If you've ever wanted to make a movie, see "American Movie," a documentary about someone who wants to make a movie more than you do. Mark Borchardt may want to make a movie more than anyone else in the world. He is a 30-year-old, odd-job man from Menomonee Falls, Wis., who has been making movies since he was a teenager and dreams of an epic about his life, which will be titled "Northwestern," and be about "rust and decay."
"American Movie" is a very funny, sometimes very sad documentary directed by Chris Smith and produced by Sarah Price, about Mark's life, his friends, his family, his films and his dreams. From one point of view, Mark is a loser, a man who has spent his adult life making unreleased and sometimes unfinished movies with titles such as "The More the Scarier III." He plunders the bank account of his elderly Uncle Bill for funds to continue, he uses his friends and hapless local amateur actors as his cast, he enlists his mother as his cinematographer, and his composer and best friend is a guy named Mike Schank who, after one drug trip too many, seems like the twin of Kevin Smith's Silent Bob.
If Mark's mother is supportive, his father stays out of sight, sticking his head around a doorway occasionally to warn against bad language. Mark has two brothers who are fed up with him; one says he would be "well suited to factory work," and the other observes, "his main asset is his mouth." And yet Mark Borchardt is the embodiment of a lonely, rejected, dedicated artist. No poet in a Paris garret has ever been more determined to succeed. To find privacy while writing his screenplays, he drives his old beater to the parking lot of the local commuter airport and composes on a yellow legal pad. To support himself, he delivers the Wall Street Journal before dawn and vacuums the carpets in a mausoleum. He has inspired the loyalty of his friends and crew members, and his girlfriend observes that if he accomplishes 25 percent of what he hopes to do, "that'll be more than most people do." Every year at Sundance, young filmmakers emerge from the woodwork, bearing the masterpieces they have somehow made for peanuts, enlisting volunteer cast and crew. Last year's discovery was not "Coven," but "The Blair Witch Project." It cost $25,000 and so far has grossed $150 million. One day Mark Borchardt hopes for that kind of success. If it never comes, it won't be for lack of trying. (R. Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)