Beeswax/ Mumblecore

Watched — in pieces, on my laptop via Netflix, starting with a misbegotten attempt to watch on the Airtran flight — Andrew Bujalski’s Beeswax.  This is my favorite of the probably three movies of his I’ve seen.  He’s the standardbearer for the so-called Mumblecore movement.  I read an interview where he genially complained about the label, which he aptly compared to “shoegazer” (these were British bands influenced by American indie and My Bloody Valentine like Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse, Pale Saints, Slowdive) as an unwanted tag:

I certainly have no love for the label. I think it’s a real problem with trying to get people out to this film. It’s just a nasty term, like “shoegazer.” It’s the kind of thing where some of that music might be horrible, and some of it might be great, but if you just see the word “shoegazer,” it doesn’t exactly make you want to listen to it. It’s just an absurd concept. I’d like to think it won’t be with me for the rest of my days, but we’ll see.

Bad luck for Bujalski to get saddled with such a stupid but catchy label.  (It comes out of a now-diminished meme of spinning out increasingly absurd subgenres of hardcore punk, e.g. homocore, metalcore, grindcore.)

The other mumblecore films I’ve seen were appealing in their slice-of-life realism, focus on the trivial everyday, and naturalism — shades of Mike Leigh, Eric Rohmer — but are were a bit irritating too in their somewhat too-comfortable match with 20-something slacker Brooklyn/Somerville lifestyle… a bit too unambitious and navel-gazing… Beeswax is a more interesting movie and actually does remind me of Rohmer, it could in fact be a Moral Tale like that series of his, with the “moral” or ethical topic in question that of, perhaps, getting involved with others’ business, as in “mind/none of your your beeswax.”  (With a suggestion of the stickiness of other peoples’ business?– is that the etymology?*)  Part of what makes it more appealing is a fuller sense of grown-up lives and real things at stake; the twin sister protagonists seem to be about 30 and the plot, such as it, revolves around the Austin thrift/vintage store one of them owns and a fight she’s having with her business partner, who may be planning to sue her for breach of contract.  There’s still an interest in dating/sex/romance but it forms more of a backdrop to career/vocational problems and concerns; jobs are not just the places people go to worry about their love life.  Thus the title, I suppose: beeswax = business = what matters to you or concerns you personally; for Tilly, literally her business or store.

One striking thing about the movie is its representation of disability.  The twin who owns the store, played by Tilly Hatcher, is in a wheelchair and can’t use her legs.  What’s so unusual is that this never really comes up as a explicit topic or issue.  There’s a scene where she’s kind of stuck and has to flag down a pedestrian to help her get her wheelchair out of the trunk of her car; I briefly thought, as if this were a thriller, “oh gee, is this guy going to attack her?” — it effectively raised the topic of the everyday problems, risks, and vulnerabilities Tilly has to face, but in a very casual way.

A sex scene was even more surprising — it’s not at all explicit, but does show what needs to happen for a sexual encounter and the adjustments that need to be made to the usual routine with two non-disabled people.  I was almost wincing, I guess out of anxiety that the guy would react in a bad or shaming way (although he’s actually her ex, so knows what to expect); she’s also, although not unattractive, very far from a typical ingenue in a sex scene, with powerful arms and shoulders from wheeling herself around.

It made me miss Austin a bit.  Tilly’s store is an actual Austin boutique I remember, Storyville.  The movie is saturated with that bright Texas light.

*”none of your beeswax”: Eric Partridge apparently reports that

It seems that none of your beeswax, meaning none of your business, was originally a line spoken by the character Nanette in the musical No, No, Nanette (Youmans, Harbuch and Mandel, 1925). This catchphrase enjoyed a brief vogue in the later 1920’s. It is cited as children’s slang in a couple of later references mentioned by Partridge. There are no suprises as to its origin; beeswax is simply an obvious pun on the word business.

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4 Responses

  1. I haven’t yet seen Beeswax, but the portrayal of disability sounds like Breaking Bad. The main character has been dealt a challenging/depressing hand that includes a son with cerebral palsy (the actor who plays him has cerebral palsy)… but its sort of inserted into the plot as an aside and never expanded on. I feel like this is characteristic of a new trend in movies and tv shows that strive for a kind of flat, unintoned realism.

    • Thanks — even though I’d mused about this very issue in re: Breaking Bad, for some reason I didn’t make the connection w/ Beeswax. In Breaking Bad the son’s CP does come up now and then — most notably in the episode when Walt beats up the kids who were making fun of Walt Jr — but as you say, for the most part Walt Jr’s CP is a non-issue in a way that would have been unimaginable on t.v. not too long ago.

      I’m sure some dissertations in Disability Studies are being crafted as we speak…

  2. Thanks, Ivan, for bringing it to my attention. We watched it last night. Stephen identified immediately the problem her business partner must be having … he could see himself (as the boss in a small business) in her, the micromanaging and overstating things. I was focused on other things. I just recently had to be interviewed at work in front of a videocamera, a new experience, and really surprised myself at how nervously inarticulate I felt (even though I wasn’t aware of feeling nervous) … and throughout this film it seemed to me that these people all seemed just too nervous to talk right!

  3. This director usually uses non-actors… The twins were just friends of his from college or somewhere, I believe (or one of them was), so part of that nervousness may be the response of a unexperienced actor.

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