Reviews

Quiet City & Dance Party, USA

Jesse Hassenger
From Dance Party

In keeping with his emphasis on conversational pauses and microscopic moments, Katz shows off a hushed, near-solitary side of New York.


Quiet City & Dance Party, USA

Director: Aaron Katz
Cast: Erin Fisher, Cris Lankenau, Anna Kavan, Cole Pennsinger
Distributor: Benten / Ryko
MPAA rating: Unrated
First date: 2007
US DVD Release Date: 2008-01-29

To the sub-genre fleetingly known as mumblecore, DVD releases seem especially important. Though Aaron Katz's Quiet City and Dance Party, USA saw nominal theatrical releases outside of the festival circuit, most interested viewers will have to catch up with them, as I did, in a home-viewing environment. The films even come packaged together for an instant catch-up in Katz's low-fi, talky, Cassavetes-ish style.

Katz's earlier effort of the two, Dance Party, stands apart from its genre relatives (Mutual Appreciation, The Puffy Chair, etc.) by training its focus on teenagers rather than 20-somethings. Though the kids of Dance Party are actually more debauched than their next-decade counterparts, their wandering is a little more innocent, more natural. The varying degree of actorly ease, though, sometimes works against that naturalism. Dance Party also presents offhand evidence that girls do indeed mature faster than boys, as the females (especially lead girl Anna Kavan) seem less aware of the camera, and less self-conscious about Katz's improvisation-heavy process, than the game but greener guys.

Katz notes in bonus materials for both films that he discourages his actors from trying too hard to be funny or charming. This is evident in Dance Party's deleted scenes, which are mostly longer, somewhat more comedic (if also more rambling) versions of what we see in the movie. The boys, in particular, get more time to riff and goof around -- still awkward, but funny. The sum of these alternate takes roughly equal the final film's 65 minutes, and the vague problem with Dance Party, USA is that the slim running time feels arbitrary -- it could just as easily be half, twice, or one-sixth as long. A little shape comes when one of the most boastful guys (Cole Pennsinger) makes a startling confession, but even this little revelation is flexible; it could be material for a TV episode or a short subject.

Quiet City isn't much longer, but its 78 minutes feel more like a feature. The film finds Katz observing a more traditional mumblecore habitat: post-college Brooklyn. It bears pointing out that besides the oft-cited artier influences (Cassavetes, French New Wave, etc.), mumblecore owes a certain debt to the talky 20 –and 30-something comedies of the '90s: Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming (1995), Nicole Holofcenter's Walking and Talking (1996), and Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise (1994).

In fact, Quiet City is more or less a direct revisioning of the Linklater film: Jamie (Erin Fisher), visiting New York, can't find the friend she's supposed to stay with, and meets Charlie (Cris Lankenau), who shows her around Brooklyn. By design, the newer film's characters are less articulate (and less quippy) than their nineties counterparts; Katz stresses on his Quiet City commentary that he wanted natural, normal performances, so the chatter is far less philosophical than the meaning-of-life musings that Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy came up with. Authenticity is a concern, to the point of flirting with pretension. Luckily, Katz and the actors make this tendency toward the mundane touching, even romantic in its less overt way. Delpy and Hawke left certain things unsaid; Fisher and Lankenau, in their cautious flirting, say only certain things out loud.

In keeping with his emphasis on conversational pauses and microscopic moments, Katz shows off a hushed, near-solitary side of New York. Both of his films fixate on orange skies, trains and buses, city lights at dusk -- the kind of tranquil, bittersweet beauty Sofia Coppola evoked in Lost in Translation. It's a little self-indulgent, but his images are warm and vivid, especially given the ultra-low-budget videography (at one point during his commentary, Katz notes that they did not obtain filming permits as they would have exceeded the entire budget of Quiet City).

Indeed, it's the DIY spirit of both films that keep them from sliding into an affected abyss. There are pitfalls, to be sure; even an aesthetic with firm commitments to naturalism and against traditional plots can develop its own cliches. Almost every mumblecore movie I've seen, for example, seems to require the characters to attend a loose, shambling party that introduces extra, usually dull characters. Katz indulges, though with more skill than most: Dance is structured (such as it is) around that sort of listless revelry, and Quiet City's is shorter and sharper than most, featuring an actual four-person dance party (which never materializes in the film of the same name), striking in its sweetness.

From Quiet City

It may be that laid-back gatherings are too entwined with these films' creative DNA. On the Quiet City director/producer commentary, in explaining how the project came together, Katz and his cohorts describe a loose network of hookups and casual acquaintances that somehow (we infer) resulted in a mini-movement. In contrast with the customary gushing of Hollywood commentaries, Katz spends more time talking about the nuts and bolts process than praising everyone onscreen to the heavens. Lankenau and Fisher get a commentary of their own, where they sound a little gawkier (and, as with Dance Party, funnier) than their film counterparts as they address the awkwardness that came with Katz's unblinking desire to keep it real (and their own endearing naivete about filmmaking: "we spent like five hours [on that scene] and he didn't even use it!" one of them exclaims). The informality may be key to the film's success.

Even more jocular is Quiet City's strangest bonus feature: a production of "Joe Swanberg's Quiet City," a four-minute distillation of Katz's script shot by Swanberg (director of other recent mumblecore projects LOL and Hannah Takes the Stairs) after he received the script via email at an airport, proving that the genre, despite its studied aversion to wit, does have a sense of humor about itself. This, coupled with the growth from Dance Party to Quiet City, suggests that Katz and company may be embarking on fruitful -- gulp -- actual careers.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.