WesAlum Filmmakers Dominate Summer Blockbuster and Indie Circuits
In case you frosh haven’t heard, Wesleyan’s film major is kind of a big deal, both on campus and in the industry. This year’s double-victory lap around the Center for Film Studies’ Goldsmith Family Cinema comes from two of the summer’s highest-profile releases: comic-book epic “The Avengers” and indie smash-hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
For those curious as to why “The Avengers” was way better than all of the Marvel superhero movies that led up to it, it probably had something to do with Joss Whedon ’87. After jumping to fame with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Whedon helmed the short-lived series “Firefly” and “Dollhouse,” both of which had clever premises, gallons of witty banter, and too-soon cancellations by Fox. Whedon’s gracious attitude throughout the whole shafted-by-Hollywood-system thing has made him somewhat of a geek Buddha. For Marvel to hire him to inject soul and meaning into their campaign to rebrand movies as ads for other movies is an impossible living wet dream, proof that Santa Claus exists, etc.
The precedent of the Marvel prequels’ crummy action let Whedon play to his less-explosive strengths: the hilarious and unique relationships that develop among a cast of misfits. With 2005’s “Serenity,” an unsung cinematic sequel to “Firefly” and the only movie he’d previously directed, he condensed a massive cast and a season’s worth of backstory into what the Star Wars prequels should have been. If there were one man in Hollywood who could make a movie about a bunch of mismatched comic-book characters, Whedon was it.
Whedon has struck gold with Marvel, which has already hired him to come back for “Avengers 2” and to produce a “S.H.I.E.L.D.” spinoff TV show. But as you can see from his upcoming ultra-low-budget “Much Ado About Nothing” film and a so-Wes promo video for Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk With Me,” Whedon still keeps it real.
It’s not every year that a nutty flesh-and-blood indie flick takes the world by storm (zing), but Benh Zeitlin’s [’04] “Beasts of the Southern Wild” just did. Its dirt-caked magical realism style is totally off the wall, but that hasn’t stopped Oprah and Obama from raving about it like it’s the thing that will finally cause world peace. A little girl’s hyperactive imagination goes into overdrive as storms and illness tear apart her alcoholic bayou community with results that are surreal, moving, and hard to describe without ruining anything. If you haven’t seen it yet, go without reading anything else and let it smack you in the face.
Zeitlin’s obsessive attention to detail is still legendary around the Film Studies Department. His claymation thesis “Egg,” sort of like “Beasts” except set in a digestive tract, was clearly an intense labor of love: he moved out of his senior house and into the now-demolished squash courts to keep the production moving. After that and a Louisiana-set short called “Glory at Sea,” Zeitlin moved on to “Beasts,” his first feature, which got peoples’ attention when it won the esteemed Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. What have you done with your life?