SXSW FILM 2011
By Don Simpson | March 21, 2011
Director: Joe Swanberg
Writer: Joe Swanberg
Starring: Kate Lyn Sheil, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Amy Seimetz, Larry Fessenden, Jane Adams, Sean Price Williams
Always blurring the line between fiction and reality, writer-director Joe Swanberg (who also serves as the film’s producer, cinematographer, editor and lead actor) opts not to formally name any of the characters in Silver Bullets, most likely because all of the actors are playing fictionalized versions of themselves. Joe (Swanberg) and Kate (Kate Lyn Sheil) are an onscreen couple who often work together on films — the former as the director and lead actor, the latter as the lead actress. When Kate accepts the leading role as a werewolf in a new Ti West project, Joe finds himself casting a new leading lady, Kate’s friend, Amy (Amy Seimetz). Jealousy ensues. Joe rightly assumes that Ti has his eyes set on Kate while Kate becomes very upset that Joe would cast her friend in his next project because she knows that this also means that Joe and Amy will establish an extremely close (and naked) on-camera relationship. (Oh, what an incestuous world of celluloid!!!)
I do not think it is too much of a stretch to state that Silver Bullets is Swanberg’s most Godardian film to date — and that is not just because it features a girl with a gun or an onscreen director with a penchant for cinema theory. This is a film in which Swanberg puts himself under the proverbial microscope, in true self-reflexive fashion, questioning his role as a filmmaker and as a sexual being.
Swanberg’s cinematic output has traditionally burst with unbridled sexuality — a quality that I suspect may have caused some arguments with his off-screen lovers over the years. (Swanberg is currently married.) Silver Bullets appears to be Swanberg’s way of working through all of that, while directly addressing past criticisms of his work, primarily that he is a predatory director who makes movies solely for the opportunity to make out with attractive actresses. (It is important to note that Silver Bullets is much more sympathetic towards Kate; revealing Joe as a two-timing cheat.)
Silver Bullets is also the most stylistically playful of Swanberg’s films, at least since Hannah Takes the Stairs. Swanberg tinkers not only with the visual aspects of cinema but with its narrative conventions as well. I have never really thought of Swanberg as an editor, but he does a beautiful job tying together Silver Bullets’ concurrent stories in an overtly artful fashion. Despite being completely unscripted, Silver Bullets is dramatically more complex than Swanberg’s previous efforts; it is also his most cohesive and coherent, especially in terms of purpose. Silver Bullets represents a clean break from Mumblecore (a genre not known for profound messages) for Swanberg — he has a lot to say, and the messages are relayed loud and clear.
After premiering films at SXSW for five straight years (2005 – 2009), Swanberg’s directorial presence was severely missed at SXSW 2010; but the SXSW 2011 screenings of Silver Bullets made the wait totally worthwhile. In an apparent return to his prolific self, Swanberg also premiered Uncle Kent at Sundance 2011 and currently has a few other films in various stages of production.