SXSW FILM 2013
By Don Simpson | March 20, 2013
Director: Dayna Hanson
Writer: Dayna Hanson
Starring: Dayna Hanson, Wade Madsen, Paul Matthew Moore, Peggy Piacenza, Dave Proscia, Pol Rosenthal, Maggie Brown, Jessie Smith, Jim Kent
Note to independent filmmakers: Enlist Benjamin Kasulke as your cinematographer and I will definitely pay attention to you. He is one of the most talented cinematographers working today and he will make any film visually interesting enough to be worth watching. That is precisely the reason I was very anxious to watch writer-director Dayna Hanson’s Improvement Club at SXSW 2013. It is as simple as that. The problem is, I had to watch Improvement Club twice before I could actually pay attention to the story. The first time around, I was so entranced by Kasulke’s perspective — not that he was stealing the show, but because I was viewing Improvement Club knowing that it was shot by him. Kasulke was the only thing I knew about Improvement Club, so he is what I latched on to at first.
If anything, Kasulke’s cinematic aesthetic is fairly toned down in Hanson’s directorial debut. He shoots Improvement Club in an intimate, cinema verite style, getting as close as physically possible to the actors. This adds to the authenticity of what seems like an autobiographical account of Hanson’s personal struggles as an actor.
Improvement Club follows a somewhat experimental theatrical-cum-musical collective that is often accused by critics of being more quote-unquote meta than they intend. They take on U.S. history with a modern-yet-absurd bent which most critics, booking agents and audiences just do not seem to get. Call it post modern, post structuralist, or anarchist — admittedly, I just don’t get it either. But, I think that’s exactly the point — these artists are so trapped in the undercurrents of their own creative juices that they don’t realize that no one else will ever appreciate their approach to art and humor. They wholeheartedly believe that their drug-addled ideas are funny, but they can’t see outside their collective’s box. There is absolutely no market for what they are doing.
Sure, artists should be free to do whatever the heck they want to do. They are artists and that is precisely the point of being an artist. Art is not a career that revolves around compromise and conformity; it is about individuality and expressionism. The problem is, not every artist can connect with society. This particular collective is particularly detached.
Regardless, I really love some of their sketches, like the opening Paul Revere skit. The musical (and coordinated dance) performances are also pretty impressive too. So, if anything, Hanson convinces me that I might just be the ideal audience for her collective of thespian misfits. Even if I don’t “get it.”