Film Comment Selects: two films “positively crucial to documentary film history”

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In Film Comment November/December 2008, Rob Nelson wrote: “Class-topping graduates of Sundance High in their respective years, American Movie (1999) and American Teen (2008) met with very different fates in the real world—the former grossing more for Sony Pictures Classics than its horror-filmmaker subject Mark Borchardt could ever hope to see from his Coven, the latter making less for the now-defunct Paramount Vantage than its kids’ parents will likely shell out for a year of college. We could blame the Bush years for the economic downturn of quintessentially American youth docs, but there’s more to gain simply by noting that the alarmingly uncertain lives of Midwestern schlockmeisters and high-schoolers were captured much earlier—and better—by a little-known pair of MIT Film Section alums.”

Nelson continues: “…both Seventeen and Demon Lover Diary are positively crucial to documentary film history. That’s in no small part for what these two pioneering films share: a raw, pungent sense that the Seventies killed the Sixties, that law and order would be here to stay (Seventeen’s first words are a home-ec teacher’s orders to “be quiet and sit down”), that the kids who manage to survive will, like the two films, be sent to detention (and won’t go quietly).

Seventeen is loaded with tap beer, pot smoke, feathered hair, wood paneling, F-bombs, and copious amounts of classic rock, including a radio DJ’s spin of Seger’s ageless “Against the Wind,” requested at kegger’s end by a drunken youth in dedication to a buddy who died just hours earlier in a car crash. Albeit claustrophobic, befitting the subjects’ sideways mobility, Seventeen is somehow funny, in part for how defiantly its editing bucks the old-school rules of vérité in its search for one darkly comic juxtaposition after another. Funnier still, Demon Lover Diary has the hair (much of it facial) and the tunes (“Money” and “Chain of Fools,” to name a well-matched pair), plus DeMott’s sober if snarky voice of reason, whispered playfully into the mic in post-production. Preceding Seventeen by a good half-dozen years, DeMott’s Diary takes the tenets of Direct Cinema more blatantly to task, justly editorializing on the horror production’s utter lack of professionalism, not to mention casting the whole Demon Lover adventure in some doubt from scene one by introducing boyfriend Kreines in full-on slacker mode—shaggy head hardly in the work-for-nothing game.”

Read the whole article in the Film Comment archives

Demon Lover Diary and Seventeen screen this week as part of Film Comment Selects:

Buy tickets to Demon Lover Diary: Sun Feb 22: 2:30

Buy tickets to Seventeen: Sun Feb 22: 4:30

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