So why is Brody so smitten? The uncharitable view holds that, in his unwavering support for Swanberg, Bujalski, les frères Safdie, et al., he has the air of an elderly uncle trying to appear groovy with the kids, whose music he tries to love despite his better judgment. But I think it goes deeper than that. I believe it’s sincere. Like many of the better American critics, Brody is an auteurist at heart, and is therefore eager to find and consecrate homegrown examples, in order to sustain this worldview.
The problem is, as he well knows, the entire mechanism of US filmmaking, in all but its most handmade manifestations, is inimical to auteurism; rather, it emphasizes the efficiency and superiority of the industrial process. In so hostile a climate, one must take one’s heroes where one can. Hence the rabid over-praising – and not only by Brody, I hasten to add – of every Bright Young Thing that comes alone [sic]. All of whom, amusingly enough, are compared to European models, from Lance Hammer (“an American Dardenne!” we were assured) to Sofia Coppola (“Somewhere” was just like Antonioni, doncha know?). And of course, Swanberg himself, whom Brody regularly likens – not entirely without justification – to Philippe Garrel. But it’s telling, I think, that no one ever compares these guys to, say, an Anthony Mann, or a Frank Tashlin, or indeed any other product of the US studio system, since that would negate the argument being advanced.
(This, incidentally, is why the career trajectory of someone like David Gordon Green, from the exquisite lyricism of “George Washington” to the baked stupor of “Pineapple Express,” is such a bitter pill for his early admirers to swallow, representing as it does not only one very gifted filmmaker’s flight from the salons to the marketplace, but an entire narrative of U.S. indie filmmaking in the last decade.)