No one film can conceivably be singled out as having invented the concept of “independent cinema”; it was a hodgepodge of films, all coming from various times and eras, that helped to shape what we know today as indie films. One of those films, I can say now having seen it, was unquestionably Jon Jost’s Last Chants for a Slow Dance, a little film that could that was shot on a pittance of a budget, and the film shows it. The story is about… well, it kind of meanders a bit, before revealing its cards near the end of the film. Really, it’s about whatever Jost wants it to be about at any given moment, which is kind of a conceited way to go about making a film, and as I’ll get to later, few have the talent to overcome such a self-constructed setup.
The film consists of a series of long takes of whole sequences shot in big hunks, most likely to economically conserve take numbers and film stock, while period songs play over the intermediate areas of the film to provide some context and mood for filler. Right from the opening, the film completely avoids any semblance of putting up pretenses about being a professional film. Over the opening credits, we hear the crew getting the camera and audio up to speed, calling action, and even having a moment of confusion as the main actor is unsure of when to start his opening monologue and has a brief argument with someone off screen, all while pavement and the roadway is whipping by the camera. From there, the opening monologue is delivered in a pickup truck, with absolutely no professional audio recording equipment at all; we hear every shudder of the vehicle, every hiss and pop of the microphone, as the driver spouts his pseudo-philosophical ramblings to his passenger. This is not a film that is putting on any airs about its production value; the camera is rugged and usually handheld, the audio is very low quality, and you can hear whatever room the actors are in. The script seems half-improvised; either that, or the screenwriter really did write so many curse words into the dialogue, something I’ve noticed is somewhat common with indie flicks, especially those that are basically one-man shows behind the camera. That’s pretty much what I noticed this film was; an average independent film all from a single mind, and it shows all over, from the creative decisions made with the acting and the editing to the very shooting of the film – it all belied that nobody had any other say in the film other than Jost. Not that that is anybody’s fault, though; independent cinema often has to get away with this sort of creative freedom cum reliance, and I should know. But it takes a talent to make the film surpass the singular vision put forth by that single person, and come off as more than just all the things that they wanted to put to film, and Jost didn’t seem to have it.
I’m probably going to catch hell from the cinema gods for denouncing Jost’s film in this manner, especially given the career choice I’ve made with my life, but if I said anything else it would be a baseless attempt at covering up what I really thought, and that’s not why I started this blog. But still, with all the disdain I felt for what Jost was doing, there is no way to avoid acknowledging what he accomplished and what he did to further the genre of independent cinema, so in a way, I should be thankful he made this film. He may not have been the best at what he did, but he was a trailblazer, and blazing trails is behavior that should be rewarded in my eyes, rather than scorned. This was much like Buffalo 66, in that it comes across so much as what the director wanted it to be that the air of pretentiousness is inescapable. I liked this a great deal more than I did Buffalo 66, but for me, it still wasn’t enough. I appreciated the hell out of what he did, especially for when he did it, but you can easily find more entertaining and less big-headed films out there.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10