Is independent cinema dead? Have the major studios killed the do-it-yourself iconoclastic spirit, or at least driven it to the margins of popular culture? One might think so. And yet there is a new breed of independent cinema that is capturing the popular imagination, a guerrilla art form made by amateurs, enjoyed by amateurs, passed around on an alternate distribution system than the traditional studio model.
I’m speaking, of course, about the ALS Ice Bucket Videos. The microbudget indie shorts are everywhere, at once paying homage to the film “actualities” of the pioneering Lumiere brothers of the 19th century and embracing the digital possibilities of the 21st century. They display elements of both Chaplin and Godard. And, like Lars Von Trier’s “The Five Obstructions,” they impose deliberate creative limits on themselves — a bucket, ice water, challenging three other people — and find oceans of variations within those restrictions.
So it’s high time somebody took these videos seriously, as a new vanguard of serious cinema. Here, my reviews of some of the most notable ALS Ice Bucket Cinema making the rounds:
Nick Offerman: Has there been a more indelible portrait of modern masculinity than this? A man stands in a field, wind whipping about him. He defies the elements, nay, the gods themselves. As the cooler of ice water tips over and douses him, he stands firm. “Anytime now,” he says, as if the frigid water was a mere drop of warm rain upon the skin. But then he dissolves into giggles. Eventually, every man breaks.
Liam Gallagher: The heir of the British “kitchen-sink” domestic dramas of the 1950s, in this film Gallagher sits defiantly on a flame-decorated scooter, challenging his estranged brother to perform the same feat. It’s Cain and Abel all over again, the elemental fraternal struggle. Then, the water comes, and Gallagher uses the c-word, which only British people seem to be able to pull off without sounding disgusting.
Patrick Stewart: A master at work. The British thespian sits at a hotel room table, an ice bucket before him. Slowly, wordlessly, deliberately, he produces a glass and a pair of ice tongs, and confidently puts cubes in the glass. Dramatic tension! Will he dump the bucket upon his bald pate? But no! He instead pours whiskey into the glass and drinks. It is his soul who will get the dousing tonight.
Olivia Wilde: The actress delivers a searing portrait of modern motherhood by producing not a bucket of ice water, but a bowl of chilled breast milk! (“I’ve been making this all night,” she tells us — the victim producing the materials of her own torture). She drenches herself in the cold milk, a perfect metaphor for the cold shock of the responsibilities of parenthood, then goes off to talk to a tree. When it comes to this video, we are lactose tolerant.
Chris Pratt: It’s the “Under the Volcano” of Ice Bucket videos, as Pratt sits alone, chugging a Blue Ice vodka and a Smirnoff Ice. Will the alcohol be enough to keep the demons at bay? Sadly no, as bucket after bucket rains down upon from high, as if the soggy judgment of God himself. “Really?” he pleads. Really.
Lady Gaga: In this Bergmanesque take on the Challenge, Gaga sits in a black lingerie outfit, staring defiantly at the camera, and then lifts up a silver chalice of water and pours it over her head. It is chilling, and hard to shake the feeling that she did this without even knowing there was an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.