03 December 2009

Coven (and by extension, American Movie).

Here's the thing about Spinal Tap: they're a real fucking band. I've seen their 2007 Live Aid performance, and this year I saw them on Conan. They're real people playing real instruments and writing real songs, and it's only their story and context that is fictitious. If they had never left the movie, if their characters hadn't exited the film, they wouldn't have the conceptual legitimacy that they do. Their continued existence is a laceration to the rules of their conception. I love that.

Here's the thing about Coven: the plot is fictitious. Fictitious? The plot is nonsensical, ludicrous, and etc. It's somehow about real feelings though, and I know this because I know Mark Borchardt, and I know him because of Chris Smith's film American Movie. The parallel existence of these films allows a bilateral comprehension of the man and movie. Coven the film is the coded token of a man's soul, and American Movie is the decoder.

This relationship is essential to me. Ross McElwee competently and sometimes impressively attempts this within a single film, but he makes personal decisions about what he exposes about himself. As honest as he can be, he still operates under a narrative shield, and that inherently creates distance. Jonathan Caouette's Tarnation is an emotionally infectious testimony to success by way of complete filmic candor. His film offers total honesty and achieves this because Caouette mines his own gut, but then that's all there is. The closest it comes to Coven-like mystification is the sequence that ruminates on the creation of a rock opera. If that rock opera had been included, it would have been Caouette's Coven.

Less you think I'm ascribing too much meaning to these films, American Movie and Coven, let me be clear: I'd love this concept with every opportunity. I achieve it to lesser degrees when I watch special features, biographical documentaries, read essays, etc, but the connection, it seems to me, has never been stronger than it is here. You can name for yourself other examples which near this effort, but the core and distinctive feature is the amount of information which it is necessary to receive from American Movie in order to understand Coven. Coven requires American Movie for its efficacy.

After American Movie, the alcohol motif in Coven makes sense. The language is understandable. The passion is detectable. Beyond that, the narrative's mysterious interruptions of supernaturally deleterious entities become bizarrely meaningful (absurdly relevant and metaphorical), and this meaning is the beginning of comprehending the function of horror films in general. If I sometimes want to attribute metaphysical, spiritual, or existential qualities to horror films, it seems to me that American Movie/Coven represent a golden bridge for a validation of that effort. Borchardt's personality is splashed across Chris Smith's documentary, and in turn it is splattered through the Coven narrative.

And here's what blows my mind: Coven becomes a real film. I fucking love that.

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