Tao Lin’s MUMBLECORE is his new video collaboration with his wife that he has deemed a film. MUMBLECORE isn’t a film, though. It’s a video. It’s captured entirely from a built in laptop camera. It has a time stamp of eighty two minutes, but it’s not a feature length film. It’s video art. One of his other latest projects SMALL CROWD GATHERS is a collaborative video with two Internet artists produced entirely in Second Life, using his writing as a script. Like MUMBLECORE, SMALL CROWD GATHERS is written in all caps and is a piece of video art. Many great experimental filmmakers have worked in video like Harmony Korine and Lars von Trier, but their finished products were good enough to transfer to film and project onto the big screen. No theater would screen MUMBLECORE because it wouldn’t sell enough tickets to make it worth their while.
I e-mailed him after reading a tweet he wrote about sending DVDs out to people who wanted to write a review. After he heard about a DVD freeze issue he offered that I watch it on Vimeo under password protection, which I did. Watching the work online was fitting for an artist whose career is based around the Internet. The DVD is unnecessary. It was more convenient to be at my computer. I couldn’t watch the whole thing in one sitting for a number of reasons. Much of the conversation is self involved or just uninteresting. There are too often inside jokes or references to things offscreen that make the time pass by slowly and the effort required to watch taxing. But watching it on my laptop, I could stop and research the books referenced, visit Twitter (including Lin’s feed), listen to music, eat a snack. I felt like I was in the movie because I was doing many of the same things I was watching on screen.
One problem with Lin making MUMBLECORE is the lack of command he has over the medium of video. The low quality of the images feels unintentional. While his use of the Macbook camera is experimental, it doesn’t arrive at any interesting effect or create any lasting impression. The memory of MUMBLECORE is like an ugly blur of mediocre digital camera images that I would wouldn’t bother sharing. He and his girlfriend rarely address the images they’re creating beyond one conversation in which they present a half idea about the images in the video being fleeting. Yes, the images are fleeting. So are words on a page and notes played by an instrument. So what? It’s a generalized surface truth and evidence that Lin doesn’t have the same command as a director that he does as a writer. For example, in one scene Lin walks down the street talking about his writing and he cites his influences with confidence. He talks to an audience about his work at a reading and it is transparent, relatable to anyone, not just writers. This is a mark of a great artist familiar with his craft.
More than any directorial vision, or lack thereof, what shines through in MUMBLECORE is Lin’s developed literary voice. The whole movie is subtitled and Lin talks the way that he writes. His girlfriend talks like him and uses the same expressions. She is a walking testament to his influential style. The two main characters are writers and they frequently talk about their work. They reference other authors like David Foster Wallace and Lorrie Moore. The nonlinear narrative, stream of consciousness, and free spirited travel recall Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. The themes from Lin’s writing are all here: extremely dry humor, absurdity, aimlessness, and food. MUMBLECORE feels more literary than filmic.
In MUMBLECORE Lin continues to navigate life in the public eye. He turns the camera on himself in his most intimate moments, the start of his romantic relationship with his girlfriend. The couple’s conversations, one implied sex scene, and their marriage are all put on display. Lin constantly invites attention to his personal life while simultaneously resenting the responsibility of managing his audience’s perception of him. He seems to struggle to reconcile his desires to gain approval and an audience who will buy his books with his urge implied by the tone of his Twitter feed to tell us all to fuck off.