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American Movie

4.6 out of 5 stars 193 customer reviews

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(May 23, 2000)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

The hit of the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, AMERICAN MOVIE is the hilarious and intense story of one man's obsession to make movies. Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, is a long way from Hollywood, but MarkBorchardt has a dream. Armed with a driving ambition and nothing to lose, the fast-talking Borchardt enlists friends, local thespians and unwilling family members to help him finish his no-budget horror film, COVEN. The camera doesn't flinch as it captures every emotional crisis and financial pitfall in his two-year odyssey. What emerges is a bizarre, yet surprisingly heartfelt, documentary portrait of a true American character. Welcome to the "Real World." The story continues at americanmovie.com. CHECK IT OUT!!!


Struggling filmmaker Mark Borchardt is the subject of American Movie, and he may also be the most determined man you'll ever meet. The straggly haired, fast-talking, Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, native lists his greatest influences as Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He began making horror movies as a gangly adolescent, and is now set on finishing Coven (which he pronounces like "woven"), the "35-minute direct market thriller" he has worked on for two years. In the process, he steadfastly battles immense debt, the threat of losing his kids, and birds chirping gleefully through scenes set in the dead of winter. His mother would rather do her shopping than be an extra, his brother contends he's best suited for factory work, and his father just wants him to "watch the language."

Standing by him through it all is Mark's childhood buddy, Mike Schank, who is the strongest weapon against drug use a task force could ever hope for, and Uncle Bill, begrudging financier of Coven, who appears to be wasting away before our very eyes. In less perceptive hands these two could easily become caricatures--the burnt-out stoner and the crotchety old coot--but through director Chris Smith's lens we see why Mark loves them, why they love Mark, and why each of these stories is uniquely compelling.

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, the film has been compared to Spinal Tap and Waiting for Guffman--two unquestionably hilarious mock-documentaries--and, indeed, American Movie has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. But in the spoofs, we feel encouraged to point and giggle at the poor slobs trying to get a piece of the action. Smith, however, offers us a funny and overwhelmingly affectionate portrait; you may sit down expecting to laugh at Mark's pie-in-the-sky hopes, but you soon find yourself bursting with admiration. "The American dream stays with me each and every day," Mark says, and by the end, we want nothing more than for it to come true. (The DVD version includes the complete short film "Coven.") --Brangien Davis

Special Features

  • Coven, Short Film by Lead Actor Mark Borchardt
  • 22 Deleted Scenes
  • Direct Weblink
  • Sundance Film Festival, Grand Jury Prize, Winner, 1999

Product Details

  • Actors: Mark Borchardt, Mike Schank, Matt Weisman
  • Directors: Chris Smith
  • Writers: No Writer Credited
  • Producers: Chris Smith, Sarah Price
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Full Screen, NTSC, Special Edition, Subtitled
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish
  • Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: May 23, 2000
  • Run Time: 2 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (193 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0767846869
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,863 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "American Movie" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Burch on March 9, 2002
Format: VHS Tape
As I watched Mark Borchardt stumble through the filming of 'Coven', I kept thinking of the Austrian court composer Solieri's line in Milos Forman's Amadeus: "All I ever wanted was to sing to God", laments Solieri, "He gave me that longing, and then made me mute".
What do you do with your life when you want to sing, but you are tone deaf? What if you spend far more time dreaming than making your dreams come true? That is the subject of this surprisingly touching and moving documentary.
Mark Borchardt is not mute. His muse has whispered in his ear since he was 12 years old, telling him to make movies. Problems with drinking and a stint in the Army have kept him from his love. As the documentary opens, Mark is doing pre-production for a feature-length movie, 'Northwestern'. As you watch Mark meet with production staff and potential actors, you quickly realize that he is hopelessly over his head. Mark is given to long, rambling monologues, where you feel he is trying to throw a net of words over his problems.
Eventually Mark sees the handwriting on the wall. He realizes that he cannot start this movie, and decides instead to complete a short film he started several years earlier, 'Coven'. (Mark pronounces it KO-ven, rather than KUH-ven).
As the documentary progresses, you are brought into the well intentioned but dysfunctional world of Mark's friends and family. You find yourself wondering about the line between loyalty and co-dependency. What is the difference between supporting a dream and enabling a friend to live in a fantasy world? You see the inhabitants of Mark's world struggle with these questions. Through it all, Mark may stumble, but he holds true to quest of completing Coven.
If Mark is quixotic, then his good friend Mike Shank is definitely his Pancho.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I have a confession: I rented this on video as soon as it came out back in 1999 & I hated it. In fact, my friend & I turned it off in the middle of the film. Actually, I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but one of the reasons is b/c we didn't know we were watching an actual documentary. Looking back on it, I feel like one of those stupid people who went to see The Blair Witch project, threw up, & thought it was real. I don't know how I could have been so stupid.

