A View Askew: Indie Cinema in the 90’s

The so-called “Cinema of Cool” started with a handful of young American filmmakers in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. These filmmakers were born out of the post-modern media landscape of changing views towards cinema production and distribution. These filmmakers were all inspiring each other and pushing the genre of “indie” into a more sophisticated realm. In 1991, Richard Linklater made Slacker in his hometown in Texas for a minimal budget of $23,000. Linklater was able to achieve critical success through a uniquely independent feature film opening a new door for the potential of indie filmmaking.

Kevin Smith, a film buff and comic-book nerd from Red Bank, New Jersey, was experiencing this filmic progression as a passive bystander, but longed to be a part of this new indie auteur movement. In an interview with Robert K. Elder in the Chicago Review Press, Smith credits Linklater with giving him the inspiration to be a filmmaker.

 It was the movie that got me off my ass; it was the movie that lit a fire under me, the movie that made me think, “Hey, I could be a filmmaker.” And I had never seen a movie like that before ever in my life.  – Kevin Smith

The Weinstein Brothers over at the independent Miramax film studio were fledgling with mild success in the ten years since it’s creation in 1979. Their stride really came with their embrace of this new youth cinema. In 1989, they released sex, lies and videotape, written and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh’s film went on to beat out Saving Private Ryan for the Palm D’or at Cannes in 1989. While this brought attention to the relatively new studio and the brothers Weinstein, I would like to argue that the most important year for the development of Miramax and their contribution to the indie cinema was 1994, with the release of Pulp Fiction and Clerks. 

While Pulp Fiction is one of my favorite films of all time, I’m going to focus more on Clerks for this argument. Smith’s freshman effort was made for an uber minimal budget of just under $28,000, slightly more than the Linklater film that inspired him two years earlier. Adopting a sort-of DIY auteuristic approach to filmmaking, Smith made the film over the course of several weeks mostly shooting at night in the convenient store where he worked during the day. He cast friends and friends of friends to be in the movie, even appearing himself as “Silent Bob”. The film premiered at Sundance in 1994, and in addition to recieving the Filmmakers Prize, caught in the eye of Harvey Weinstein, who subsequently picked up the film for distribution.

Smith’s filmmaking style is indicative of this new school of film; crude, irreverent, yet imbued with a post-modern approach to the classical mode of filmmaking. Smith, Soderbergh, and Linklater weren’t film school kids, they just jumped right into the medium after being passionate passive viewers. This is an important distinction from previous generations of filmmakers, who had a greater classical educational understanding of the machinations of the film system and film theory. These auteurs were able to express a new opinion in a classic format through the burgeoning 90’s independent film scene propelled by studios like Miramax.


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