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Sundance 2011: Flamethrowers and heartbreak in 'Bellflower'

January 28, 2011 |  4:43 pm


Certainly among the more eccentric talents at this year's Sundance Film Festival is Evan Glodell with his flamboyant film "Bellflower" in the NEXT section -- after all, it's not every director who can build a working flamethrower and customize a fire-belching muscle car featured in his own film. Glodell, who also served as writer, co-editor, co-producer and costar of the film, likewise designed the custom optical systems used on the camera.

The film equates the pain of heartbreak with the end of the world, turning a breakup into an emotional apocalypse. A group of young people, a few guys and a few girls, spend their time drinking heavily and hanging out, tumbling into bed with one another until everyone gets hurt emotionally and physically. Then the pain begins and things get weird.

Much of the buzz on "Bellflower" during the festival has been based around its " 'Fight Club' in the desert" aesthetic, the flamethrower, the homemade camera equipment, the wild stunt driving and the film's apocalyptic filigrees. What has often not been mentioned is how emotional and sincere the film is as well.

"I'm trying not to worry," said Glodell in an interview midday Thursday, when asked about whether the buzz could mislead audiences as to what they are in for. "It's misleading and it's a little scary, but I'm hoping it'll sort itself out as we move forward. But it is a little silly because the movie is a love story, though obviously the characters are obsessed with the apocalypse."

The film has divided audiences strongly. Among detractors, one complaint is that the characters don't do anything besides work on gadgets, drink, fight, fool around and get involved in personal drama. A frequent question is, "Do they have jobs?"

Glodell said that the issue is partly a consequence of the fact he wrote the first draft of the script in 2003, and was slowly raising money, casting and rewriting the script for years. Finally shooting the film over 90 days in and around Oxnard and Ventura in summer 2008, Glodell edited the film and did some reshoots in the time since. Now 30, he admits everyone is perhaps a little too old for how he originally envisioned the roles, but he was determined to use the specific performers he had collected over time.

"How everybody was making money from 18 to 23 was pretty trivial as far as I'm concerned,"  Glodell said. "They had jobs at one point and then I was like, this doesn't even matter."

The second main criticism from people who don't like the film concerns its portrayal of women. The two female leads, Milly (Jessie Wiseman) and Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), are the main catalysts for everything awful that happens. Seen as duplicitous, disloyal and downright evil, it is easy to walk away feeling the film has a rather dim view of women.

"I don't know if I'm qualified to answer that question," Glodell said at first. "Certainly the movie came from a place of me being confused about women in general, and not understanding them. All of the female characters were based on people I know; I just picture a personality when I'm writing. Hopefully that makes both the guys and the girls more real, but as far as how they are portrayed, I guess I don't know."

Glodell's character Woodrow and his best friend Aiden (played by Tyler Dawson) are something like a post-punk version of Peter Pan's Lost Boys or Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn on a bender. Fantasizing about living as Lord Humungus from "The Road Warrior," they have beer and bacon for breakfast and live out a raw, self-styled he-man existence.

"It is from the guys' perspective, so it was never meant to be an honest evaluation of the women's characters; they are there as seen from the place of the guys and the guys are extremely confused," explained Glodell, words tumbling from his mouth at an astonishing speed.

"Certainly one the most terrifying things for me about this entire movie was some of the stuff in the second half of the movie -- these really intense, violent scenes -- and I knew that, if people weren't following our characters into the story, really feeling it from our perspective, then they would see it and just be like, 'misogynist.' And I was really, really hoping that wouldn't happen. I just tried to be honest in everything I did."

 -- Mark Olsen in Park City, Utah

Photo: Scene from "Bellflower." Credit: Coatwolf Productions