Bellflower: muscle cars and heartache

Evan Glodell Bellflower

It’s funny how film budgets work. When they get small enough, really amazing things (can) start to happen. It forces the film maker to get creative. For instance, in the final scenes of Cameron’s 1984 Terminator film, they basically made a T101 head out of aluminium foil to crush in the hydraulic press. The finishing touch was provided by one of the crew members blowing cigarette smoke from off camera. Low-tech, but it looked great. Though by comparison, Terminator had a much larger budget than a smaller production like Shane Carruth’s 2004 Primer, which was made on a truly microscopic budget. Just 7000 dollars. The result? Best time-travel film ever made, hands down. As such (along with other vectors like age, studio interference, talent and luck) budget plays an important part in making a great film. I think any sensible person would agree it’s telling how the man who once made the most beautiful neo-noir vision of the future, is now best known for making Dances With Wolves in Space (though Cameron’s not losing any sleep over it). But, enough Cameron talk, we’re here to discuss the latest marvel made with little to no budget: Bellflower. The talented writer, director and star of the film, Evan Glodell, decided to drop everything he was doing to make a film with friends and family. At times, the financial situation was so dire that someone’s mother had to come by with much needed spaghetti to stave off starvation for a few more days. I guess it’s that kind of desperation and dedication that gives this picture the gritty edge money just does not buy.

Bellflower 2011

At its core, Bellflower is a love story. And it’s one that hits hard. It also has unexpected bursts of violence, shotguns, flamethrowers, obsessions for the apocalyptic and a beautifully menacing 1972 Buick Skylark dubbed ‘Medusa’. At first glance the combination doesn’t make much sense, right? Muscle cars and heartache. But somehow, Glodell makes it work. With the exception of a few troubling forward flashes, Bellflower starts out simple enough. Woodrow (Glodell) and his best friend Aiden (Tyler Dawson) discuss the prospect of living in a post apocalyptic wasteland and decide it would be much better if they came prepared with a fire spitting muscle car. A common train of thought for men of a certain disposition. When they’re through daydreaming, Aiden decides it’s high time to help Woodrow get laid. He says ‘Okay, listen. We’re going out tonight and if I even catch you looking at someone – I don’t care if it’s a fucking guy – you’re going to hit on them.’ Which is a great line, it immediately illustrates that this is the kind of friend every man should have. And so, the guys go down to a local bar where Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman). Through some of Aiden’s clever maneuvering, Woodrow engages in a cricket eating contest with Milly. The Chromatics play their version of ‘Running up that hill’ as Milly handily beats Woodrow. It takes a couple of days before Woodrow works up the courage to make his move, but he manages to convince Milly to be his girlfriend. Milly already hints at the odds of this lasting for any length of time and sure enough, it doesn’t. The scene that marks the end of their relationship is so shocking that I’m sure Glodell must have drawn on a fair chunk of personal history (misery) to create it. You also have to respect the actors in that scene, they’re really going for it.

It’s only then that Bellflower‘s downward spiral begins in earnest. I can’t be completely sure, but I think much of what we see in the better part of the film is Woodrow’s revenge fueled fantasy. Woodrow experiences a kind of personal apocalypse, thought it’s not nuclear war that’s responsible, but a woman. Which is, of course, worse, since it’s so much more personal. At this point, the film’s aesthetic starts to kick into high gear. Glodell built a one off camera using home made parts, Russian lenses and whatever else he could get his hands on. The camera is unique. Apparently it’s capable of producing tilt-shift and all kinds of weird perspective altering effects with any sort of lens. This aided to Bellflower looking spectacularly different from anything else you’ll see this year and as I’ve said, it’s a perfect fit for the film’s surreal turn for the worse.

Much like in an old Ed, Edd n Eddy episode there are no figures of authority that could disrupt the flow of events. Except, these events are nothing so joyous as a never-ending friday afternoon, it’s a wasteland and I like that. The flamethrower is a great symbol in that sense. It’s so far outside the realm of society that I couldn’t imagine crossing the street with one in any sort of civilized place. Yet, Bellflower is about that unbridled and misguided attempt of reaffirming male pride and has a very original way of showing that. But even if you’re not a fan of Mad Max and flamethrowers, there’s a very good reason to go see this film: it’s one of the greatest depictions of friendship in film since Lethal Weapon or Fight Club. As I was watching the film with a friend of mine he remarked ‘Wow, Aiden really revealed himself to be the hero of this story, huh?’ Yes, it’s a beautiful thing and tough to pull off, but Glodell does it wonderfully.

2 comments
whitemarks
whitemarks like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Hats off to Roelf Kromhout for divining the hermetic secret force that drives Bellflower. The critics have focused on the pyrotechnics - real and figurative - that are the noisy decorations that masquerade as the propulsion of this film. Underneath that big noise is the divine constancy of the quiet force of male friendship. More powerful than flamethrowers, than real or imagined wars, this is the force that always drives the advancement of society in some strange, alchemical way. The force of male/female relationship ignites the cleansing flame that dances over the remains of what two men have built with their crazy obsessions. Bellflower shows romantic love and lust as the Shiva-like great destroyer dancing in fury over the strange lives of two brothers-in-arms. But what precise love drives Aiden and Woodrow - perhaps the most glorious vision of the indelible power of male friendship ever put on screen. Thank you Roelf for divining the secret propulsion of this film!

roelfkromhout
roelfkromhout moderator

@whitemarks Thanks whitemarks! Though your own description of the film's most important theme is not bad either ;).