In his new book, Vancouver film critic David Spaner comes frothing out of the gate like Steven Spielberg’s war horse. Shoot It! is a comprehensive study of independent cinema in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and France, as well as movements in Mexico, Romania, and South Korea. The author elicits good quotes from the likes of Mike Leigh, Charles Burnett, Alex Cox, Susan Seidelman, and even Woody Allen and Jennifer Beals (who has come a long way since Flashdance).
Spaner’s problem, though, is that his main thesis manages to be both politically correct in the broadest sense and deeply unfounded in terms of the practical realities of making movies.
His jumping-off point is solid: that the international foment of personal movie-making emerged as a response to the tradition of old-fashioned studio filmmaking which had turned into a business focused on making movies about fighting robots. However, while this assessment is essentially accurate, Spaner largely dismisses the influence of Altman, Coppola, Lucas, and Kubrick, who – like Woody Allen, whom he habitually cites – worked within the system but changed it, at least for a while, with strong sensibilities.
Spaner’s research is thorough and strong, but he relies too heavily on hipsters like Jim Jarmusch, Henry Jaglom, and Don McKellar, and never makes it clear what hoops these guys have to jump through to get their movies made. Invoking Miranda July and a glut of digital filmmakers, Spaner points out that we live in a DIY world in which anyone with a camera can attempt to emulate Spielberg on platforms such as YouTube. But to make a real movie – even the indies that Spaner venerates – requires money: it’s that simple. While offering a solid primer on the art of independent cinema, Spaner refuses to acknowledge the more bureaucratic aspects of independent filmmaking.