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HIGHER CULTURE: Why You Should Watch Indie Films

(Merie Wallace/A24 via AP)

Essential Viewing

(A preface: this will be a slightly shorter edition of “Higher Culture,” but I promise to make it up to you with a bonus column on Saturday. Happy Friday, readers!)

Let’s go to the movies!

Well, not in the traditional, “let’s get in the car and drive to the theater chain and stuff our faces with buttered popcorn and Junior Mints” movies. I’m talking about indie movies. Small-budget movies. Shoestring budget movies. Little, itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny movies someone coulda made on their iPhone. Movies that, even before the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, you had to have some sixth sense to pick up on your radar or a friend in the know to learn which local, arthouse theater to find it in.

But what is an independent film? you might ask.

The language of indie films

It’s possible that when many people say there are no good movies coming out anymore, what they mean are big-budget, Hollywood affairs.

I don’t blame anyone who tells me the last movie they saw in a movie theater was five to 10 years ago — not at all. They just don’t realize there’s a whole universe of moviemakers outside the Hollywood studio gates. The fact is that there’s an uncharted ocean of movies you’ve likely never heard of before, and they usually speak a different kind of film language than the stuff the big studios slap together with a raft of writers (and script doctors) and call it good.

That’s not how indie films are made. They begin inside the heart, and are built and completed as the director (who is often the screenwriter) can get funding to finish it and get it released. And the language I spoke of is often a movie without a traditional genre, or it straddles genres. A movie with less of a plot and more of a character study. It’s more about the mood or the atmosphere than a connect the dots plot.

That doesn’t mean these films and their directors always toil away in obscurity. You might recognize names like Paul Thomas Anderson, Greta Gerwig, David Lynch (whose “Elephant Man” I wrote about before), or, you know, Francis Ford Coppola. They can work inside and outside the Hollywood system, get nominated for and win awards, and still maintain their singular visions as artists. But those are just a few of the artists we’re going to “meet” in this “Essential Viewing” independent film series.

I’ll make you this promise: by the end of this series, you’ll have a stack of independent movies you’re ready to bite into that taste just as great as (or better than) that Coca-Cola or Cherry Slurpee.

Heck, it might even surpass those weiner dogs (on steamed buns) topped with mustard and jalapeño peppers you were planning to have at the 26-screen Multiplex Theater, Inc.

Trust me.

Much like my “Essential Listening” series about musical topics (you can find the starting pieces of the series here and here), this first “Essential Viewing” column just acts as a primer on what I think you should know to understand and enjoy in movies, TV, and the visual arts.

In the first installment of the series Saturday, we’ll meet two titan of independent cinema — both with the first name John — and a genius from Germany who makes waves in both indie documentaries and feature films. See you then.

An closing aside:

Some readers might be aware that the Academy Awards took place last weekend — if only because of the dreary viewership numbers that were reported in the days following the telecast. (By the way, in case you missed it, you can catch an archived recording of me and guest Brad Slager on the debut episode of my new podcast, “Lower Culture With Becca Lower” here, talking in a special, VIP event about Hollywood and Andrew Breitbart, how the coronavirus and the Derek Chauvin verdict would affect this year’s Oscars, and a few other fun topics outside politics.)

Though it’s an audio podcast right now, at some point, it will be a videocast (I think the kids call it a vlog, maybe). That part is still in the works, but we’ll get there!

As I mentioned to Ed Morrissey when he was kind enough to have me as a guest on his show Tuesday, the new podcast (like the “Higher Culture” column) will ditch politics going forward — so, what can you expect to hear? Politicians and former politicians, pundits, radio show hosts and others whom you think you know on the right talking about what they’re passionate about outside of the political sphere. I hope you’ll join us when that gets started in earnest — very soon!

See you tomorrow.