Ever since it premiered at Sundance in January, Evan Glodell’s Bellflower keeps reminding critics and festival audiences alike that there’s a powerful electric charge still thriving in modern independent American cinema. Shot on a shoestring budget using intricate cameras and rigs created by Glodell and his crew, Bellflower instills a series of distrusting traumatic memories within a crumbling universe of mechanized poetry. Narrative closure doesn’t exist, and we get a mosaic of many different human apocalypses emerging from a fractured narrative where the domineering masculinity of the Mad Max mythology rests alongside the potential tenderness of a flowering romance. This creates a collectively foggy point of view for heightened characters on the cusp of self-destruction, an approach where plenty is subject to interpretation. Do these men and women step over the edge into an apocalyptic oblivion? Crushing ambiguity such as this was one of the many diverse topics Slant discussed with Glodell during his stop at the 2011 Comic-Con International in San Diego, the last media stop before Bellflower’s limited U.S. release on August 5.
A mythological folklore surrounds Bellflower. It’s well noted that you made your own lenses, you created the Medusa, flamethrower, etc. Why do you think this resurgence to the independent spirit of filmmaking is so important to modern audiences?
There’s probably a lot of answers to that. One is that the film medium is one of those giant untouchable things that’s always been in control of someone you don’t know. And so, with all the cameras coming out and technology changing where theoretically anybody could make a film if they had the determination, and no matter where they were they could get a group of people together and make a movie, it seems very important. Kind of like the people taking the power back. It seems like on some level we’ve done that more than what is usually common.
Your film seems wholly independent with a specific vision, which I think is what modern audiences are craving.
I really hope more people keep doing what we did. I would like to see more independent movies that embody this spirit. I hate when you hear people saying you have to think about what’s your market, where’s your movie going to go. To me, that seems really wrong if you have to think about how you’re going to sell your movie before you let the idea come to fruition. For me at least, the idea isn’t even done until the movie is done. If you’re working on [a movie] and it’s growing and growing and growing, and instead you’re worried about how am I going to sell this, that’s wrong I think. That should probably come afterwards, otherwise the movie is going to suffer in some way.
Bellflower is first and foremost a love story. In what ways did you want to tweak the specific conventions of the genre when you set out to write the script?
Well, one of the first things that got me excited about the idea was that it wasn’t going to be a little character development at the beginning and then the journey was going to start. This intense character development was going to encompass the first half hour and we were going to understand the characters and the relationships and then the second half was going to completely switch. By then, hopefully you were going to actually care about these people.
When Woodrow meets Milly at the cricket-eating contest, she tells him, “You’re going to get your ass kicked.” This turns out to be a prophetic statement later in their relationship. Why were bits of foreshadowing like this so crucial to the film’s unique pacing?
The initial idea for the first half was supposed to be a memory that was twisted. Woodrow thinks the first half of this relationship was so good, and now he’s asking, “What happened and why did it go bad?” It became this twisted view, as if he remembered the relationship better than it was. In reality, you forget all the obvious things that happen in those relationships that tell you “this isn’t going to work out,” but you don’t want to see it. So you ignore the foreshadowing.
Throughout Bellflower, certain images are partially blurred, with one half of the frame in focus. How were you able to achieve this effect with your D.P. Joel Hodge and what does it say about the world these characters live in?
Two of the three cameras I built to shoot the movie with have a tilt shift built into the focusing mechanism, so you can put any lens on there and you can get that tilt-shift effect. The visual effect it creates certainly plays into that augmented version of reality, where you know that something is heightened. One camera we built just for a key scene at the end of the film just so it would look a specific way. It was supposed to be an aesthetic hint that you’re not supposed to take the image at face value.
There’s intricately designed cars and a flamethrower the characters use that are complex mechanisms functioning like clockwork. Yet each relationship in Bellflower ultimately breaks down. Can you talk a bit about this duality?
I believe every image has some sort of meaning. You can abstract the image and you find something complex there. It’s like dreams that you can’t quite interpret, but you’re subconsciously processing. I’ve heard a lot of people mention that duality, and I think it’s awesome. I never thought of it consciously, but it kind of organically came from the idea of the relationships working on the script. Another person, I can’t remember who, was telling me about the machines in the film failing, but they said the machines didn’t have to fail, because their job was to explode, and the same thing was being done with the relationships. It wasn’t that the relationships failed and the machinery didn’t, it was that the relationships blew up unintentionally and the machines exploded intentionally.