We've discussed this in the past--the defining feature of micro-budget filmmaking is heart. A passion to see one's ideas realized in twenty-four-or-more glowing frames per second unites the folks who create home-financed films. I tip my hat to anyone who is willing to herd amateur actors, troubleshoot special effects using ingenuity rather than an open checkbook, and deal with the everyday setbacks and heartbreaks that come at truly independent creative types from all sides. It's a special kind of treat when one of these projects puts all the pieces together in the form of an off-beat, entertaining and refreshingly true-to-original-vision flick. Filmmaker Matthew Glasson's* "The Family Tie," a labor of love that began its life in 1997 only to be ultimately edited and completed in 2007, is just such a micro-budget treat.
*In the interests of full disclosure, I'm delighted to call Mr. Glasson a pal, but it just so happens I came to meet him during a screening where a clip from "The Family Tie" was featured and my curiosity about his work was thusly piqued.
Employing a comedic tone that's part "Kids in the Hall" deadpan, part Stephen Sayadian/Rinse Dream affected delivery, and part early Peter Jackson scatological squick, "The Family Tie" follows a young man named Dave in his quest for revenge against John, the sadistic gun-runner who destroyed his family.
What is it that separates "The Family Tie" from other micro-budget splatfests? Funny you should ask--I've given it some thought!
- Brevity! This movie is unafraid to get in, get it done, and get out. Clocking in at 36 minutes, there is no down time and no padding. Much as it might be tempting for filmmakers to go for the Full Ninety and add in scenes of characters driving in cars, or walking around stores, or sitting in bars (we've all seen flicks like this, haven't we?), Glasson doesn't fall prey to the lure of the feature-length. Instead, he makes every scene count.
- The humor in "The Family Tie" comes in many forms, from John's bizarre mannerisms to the physical comedy of Dave's training sequence to several outrageously gory money shots. If I had to pick a favorite sequence, I'd have to say that the manner in which the Dave barters for information from gangster Bernie "Brass Balls" Benigno would take the cake. Never has yogurt plopping into the transparent canister of a wet/dry shop vac looked so disgusting.
- The characters never wink at the audience--this is all deadly serious business to these folks. Theirs is an off-kilter world that's like a Dadaist reworking of a gritty 1970s crime drama.
- Music is used to great effect throughout. The clever incorporation of classical themes from Mozart, Grieg, and Wagner add a lunatic gravitas to the proceedings that enhances the comedy expertly. This is a good application of public domain music--there's no need to opt for hokey incidental orchestrations when the classics will do. See also the use of "Swan Lake" in the Browning/Lugosi "Dracula."
- Perhaps the single element that makes "The Family Tie" work is the machine-gun editing. I lost count of the number of angle changes and splices that occur during the threatening phone call from John that opens the film. The energetic--some might say downright spastic--structure of each scene keeps the pace of the story popping right along. And need I say that I totally dug the use of intertitles? Cos I totally dug the intertitles.
In most reviews of micro-budget movies, this is the part where I have to say something like "this has a limited festival release" or "I saw this because I live in the New York Metro area--bug your local indie theatre to pick this up." Well, friends, I have some great news for you, because such is not the case here! You can watch "The Family Tie" online right now, officially posted by the director! Check it out here: