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American Movie

Mark Borchardt , Mike Schank , Chris Smith    DVD
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
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Struggling filmmaker Mark Borchardt is the subject of American Movie, and he may also be the most determined man you'll ever meet. The straggly haired, fast-talking, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, native lists his greatest influences as Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He began making horror movies as a gangly adolescent, and is now set on finishing Coven (which he pronounces like "woven"), the "35-minute direct market thriller" he has worked on for two years. In the process, he steadfastly battles immense debt, the threat of losing his kids, and birds chirping gleefully through scenes set in the dead of winter. His mother would rather do her shopping than be an extra, his brother contends he's best suited for factory work, and his father just wants him to "watch the language."

Standing by him through it all is Mark's childhood buddy, Mike Schank, who is the strongest weapon against drug use a task force could ever hope for, and Uncle Bill, begrudging financier of Coven, who appears to be wasting away before our very eyes. In less perceptive hands these two could easily become caricatures--the burnt-out stoner and the crotchety old coot--but through director Chris Smith's lens we see why Mark loves them, why they love Mark, and why each of these stories is uniquely compelling.

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, the film has been compared to Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman--two unquestionably hilarious mock-documentaries--and, indeed, American Movie has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. But in the spoofs, we feel encouraged to point and giggle at the poor slobs trying to get a piece of the action. Smith, however, offers us a funny and overwhelmingly affectionate portrait; you may sit down expecting to laugh at Mark's pie-in-the-sky hopes, but you soon find yourself bursting with admiration. "The American dream stays with me each and every day," Mark says, and by the end, we want nothing more than for it to come true. (The DVD version includes the complete short film "Coven.") --Brangien Davis


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Are These Reviews Real? Sept. 4 2006
Format:DVD
I'd like to see a special feature added to future DVD releases entitled "interviews of people who think American Movie is a mockumentary." My god! I can't believe people didn't know this was real. Wait a minute. Maybe they did and they're just pretending to think it was fake? Maybe they aren't writing reviews, they're writing parodies of reviews. Mock-views. Yeah, that's it!

What a masterpiece "American Movie" is! But I would have had the dialogue re-written to punch it up in a few places, and recast the role of Mark's girlfriend.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Need help people June 1 2004
Format:DVD
I was just about to buy this DVD, based on the recommendations here, but I noticed that the DVD is in Full Screen format.
What's up with that?
Was the film shot in TV aspect ratio? I'm not going to buy a widescreen film in Full Screen format.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Mandatory March 10 2004
Format:DVD
American Movie is an absolutely enjoyable and strangely fascinating documentary by the filmmaking team of director CHRIS SMITH and producer SARAH PRICE. It's a story about following your dream. The subject of the film is a young, fiercely dedicated, self-defined filmmaker Mark Borchardt. Borchardt, who was born and lives in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin and who has, since the age of 14, been trying to fulfill his dream of becoming a successful Hollywood feature film director . . . in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is one of the most genuine and interesting documentary subjects you could imagine. "But I've never heard of him," you say. I know. He's not yet famous but he's still fascinating. In this delightful and thoroughly honest film, you'll see how this young man, now 30-something, continues to pursue his "impossible dream" despite his parents' wishes that he get a job in a factory, his lack of any serious financial backing, and many years of dreaming and drinking when, as he says himself, he should've been working on his films.
In this very intimate film you'll see some of his work and follow very closely as he pursues capital investment ($3,000) from his very tight-fisted and colorful uncle, enlists his mother to be an extra as she explains that she really needs to go shopping instead, and shoots and edits his film with the constant and loyal support of his long-time friend, Mike Schank. Mike has been his friend since childhood. He's a musician, a guitarist, and admitted drug abuser (though he's been clean for the last four years.) He's a kind of real-life "Reverend Jim" from TV's Taxi. He has definitely been affected by all the various drugs and alcohol he's drunk, sniffed, swallowed, and whatever over the years.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I can't believe it. Feb. 16 2004
Format:DVD
I can't believe I'm the first to review this film. I watched it on DVD three times in two days. The first time I thought I was watching a mockudrama, like Best in Show, for example. Seen that way it was wonderful, but a bit dark at times. Second time through I understood I was watching a strange documentary, filled with wonderful people I'd like to know, but not too closely. Third time through I included the commentary and heard the odd background story. Now I want to find someone doing what Mark is doing so I can get involved. Humm. Maybe not Mark, though.
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5.0 out of 5 stars ONLY IN AMERICA Feb. 3 2004
Format:DVD
This is the funniest thing that I have ever seen! Just see the damn movie. Everyone else can tell you what it's about, all I'm saying is see this movie immediately! You won't believe that people like this actually exist out there. Oh my god take my word for it, you'll be a better person if you check out this movie.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Documentary. Jan. 24 2004
By tvtv3
Format:VHS Tape
It's amazing how much non-fiction films have changed. There were documentaries which spawned the popular mockumentaries, fictional movies filmed like a documentary. AMERICAN MOVIE is a strange hybrid of the two: it is a documentary that feels like a mockumentary. The film revolves around Mark Borchardt, a thirty-year-old man who has been making cheap 8 MM films since childhood. The film revolves around a 2-plus year journey to finish his horror masterpiece, COVEN (pronounced like woven). Connected through this story are several interesting people: such as Mark's best friend Mike Schank (a former drug addict), Mark's Uncle Bill (who has a fortune of around $250,000 and literally whithers away as the movie progresses), and Mark's Mom (a fiesty, yet supportive woman). Mark wants to finish COVEN so that he can finish his true film opus, a semi-autobiographical movie called NORTHWESTERN. Along the way, there are tons of challenges from the mundane (trying to pay off his phone bill) to the unusual (slicing together a missing frame in his movie hours before its public premiere).
The film is both funny and heartwarming. I found it funny because real life is often funny and many of the people in AMERICAN MOVIE reminded me of people in my own life I have known and met. It's heartwarming because despite all that Mark goes through (huge amounts of debt, custody battles, etc.) he still keeps plodding away until his movie gets finished. AMERICAN MOVIE is one of the best and most enjoyable documentaries I have ever seen.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Review Haiku by Todd Marrone Dec 16 2003
Format:DVD
Stranger than fiction,
these guys are inspiring
and downright funny.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, humorous, and meaningful documentary Aug. 29 2003
Format:DVD
American Movie is ostensibly about Borchardt's quixotic quest to complete his independent film, Coven. However, the movie covers far more ground than just filmmaking. Interwoven with the plot are the existential themes of meaning, purpose, death, and life. Borchardt, whether he knows it or not, confronts major philosophical questions with a mix of sheer idealism and raw courage during his soliloquies that are fueled by 6 packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. Throughout the filming of the movie Borchardt encounters one "test" after another and bears his soul for all to see. His determination to overcome any obstacle is humorous at times and thoroughly inspiring. Whatever you do, don't give up on this film-watch it to the end. Even after considering all of his flaws, I believe the world needs more men like Mark Borchardt-men whose dreams may at times be flawed, but are committed to following them nonetheless.
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