happy to not have any movie there this year. I could just read about busy, snowy, bustling Sundance from the warm streets of Santa Monica. With no one sneezing cocaine on me, and no Billy Bob Thornton rockabilly, and no Lee Daniels closing down restaurants to talk in hushed tones about his deep feelings on poverty.
So I’d just open the LA Times, or the NY Times, and read. Amy Ryan was promoting Jack Goes Boating, and when asked about her character, she said, “Well, she’s just a weirdo. But aren’t we all” Amen to that. And isn’t that what Sundance is all about? Celebrating the weirdo in us all.
But I was thinking, as I walked back from the sunny Starbucks, loaded on Chai, I was thinking, does a weirdo even know he/she is a weirdo? I was thinking of the Starbucks crowd on the Promenade at 6:30 AM. The one I had just left behind. Homeless kids, wheelchair vets, unshaven men in pajamas (that be me). I don’t think we regarded ourselves as a particularly strange crew. It never really came up actually. Mostly we just played checkers and argued about Kobe or LeBron.
But how come Sundance always feels like a freak festival that is goin’ out of it’s way to be freaky? How come it always seems like a place for straight-laced directors to make off-beat films? Or for nose-jobbed ingénues to be unadorned? Or for hair-plugged leading men to wear funny beards in WireImage? Or for young Brooklynites to rock suspenders and bow ties?
I got this feeling that Sundance was somehow a bunch of people posing as kooky. And they were very condescending. Not just to me, but to my friend Louis on the corner. He’s a 90-year-old Joe Dimaggio fan, and there’s no way you could convince him that Joe D. is not alive and well. I myself suffer from mild agoraphobia and can go for days without seeing anyone. But not me, not Louis, not none of The Starbucks Crew, none of us regard ourselves as weirdos. Or even misfits. You’d really have to distance yourself from your own eccentricities in order to regard yourself as such. And that’s maybe the vibe from Sundance that makes me so uncomfortable. If you go around talking about being a misfit, you’re not. I mean you are, but you’re actually using the idea that you are to distance yourself from your true misfit nature.
Did Cassavettes think his characters were weirdos? Or that he was a weirdo? Or did he think that his characters were humans? And that he was human. And that humans have gotten a bad rap from mainstream society. That we have been told so many times by billboards and commercials what we’re supposed to look like and sound like and feel like that the only real thing to do as an artist would be to cast aside all that and make something human. Not weird—human! The very notion of weird pays homage to the billboards and all that bullshit.
The Marlboro Man and The Playboy Bunny sure have messed up our minds. These distorted images of ourselves have been ingrained in our collective consciousness real deep. But The Bunny and Marlboro Man aren’t beauty. Or truth. Or normalcy. They’re just a lie and a nightmare created out of fear, built to play on teenage insecurities. We’re a race that is evolving and changing. And what we may be evolving into… who knows? I have a suspicion we will look a lot more like E.T. than Jennifer Aniston.
But most Sundance movies aren’t human. That is to say, most of them just feel like mass media brainwashed people making movies about peculiar people. As opposed to Hal Ashby or Sam Fuller or Kubrick. Their movies all felt singular and curious and fresh. Not because they were trying to be different. Simply because we all are different. And if an artist stops trying to blend in and just does his/her own thing—it will be inimitable. It will be truly weird, in the sense that to be a human is truly weird. We are floating in the vast universe after all.
Could there be any idea or concept more dangerous to an artists’ creativity than the idea and concept of weirdness. I mean, we wouldn’t have Blonde on Blonde if Dylan was wondering if he was being odd. Pollock would have never dripped, Salinger wouldn’t’ve Seymour’d, Van Gogh wouldn’t’ve Sunflowered, Malick wouldn’t’ve made a car movie killin’ spree poem. Brando wouldn’t’ve Tango’d. Captain Beefheart wouldn’t’ve Trout Mask Replica‘d. Basho wouldn’t’ve became a frog. Miyazaki wouldn’t’ve Spirited Away. Downey Sr. wouldn’t’ve PutneySwope‘d. Phil Guston wouldn’t’ve gone all hoody and toony. Charlie Bird Parker probably wouldn’t’ve even been born at all.
That’s not to say if you’re sticking to your guns it immediately equals genius. But geez, what a relief even to see a bad movie that comes from someone’s heart. Like even seeing Boondocks Saints 2. I felt better coming out of that movie than most of them. It wasn’t a filmmaker manipulating himself into someone else. And it wasn’t a filmmaker trying to fit into the latest fads or the coolest movements. I’m not sure any of my movies are any good either. I just know I’m makin’ a real effort for them to be from my heart and not somewhere else.
No one wants to be alone, but if we really wanna be able to sleep okay at night, maybe we have to risk being alone. Maybe we have to risk being unpopular. And maybe that means not playing the weirdo. Maybe it means actually being as weird and wonderful and dynamic as we really are. To not be scared of our own strangeness and shadows. Like not being scared if one night we’re writing and we go into the bathroom to brush our teeth and see an alien in the mirror.
Maybe that’s just reality staring at us.
So here’s hoping that at next year’s Sundance no one even mentions the word weird. Then maybe the rebellion and the indie spirit will have truly returned. And the movies will polarize. And the movies will scare. And the movies will be hard to sell. Critics will be scratching their heads, making big condescending statements because they won’t know what’s going on. And agents will be confused and angry. And it will be good.
Until then, I guess I’ll just watch Elaine May’s Mikey and Nicky.
— Noah Buschel