The act of making a film project is a frustrating nightmare that you swear will eventually turn into a dream. Most poeople imagine a great happy soundstage where movie magic is captured for eternity. That there’s no need to hire lights because the actors will glow from the genius of your script. The harsh truth is that a film is a series of fires and the script is lighter fluid. The anxiety of the budget, crew egos, actors egos and running out of 35mm film never seems to end. Not to mention food poisoning threats from the craft service table chili. Living In Oblivion remains the closest an outsider will come to a glimpse of the harsh reality of low budget filmmaking. This is not a complete downer. There is a touch of the humor that can come from pressure filled moments in the world of make believe. This film is much more enjoyable than a season of Project Greenlight. Living in Oblivion: 20th Anniversary celebrates an indie look at indie cinema under construction.
In the early morning hours, a film crew gathers for start on a low budget indie feature film. The small set and tight crew have just a small scene to shoot. Catherine Keener (Being John Malkovich) has to talk to her mother in an soul baring moment between the two. Each take gets ruined by various elements. Bulbs break, the boom microphone drops in the frames, focus pulls too far and even worst happens in a few minutes. This drives director Steve Buscemi (Fargo & Boardwalk Empire)) over the edge. He tears into the entire crew for blowing the shot that could have made his film a masterpiece. Another day on the set is even more nightmarish with the arrival of young stud actor Chad Palimino (Leather Jackets‘ James Legros). He is a force of nature as he spent the night with his leading lady (Keener). He keeps messing with the impressive dolly shot. He keeps wanting to direct himself and make Buscemi his assistant director. Will this nightmare ever end? The third day gets weirder as the shot involves a simple dream shot of Keener in a wedding dress while a little person in a blue tuxedo walks around her holding an apple. The actor hired is Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones). He’s not happy at being stuck in a goofy dream sequence. This leads to a hilarious argument between him and Buscemi. Strange to think how years later, these two would be the faces of HBO. Will this movie ever get made? Will the director be led way in cuffs or a straitjacket.
Living In Oblivion remains real. These are things that happen on a film shoot no matter how small the production. The strange feeling you get during the room tone recording is captured here. Egos will clash. Equipment will fail. Scenes that felt great on the page will stink when they take flesh. What’s amazing is how much of the cast would continue to have great careers in indie film including Kevin Corrigan (Grounded For Life) and Dermot Mulroney Director Tom DiCillo had got his name on the screen as Jim Jaramusch’s director of photography. He lensed the indie icon Stranger Than Paradise. Elements of the film reflect his time with Jim including how his film is broken into three parts, but it plays as one brilliant cinematic nightmare.
The video for both film is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The first part of film was shot in 16mm so there’s more grain in the frame. The color scenes pop with the black and white contrast. The audio DTS-HD Master Audio Mono. Even for a low budget film, the sound clicks well enough especially strange noises on the set. The movie is subtitled.
DVD has all the features of the Blu-ray.
Audio Commentary has writer Tom DiCillo exploring his indie masterpiece. He relates back his career with the disasters found upon a small set.
In Our Own Oblivion: The Miracle of Making A Film (42:40) brings together so much of the cast and crew. DiCillo recounts how Johnny Suede was four years of his life and it went up in smoke. Even with Brad Pitt in the lead, it went away. The amazing thing was how much the cast and crew chipped in to finance the film. The script girl and sound guy saved the day.
Deleted Scene (2:07) shares a banana between star and the boom guy. There’s also Peter Dinklage’s trumpet solo.
Q&A with Tom DiCillo & Steve Buscemi (16:43) is from a screening at the Golden Age of Cinema Film Festival in 2002. Tom discusses how the film was born out of the mixture of homicidal and suicidal reactions. He felt horrible after Johnny Suede opened for only one weekend. The clapper is the guy who put the spark of the film into Tom’s head. The first section was shot as a short film.
Living in Oblivion: 20th Anniversary celebrates the finest insight of indie film creation.
Shout! Factory presents Living in Oblivion: 20th Anniversary. Directed by: Tom DiCillo. Screenplay by: Tom DiCillo. Starring: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, Peter Dinklage. Rated: R. Running Time: 92 minutes. Released: November 17, 2015.
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