But I eventually had to watch this again in one of my film classes (yes, by then I realized that it was an actual documentary) & I gotta say... I loved it this time around!

As far as documentaries go American Movie is near-flawless. It's got humor, sympathy, inspiration, old guys eating Polish sausage... You name it-- it's there. No really, we laugh at the "characters," but there's actually an inspiring & uplifting message to it all. It follows the life of one major film buff from Milwaukee who sets out to make a feature film (Northwestern) but becomes sidetracked with funding problems, so he decides to finish up a short horror film (Coven) to sell for profits. The trials & tribulations of Coven's production make up American Movie.

As for the DVD, it's excellent. There are deleted scenes galore, many of which are GREAT! And they're not just throw-away junk scenes, which is always a plus. There are commentary tracks & trailers, but best of all, the mother of all extras is... COVEN. Yes, the 22-minute short film is included in its entirety.

I saw my friend recently & told her that I not only watched American Movie again but that I loved it! She then told me how she was "forced" to watch it again for one of her film classes & that she loved it too! So there's hope for all us imbeciles yet.
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Format: DVD
This is one of those movies that you see only one copy of at the video store, and it's usually always available. You'll find that sometimes these are the best movies out there, and "American Movie" proves to be one such diamond in the rough. Mark Borchardt and his dream of becoming a huge filmmaker are the subject of this riotous documentary that follows him on his journey to complete the low-budget horror film "Coven". Along the way, filmmakers Smith and Price shed light on almost everything we could possibly know about Mark and his friends. Most of the time, you'll find yourselves laughing at the characters (the heart-of-gold former drug addict Mike and the eccentric, penny-pinching uncle come to mind) rather than with them. Nonetheless, you ARE laughing at this slice of life shot in smalltown Wisconsin. You may question Mark's goals and priorities and you may question his logic (trying to make it big by filming low-budget horror flicks? ), but in the end you'll realize he's just a man with a dream who will let nothing get in his way. After that's the American dream and this is truly an American movie. Any aspiring filmmaker should see this as well as anyone with a sense of humor.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
I've seen lots of Amazon reviews here that mention a feeling of guilt about this film as though the stars weren't throroughly aware of the fact that they are being filmed. Smith and Price weren't exactly sneaking around their subjects with hidden cameras and subterfuge, right? Right. I'm sure whatever humliation the documentary heaped on Mark was (1) no worse than anything he'd already experienced in life from nay-sayers (like his own mother for crying out loud!) and (2) not so bad, considering the end of the film which, in my mind, is one of the most triumphant moments in recent cinema (or cinnamon, if you're asking Uncle Bill).
After watching this movie, take a moment and think about your own life. If you could go after your dream with Mark's white-hot intensity, wouldn't you? I would. We all should. The guy's a hero. If you've ever tried to get something 'artsy-fartsy' done in your lifetime. If you've ever thrown away everything else in the pursuit of your one lofty goal in life then you'll love Mark. If you've been gliding through life on someone else's tab or your life revolves around your house, your car and your lawnmower, you'll probably think Mark is a 'loser' without having looked in the mirror lately.
Good luck with 'Northwestern' Mark!
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