As has been the case with most of my recent epiphanies, this one arose from my Netflix list. I rented Party Girl the other day. I’m a Parker Posey fan, and I’d always heard she was good in it. And she is. Not the best performance I’ve seen from her – check out The House of Yes or Best in Show for that – but it’s worth your while. The thing with Party Girl is that it’s so ridiculously dated. And not just with the library stuff, although as a library employee, the card catalogues are tough to take in stride from a 2005 perspective. Everything from the clothes to the clubs to the attitudes are such a product of the mid-1990s.
This was when I realized that I was born five years too late, and that I totally missed out on that mid-‘90s indie film bonanza. Not that independent film was dead by the time I really started to get psycho about film (around 1997/98), but it had changed by then. The mid-‘90s indie films were infused with that Gen-X, slacker aesthetic that I had grown up with so much in music. And watching those movies on DVD now, I can’t possibly see them with the kind of novelty they must have had back then.
Think about it. Between 1994 and 1997, you had movies like Living in Oblivion, Basquiat, Clockwatchers, all good movies that I have to think would have been even better in the context of what must have seemed like a movement for indie filmgoers. Think of the directors who were coming out with their first projects back then: Kevin Smith, Whit Stillman, Noah Baumbach, Richard Linklater, Nicole Holofcener were all making these bright, talky, invigorating movies. To have been able to catch filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, and Todd Haynes when they were making their ragged first films? Had to be exciting.
Also, it might have been nice to have caught in to some of the indie actors while they were young and adventurous. That way I wouldn’t have first seen Liev Schrieber in the Scream trilogy. Or Julianne Moore in Jurassic Park II. Or James LeGros in Ally freaking McBeal.
In summation: five years earlier, Mom and Dad. That’s all it would have taken. Thanks. A lot.
ADDENDUM: My favorite indie movies from the mid-‘90s
01 - Before Sunrise - dir.: Richard Linklater
I really didn’t think I’d like it much, but you really do get engrossed by an hour and a half of Ethan Hawke talking. Trust me, it’s so much better than you think it is.
02 - Bottle Rocket - dir.: Wes Anderson
Just saw it recently, but it’s a lot of fun to see the Wilson brothers cut loose at such a young age. It’s a bit unformed and ragged, but the ill-fated heist scene makes up for a lot.
03 - Clerks - dir.: Kevin Smith
One of the most eye-opening movies of my lifetime. I remember seeing this movie and realizing how differently movies can be made. Plus, it’s still damn hilarious after all these years.
04 - Living in Oblivion - dir.: Tom DiCillo
Indie film about making an indie film, it’s a precious conceit, to be sure. But the actors sell it so well, Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, and James LeGros especially. It’s very funny.
05 - Walking and Talking - dir.: Nicole Holofcener
This is a smart, well-acted (Catherine Keener again, this time with Anne Heche), heartfelt comedy. Holofcener would later make Lovely and Amazing, another intelligent and genuine character piece. I really like her work.