Entertainment Magazine

Undiscovered Gems – American Movie (1999)

Posted on the 09 May 2014 by Thomasjford


Starring: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Tom Schimmels, Bill Borchardt, Ken Keen

Directed by: Chris Smith

Synopsis: Documentary about an aspiring filmmaker’s attempts to finance his dream project by finally completing the low-budget horror film he abandoned years before.

To call this an undiscovered gem is probably being a bit disingenuous, as it would probably make many peoples top twenty list of great documentaries. Yet it actually remains fairly unknown, at least here in the UK, so I feel it is worthy of being included in this series. Like all great documentaries, it has moments of emotional heft in between some pure comedy gold.

Mark Borchardt is trying to make his own low budget short horror film, Covan. This is the account of the making of it. And it is pretty damned funny. Borchardt is your above average dreamer. He has a goal to get his film made and he will do whatever it takes. His pal Mike is a some what damaged individual who is along for the ride. He also provides a lot of the comedic element to the film, although not on purpose.

The nice thing about American Movie is that, despite Borchardt being a fairly terrible film maker, he makes up for it with his infectious enthusiasm, never say die attitude and sky high confidence. You are always rooting for Mark, even when the odds start stacking up against him. You want him to have a better life than the one he appears to have, living in his parents basement, maxing out credit cards, looking after his alcoholic uncle in a trailer park.

There are some supremely funny moments in American movie, The highlight has to be when he is filming his Uncle Bill for a particular scene, and his Uncle (an old man) can’t get the one line right. It eventually gets to Take 31 before Uncle Bill gives up and says he doesn’t want to do it any more. On the flip side to the comedic point, is the emotional stuff, again featuring Uncle Bill. At one poignant moment Mark is comforting his Uncle who is trapped in the bathtub. He cuts his toenails for him and dries him off. There may even be some tears shed. It’s a really heartwarming scene that makes you appreciate these guys as real people.

The spaced out, mullet haired Mike is also an absolute riot, in a deadpan, acid fried way. He too is a depressing case that you can’t help but like because of his belief in his friends film making talents.

It’s a documentary that has divided opinion. I think it was funny, poignant and engaging. And it was nice to root for the underdog. If only the biggest Hollywood film makers had as much passion as Mark Borchardt then we might have better movies in the cinema more often. Having said that, I’m not sure I’m ready for Covan 2 to hit the big screen just yet!

4 clappers


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