Living in Oblivion
What struck me within minutes was how cleverly written and engaging the characters and dialogue was, and how I was drawn into it, captivated by what goes on behind the camera.
Living in Oblivion, I have since found out is a bit of a cult film which began life as a short borne out of frustration at the process of film-making, something that is more than evident when watching the film.
The story sees us on the set of a movie, a low budget movie, and today some big scenes are scheduled. There are all manner of complications through the day, not least starting with the lack of sleep from just about everyone concerned.
I can't really go into too much detail without giving away a nice little turn of events in the film, so suffice to say it shows possibly the worst day on set and how the different crew members deal with it.
There are really two parts to this film, the first examines the process of filming one scene and the repeated takes it requires to get it right, a process that I found fascinating to be shown from this side of the camera.
Although I've never been involved in shooting an actual scene on set, these sequences captured it perfectly and I was drawn to how Catherine Keener repeated her performance time and time again with varyinf touches and nuances.
The moment where she catches it is indeed magical and at the same time heart breaking, and it was here that I realised how taken in by the film and the characters I really was.
Not only did her performance at this moment really hit me, but the despair and anguish of the Director was palatable.
The second half of the film is where the short was then developed into a feature, and it shows. There is a distinctly different look and feel to this half and it doesn't capture the beauty and intensity of the first so well. However what it does do is convey the agony, frustration and continual compromise of film-making and directing.
While the first half may be the more about the actors, this second half is about how a director tries to hold a film together and keep it going forward no matter what.
Catherine Keener is absolutely superb in the film, particularly her performance in the first half. She's captivating and stunning, and just looks every part the Hollywood beauty.
Steve Buscemi is similarly engaging, although you'll forgive me if I don't compare his beauty to that of Keener's! He does give a powerful performance, and is particularly strong at portraying a normal guy, something we so often forget as he's thrown into odder, big budget roles.
James LeGros is also very good and provides a great deal of the humour. His portrayal of a character actor who really is completely hopeless is great to watch, and his scenes with Keener define what Hollywood is all about.
In fact this film is one big eye opener for all of us who believe that Hollywood and on set filming is something magical and mystical, although those elements are plainly here, they are so few and far between.
The Writer/Director captures these feelings wonderfully and does convey just how difficult making a film and being a director can be. As well as how hard it can be for actors on set, and how they are expected to turn on a dime.
Initially the picture looks pretty poor, very grainy black and white, although this soon goes unnoticed as you are pulled towards the performances and the characters, and the realisation that this was a distinct stylistic choice.
Mind you saying that, with the new understanding of how much luck, fluke, and struggle is involved in making a film, perhaps it wasn't intended. However that's how it turned out.
There is a strong use of colour and black and white to separate sections of the film from others, and that works well.
This really is a character piece and as such you don't really notice the fact that the audio is merely mono, and there's actually no real need for anything more.
Audio Commentary with Tom DiCillio; Interview with Tom DiCillio and Stece Buscemi
For those who are interesting in the art of film-making, this is indeed a fascinating commentary track, and coupled with the film it provides a superb insight into the art of film-making, or rather the curse and complete luck of film-making. Tom DiCillio has a strong dry and sarcastic humour that really does come through well. He talks about the people involved, how they became involved, the luck of getting the money together, and of getting the right shot. What comes through more than anything is the sheer fluke that smaller films get made and that great shots and performances get captured. It seems the most frustrating job ever, and DiCillio acknowledges that, it's why he made this short that then became a feature.
The interview provides an interesting insight into how the Director feels about the film, he seems to carry a huge love for the film and yet it describes his anger and frustration for the film-making process. It does carry a lot that we've heard in the audio commentary, but here it's much more loose and engaging as we see the Director and the actor.
We also discover a little about Steve Buscemi, how he views his Hollywood big budget roles, and how he behaves as an actor. He seems a genuinely cool guy. I would have loved to have heard more from both here, but there's still some great information to be had.
I really enjoyed the film, and it was definitely made a lot more interesting by the fact that I was fascinated by the film-making process. The performances here are all good, and Steve Buscemi and Catherine Keener both stand out, with Keener giving a blisteringly good performance in the first half. Watching her deliver her performance again and again is captivating.
The film really does get across the frustrations of the film-maker in getting his small film made, and what is more surprising the luck involved. I was surprised how quickly I was absorbed by the drama playing out between the characters.
I did feel that the second half of the film drifted off from the power of the first, but it is still engaging and entertaining, and although the performances and scenes don't reach the intensity and carry the same film-making fascination as the first, they are still very strong and very entertaining.
You can see why this has received the cult following that it has, but at the same time I'm amazed that it hasn't received a wider audience. This is a superb piece of film-making and shows a really passionate heart to it. Not only that but it's also entertaining and for those interested in film-making it's a fascinating insight into the actual on set process.