Film Rec: “Living in Oblivion” (1995)

Living in Oblivion 4

Living in Oblivion is a 1990s indie movie about 1990s indie movies. Writer/director Tom DiCillo never joined the ranks of Tarantino, Smith or Soderbergh, but he excelled at skewering the disappointments, pretension and dysfunction of the film biz. Anyone who has struggled against adversity to realize their artistic vision, or to get through any kind of collaborative project, will likely find a lot to appreciate in this movie.

The story follows Steve Buscemi as a beleaguered director trying to get his threadbare movie made in the face of countless obstacles.  He’s working with a cast and crew of oddballs, hacks and prima donnas who do little to make his job any easier. Broken into thirds, each act follows a single day in filming, with each day culminating in an epic and hilarious crisis.

Three reasons to watch:

  • Seeing the sausage get made: If you’re a cinephile like me, the film is a pretty interesting look at the unglamorous life of the Hollywood B-squad. It’s also relevant as a time capsule of the indie movie boom of the 1990s, when sleeper hits like Swingers, Reservoir Dogs and Clerks were convincing anyone with a can of celluloid that he might be the next big thing.
  • It’s funny: Even if you don’t care at all about happens behind the camera, the film is still works as an effective comedy, with a quick pace, a focused narrative and number of memorable scenes. If you like talky, smart, adult comedies, this one should appeal to you.
  • The cast: In addition to Buscemi (at his manic best), the film packs in a nice cast of familiar faces, including Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney and Peter Dinklage in his very first film appearance. While the Dink has perhaps the most memorable role as Tito, a dwarf actor with a huge chip on his shoulder, I’m quite partial to James LeGros’s turn as the spoiled and air-headed leading man, who (rumor has it) is a ruthless parody of DiCillo’s disastrous experience working with a young Brad Pitt.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you about:

  • The black-and-white scenes: Don’t freak out, but some of the scenes are in black and white, which helps define what’s happening “IRL” and which scenes are part of the movie they’re making. It works well as a storytelling device and even adds a bit of subtle characterization on later reflection.
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