LIVING IN OBLIVION
1995/Director: Tom DiCillo/Writer: Tom DiCillo
Cast: Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James Le Gros, Peter Dinklage Peter Dinklage, Kevin Corrigan
The 90’s were the heyday of the independent film, when everyone with a 16mm camera and a few lights wanted to the next Tarantino. It was before entire movies were shot on video and like when there used to be magic to listening to vinyl there was still magic to trimming and editing actual film. And all an aspiring film auteur needed was a great script, some actors and some funding and he was on his way. Piece of cake right? Well, Tom Dicillo’s 2nd feature film Living in Oblivion takes a comical but painful look at the bleak realities of making an independent movie on a low budget, or in the actual case of this film where the actors worked for free and funded the film themselves, no budget indie film. Living in Oblivion tells the story of inspired and ambitious but essentially mediocre film director Nick Reve (played by one of my all time favorite actors Steve Buscemi, an icon of 90’s indie films if there ever was one) and his cast and crew and of just one day on the set trying to get through simple shot. The struggle is told from inside three different vignettes and a couple are from inside dreams. The shots seem simple enough and hardly occupy and length of film time, but sensitive and supportive is driven to emotional outbursts and minor breakdowns from the pressure he is et with constantly from difficult and egoistical actors, incompetent crew and faulty equipment that is constantly breaking down. Nick’s credo of “roll with it” is tested constantly and at times he is on the verge of just sacking the whole project in despair and frustration. But Nick is not the only one having a crisis on the set.
The film’s star Nicole (Catherine Keener, from Dicillo’s debut film Johnny Suede) has doubts about her acting ability and future in the film world. Her claim to fame so far is a shower scene in a Richard Gere film, and on top of that she is having conflicts with the film’s leading man Chad Palomino (James Le Gros from Drugstore Cowboy, Point Break and Singles) because they had a sex driven one night stand the night before. Palomino is the film’s big Hollywood name and while at first he seems gung ho and ready to rock the set, Nick, Nicole and crew are all soon at the mercy of his raging ego that seems to want to all the shots to be about his grinning face and the back of Nicole’s head. Cinematographer Wolf (Dermot Mulroney) is serious about his craft but is having life issues himself because girlfriend Wanda seems ready to ditch their relationship in exchange for a possible one nighter with Palomino. Dwarf actor Tito (Peter Dinklage in his first role) is none to happy with being cast as a dwarf in the film’s dream sequence. And just when things can’t seem to get any worse Nick’s addled minded mother escapes from the nursing home and shows up on the set.
The film was meant as a satire not only on the world of 90’s low budget indie films, but a bit of Dicillo’s personal interpretation of the issues making his first film Johnny Suede, a musical comedy starring Brad Pitt. As mentioned already Dicillo’s 2nd film, based an idea for a short, was almost not made either as he could not get funding for it but the actors were so into the project they agreed to work for free and even help put up money. People who help fund the film, including producers, were given roles in exchange for their support. I have not seen much written about this but the credits are totally clever and I will not say anything more to see if you can get the gag. Of all the film genres out there I have the hardest time enjoying comedies (except for chick flicks I guess) but this is my type of funny stuff. Buscemi is just great as Nick, as are everyone else in this well received little film that really not too many people have heard about. Now you have, so go check it out.