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Mojave and The Wolfpack

(Our own Matt Delman recently relocated from Los Angeles to New York City. He also just happened to catch two very different films at this years Tribeca Film Fest that had a personal resonance with him in terms of East Coast -vs- West Coast filmmaking. Hopefully this doesn’t ignite a gang-style war.)

Moving across country is a significant lifestyle choice. These choices we make impact our behavior, our philosophy, and our art. As I settle back in to the Manhattan routine, I wonder about the path I’ve chosen. Yesterday I saw two movies at the Tribeca Film Festival that perfectly exemplified the two styles of filmmaking prominent in New York and Los Angeles. Of course these generalizations don’t hold up for every project–not even close–but I found them to be strikingly stereotypical of the kinds of storytelling I’ve encountered on both coasts.

The first was Mojave, a thriller about two men who cross paths in the desert and the twisted series of events that follow. The world of the story is set in Hollywood, where asshole producers (Mark Wahlberg), detached agents (Walton Goggins) and foreign beauties (Louise Bourgoin) make up the hazy landscape. The protagonist (Garrett Hedlund) is a spoiled, depressed film director on a suicide mission. That is until he encounters another artist, a struggling desert nomad with a rifle, played zealously by Oscar Isaac. Isaac’s character is part philosopher part batshit crazy, who spouts flowing dialogue about topics ranging from the Bible to Shakespeare to Melville. His hairy vagabond is a pseudo-intellectual sociopath. Director William Monahan, who wrote The Departed, emphasizes the ‘written-ness’ of his writing. The film sounds like a screenplay. In some ways Mojave evokes the fast talking Noirs of the 40s and 50s. A hapless drifter, a victim of circumstance, and a step removed from realism. This is genre Hollywood filmmaking, and although it’s well executed it was, for me, lacking a human element.

The second film I saw was Sundance documentary holdover The Wolfpack, a punk rock portrait of six lost boys whose souls glow bright like the flickering of the damaged VHS tapes they worship. In the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a group of siblings and their mother are basically imprisoned by their father and not allowed to leave their apartment. Watching the film I felt claustrophobic. The boys grow up on movies. They love to build elaborate props, costumes and sets from cereal boxes and recreate entire blockbusters scene for scene. And they’re pretty good at it. First-time director Crystal Moselle gets inside access with an unobtrusive DSLR camera, and as the boys said in the Q&A, “she became our first friend.” Moselle’s footage is intercut with home videos that the boys shot over the years on their digital camcorder. The emotional toll of this domestic abuse weighs heavily throughout the film. But the pain gives way to joy towards the end when they are released into the world as we watch them go into the ocean for the first time at Coney Island and frolic through an apple orchard. The audience is both relieved and curious, and perhaps a bit worried at how they will adapt to a whole new world.

While Mojave is a step removed from reality, it could be said that The Wolfpack is only a step removed from Hollywood. As most documentaries, it is reality, but the dichotomy of the film lies in the boys playing out these Hollywood movies with such fervor and passion despite such restrictive circumstances. They do it to escape—to escape their tiny apartment in an attempt to connect to the humanity all around them yet just out of reach. New York is one of the most crowded and simultaneously isolating cities in the world. The Wolfpack depicts the extreme version of that, and it could be said that Mojave is a depiction of an extreme version of Hollywood. You can’t compare them in terms of quality—they are like apples and oranges. You can however, have a preference.

– Matthew Delman (@ItsTheRealDel)

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Matt Delman is the Editor-at-large for Hammer to Nail, spearheading the redesign and relaunch of the site in January 2020. Delman has been a frequent contributor since 2015, with boots on the ground at film festivals across North America. He also runs a boutique digital marketing agency, 3rd Impression, that specializes in social media advertising for independent film. He was recently featured in Filmmaker Magazine for his innovative digital strategies.

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