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DVD Review: Quiet City/Dance Party, USA Set

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I used to do monthly interviews with indie filmmakers. Dance Party, USA is the type of indie I would seek out — small, rough around the edges, poignant, and lacking pretense. That's how I like my indies.

But this review isn't going to focus on Dance Party, USA, which is part of a two-disc DVD set featuring work by director Aaron Katz. Dance Party, USA is a great indie, but the second feature in the set, Quiet City, is a great film, one that proves that truly revolutionary American movies can still be made outside the system, even outside of Sundance.

Where as Dance Party, USA is a coming-of-age tale about high schoolers who learn the difference between sex and relationships, Quiet City is the story we might hear eight years in the future when knowing what a relationship is doesn't mean it's easy to have a successful one. Jamie (Erin Fisher) is abandoned in New York City by the friend she was visiting. She comes from Atlanta and doesn't know where she's going or what she's going to do.

But she meets Charlie (Cris Lankenau), one of the walking wounded, who is mopey and insecure after his girlfriend leaves him. With nothing better to do, Charlie acts as Jamie's guide to the city. Jamie, in turn, acts as Charlie's guide to reconnecting with his world.

Jamie’s ability to pull Charlie out of his funk isn’t a spectacular event. There are no grand gestures. There are no musical scores to dictate the emotions of the moment. Quiet City succeeds because it never demands to be heard, yet we want to hear it. Whether it’s listening to the leads’ awkward improvised chit-chat or watching their free-spirited play, we develop a connection with the characters, however fleeting and inconsequential it might be.

Quiet City doesn’t have much ambition to move us, maybe because of the slackerdom it represents. Unlike Dance Party, USA, which seemed to be "about something", Quiet City is really never about anything, making it all the more pertinent.

Here's where I drop a buzz word: mumblecore. Quiet City is part of the American independent film movement dubbed mumblecore. One of the trademarks is the minimalistic nature of the productions. Katz is a master of this with his deliberate lack of momentum and intimate, but perfectly framed hand-held shooting. He lets the audience settle into the scenes without forcing the potential romance blossoming between Charlie and Jamie high schoolers onto the viewer.

What separates Katz from some of the drearier mumblecore productions (yes, you, The Puffy Chair) is the feeling that in his saying nothing, Katz is saying everything that needs to be said. Even more so than Four Eyed Monsters, Katz's film captures the spirit of a generation — one struggling to find its voice while surrounded by all the communication technology in the world.

Quiet City and Dance Party, USA, directed by Aaron Katz, is available on DVD Tuesday, January 28, 2008.

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About Daniel J. Stasiewski