By James Mottram
The stunning indie-fueled renaissance in American moviemaking of the 1990s has been the subject of several books including Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures (about Miramax) and Sharon Waxman’s Rebels on the Backlot, but the keeper is British journalist James Mottram’s respectful and multileveled account of the generation of filmmakers spawned (in the main) by the Sundance Film Festival under the auspices of Robert Redford. Where Biskind and Waxman are scoopy, bitchy, and dish-filled, Mottram focuses on the movies, their directors, and the arduous process of getting innovative movies made and seen, using the many lengthy interviews he was granted by all the key players. Steven Soderbergh, whose sex, lies, and videotape inaugurated the new boom, and whose career is a kind of template for those who came after him, is the book’s spinal figure. Soderbergh’s many changes of direction demonstrate that it is possible (sometimes) to be one’s own man—or many men—in Hollywood. In his wake comes the deluge of talent: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne, Spike Jonze, Sofia Coppola, Richard Linklater, and David O. Russell. Some were nursed by film school and the Sundance Directors and Screenwriters labs; others rejected film school entirely and took their cinema education from videotape and the freeze-frame and rewind buttons. Mottram also looks beyond Miramax and Sundance to note the importance of Propaganda Films, the short-lived music video and commercials outfit that nurtured the talents of, among others, Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Dominic Sena, and, most strikingly, David Fincher. Mottram never overstates the role of genius or talent in these filmmakers—he keeps the auteur theorizing to a minimum—and is always mindful of the bitter vicissitudes of financing and artistic compromise. If you want to learn how the indie kids powered through the industry to prominence, this is your bible.
Review by John Patterson