American Movie is perhaps the most surreal documentary, on seemingly ordinary subjects, I have seen. The film focuses on Mark Borchardt, a passionate, obsessive and peculiar filmmaker who is working on his low budget independent horror film with his slow best friend, Mike. You would be forgiven for thinking the film is a mockumentary style movie set in the late 1980s with a dead pan style similar to that of This Is Spinal Tap, but the film is a genuine 1995-97 doc following the life of the sincere Mark Borchardt!
Mark and Mike are a good double act. In that, Mark is the determined leader and Mike follows on for the sole reason that it seems he has nothing better to do with himself. Mark is determined to make his magnum opus “Coven” which the viewer sees clips of the filming of, which show bizarre woodland scenes with scarecrows and mysterious hooded groups. Mark commits a great deal of his time in labouriously crafting the film, before the digital age. However, beyond the filming there is a very interesting character who is unemployed and has very simple pleasures in life. To the viewer it may be obvious that Mark is seeking purpose through his film, in what is a relatively rundown and worn out town from a working class, “hick” family.
The documentary is entertaining, whether you treat it as the documentary it actually is or the dead-pan comedy film it could be interpreted as being. It is regarded in the clichéd club of “cult hits” or “cult films” but I suppose you could say Office Space and This Is Spinal Tap were cult hits too. The documentary is a terrific case study of a determined filmmaker, if in honesty he may never amount to creating the films he set out to in the beginning.