Wow, amazing in so many ways.
If you would happen to see it, you’d be convinced this film was shot in the late 70’s, early 80’s. The imagery, colors, and camerawork is astonishing and perfectly suited to my tastes. However, Frownland was released in 2007 and I just now was able to see it. It took forever to get to DVD.
The cinematography was done by Sean Williams. This article from Hammer to Nail puts it best:
You can’t tell this story and film it prettily. Sean Williams’s abrasive 16mm cinematography—crusty, grainy, shaky, jarring—recalls a lost era in independent film, where imperfect, underlit imagery established an atmosphere of unshakeable authenticity. These days, when low-budget filmmakers adopt this approach—on digital video, no less—it’s out of laziness or sloppiness. Here, it’s out of a deep-seated desire to retain a visceral connection to an earlier, more uncompromising moment in film history. Bronstein’s decision to embrace this aesthetic—a seemingly anachronistic decision for the digitally driven early 21st Century—results in a truly freakish tone. Combined with Paul Grimstad’s synthesized score and an absence of up-to-the-minute pop culture references, Frownland feels like a 1983 filmmaker’s vision of a rundown, futuristic New York City.
All of my feelings about this film are summed up in that above paragraph. It’s truly a visceral connection with this film and its characters and I’ve been looking for films like this for quite some time. The film sometimes gets lumped in with the mumblecore scene and the film’s lo-fi aesthetic feels like the ugly sister of Andrew Bujalksi’s Funny Ha Ha.
Having said all that, the film is haunting and enthralling. Story wise, it’s about this social outcast named Keith who has a speech problem where he’s either stuttering so badly he cannot speak at all or spewing a torrent of words that he’s incomprehensible. This is one of the best films I’ve ever seen about a crazy person. Director Ronald Bronstein does it so tastefully and horrifically. All the characters in this film are beautifully miserable.
There were many times in the film I said to myself, “yes! they did that perfectly” I loved the the enormous typography as the title screen appears and then its gone with almost no time to read it. Yes! For some reason that feels great to me. I think because it’s a direct violation of traditional titles.
I can’t really accurately describe why I like this film so much. Other writers do it so much better. I’m definitely buying this on DVD and checking out more from this director.