Tag Archives: The creative process


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FEATURING: Annie Clark (St. Vincent), Carrie Brownstein

PLOT: Annie Clark (who performs as “St. Vincent”) commissions her friend Carrie Brownstein to make a documentary about her; but when Annie’s real personality proves too boring for film, she spices things up acting more like her alter-ego, losing sight of reality in the process.

Syill from The Nowhere Inn (2021)

COMMENTS: About midway through The Nowhere Inn, it occurred to me that I hadn’t really learned anything about Annie Clark that I didn’t know before I hit “play.” Looking up her bio in Wikipedia after watching this fictionalized documentary, I found the following quote from : “Despite having toured with her for almost a year, I don’t think I know her much better, at least not on a personal level.”

This made me feel better. Clark uses this faux-confesisonal mockumentary to hide in plain sight. Her alter-ego, St. Vincent, is brash, aggressive, and sexy onstage, shredding her guitar in a skintight red vinyl minidress while an image of her vomiting turquoise paint streams on a giant video board above her. Backstage, though, her friend Brownstein (the real-life riot grrl musician turned “Portlandia” comedienne) finds it hard to assemble meaningful footage for her behind-the-scenes documentary, since all the musician wants to do in her downtime is play Scrabble or video games or sample the local radishes. Even her bandmates and roadies can’t find anything interesting to say about Clark. So, abandoning her original plan capture the artist just being herself, Brownstein prods her subject to project her personality and start acting more like St. Vincent—a challenge the singer-songwriter meets too fervently, turning herself into an insufferable cliche of an image-obsessed rock diva. The pendulum having swung too far, Brownstein falls into an artistic crisis as Clark disappears into her new persona. The movie’s last act takes a hard turn into psychological thriller territory.

So what begins as a sort-of avant garde variation on This Is Spinal Tap segues into a sort-of riff on Mulholland Drive by way of Pink Floyd: the Wall, with hints of 8 1/2 sort-of lingering around the edges.  Please observe the deliberate “sort-of”s in that formulation; I don’t mean to oversell The Nowhere Inn. The movie is far more modest and humble than those big comparisons would suggest, and even when it gets existential and meta it always remains grounded in a friendly, pleasant, and lightly satirical comedy. From Clark’s initial encounter with a limo driver who doesn’t recognize her, to a bass player who decides he’ll be Australian on camera, to a hilarious bit part by Dakota Johnson as the tabloid-friendly love interest, The Nowhere Inn undercuts charges of pretentiousness by putting funny first. Even when it’s trending towards its darkest and most unhinged moments, the movie breaks the tension with its most elaborate comic set-piece, a very obviously staged trip to meet Annie’s family in Texas. Brownstein actually carries the film with a sunny confidence that yields to awkwardness, uncertainty, and embarrassment as she realizes that the insightful documentary she has planned is not salvageable. Clark is also very good in her feature debut, essentially playing two characters, neither of whom, we suspect, is all that close to her real personality (whatever that might be). The movie’s themes of artistic integrity and the duality of performers’ public and private personae are not exactly groundbreaking, but they’re handled cleverly and with enough unpredictability and humor to keep even non-fans watching to the end. Presuming, that is, that you have a taste for unconventional presentations. As Clark tells her limo driver, “I’m not for everyone.”

Director Bill Benz is mostly known for his work on “Portlandia” and other TV comedies, which explains why, although it frequently slips into psychedelic music video mode—especially, but not exclusively, during the rock concert numbers—the movie maintains its consistent comic tone.


“Early on, the self-deprecating stuff takes on a studied air, and in the final stretch, the filmmakers seem to think they can shock-cut and rug-pull their way into something resembling psychological horror. The weirdness isn’t really weird enough to pull this off; it’s all the self-indulgence without much oddball pleasure.”–Jesse Hassenger, Paste (contemporaneous)


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DIRECTED BY: Bill Watterson

FEATURING: Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Nick Thune, Adam Busch, James Urbaniak

PLOT: Annie returns home to find her apartment’s living room dominated by a cardboard construct inside which her boyfriend claims to be trapped.

COMMENTS: There is an easy route I could take for this review, but I’m going to put that pathway aside. For now. When we are first introduced to the titular maze, we probably feel just like Annie, who has returned home after a weekend away to find an unwieldy, idiotic edifice taking up far too much space right in the middle of her front room. Seemingly a mere construct of refrigerator boxes with other cardboard accoutrements, it’s a pointless structure, held together by tape, glue, and self-indulgence. The titular man-child inside greets her warmly, sounding a bit muffled and further away than the waist-high craft project should allow. She is nonplussed, and her impatience is immediate. My own impatience was on a hair-trigger, as a hipster party comprised of millennial stereotypes assembled around this monument to immaturity. I joined Annie in pushing aside my agitation as she and the revelers entered the maze to rescue Dave.

Whatever might be (rightly) said in criticism of the pretentious entities in the movie’s “real world,” there was a growing case of wonder creep as they explored the maze-world’s corridors and themed chambers. As Dave’s longtime buddy Gordon observes, the compound must have the traps littered throughout, you see, because “it’s a labyrinth, if it didn’t, it would just be a series of articulated hallways.” In one of the many cute/creative touches, all bodily harm to the victims of these traps (including ‘roid-quirky Jane and Greg approval-junkie Brynn) is conveyed through bursts of blood-red yarn as the traps slice their bodies. One chamber features cardboard-rendered stalactites; another a pit guarded by violent paper cranes; and one toys mischievously with perspective as the cameraman in the distance lifts a large cup that appeared to be resting on a front table. Leaning heavily into the metaphor (which despite its flimsy construction, turns out to be rather robust), there is also the requisite Minotaur stalking the visitors, and Dave.

Oh, Dave (and Dave). I was so primed to hate you both. To hate you and your stupid maze. But ultimately I felt a reluctant respect for this petulant hero for having finally followed through with something. And by the film’s end, I even found two characters I actually liked: the much put-upon Gordon who, though pretentious like the rest, turned out to be one of those ever-reliable types, bravely luring the Minotaur from the survivors once a plot is hatched to escape the arts-and-crafts abattoir. And then there’s Harry, the documentarian friend (for as you know, all true hipsters have a buddy who makes documentaries). Having dabbled briefly in filmmaking myself back many years ago, I understood his dueling urges to both capture what exists and to surreptitiously bend reality to his inclinations. Dave achieves what Harry and the rest of the Scooby gang could not: transposing a deep-seated sense of doubt and angst into a tangible challenge to physically overcome. As a movie, Dave Made a Maze kind of works; as therapy made manifest, Dave grasps a widespread anxiety by the horns and shows that the only way out is to get to the heart of the matter.


“‘Weird’ is one word for it, and it certainly applies. But so does ‘creative,’ ‘inventive,’ ‘compelling’ and, finally, ‘good’… a burst of creativity that seems like a low-rent version of ‘Synecdoche, New York,’ a fever dream of a movie and one of my all-time favorites. If you’re looking for something different – and mean it when you say so — ‘Dave Made a Maze’ is a joy.”–Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic (contemporaneous)


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FEATURING: , Sonja Kinski, Flula Borg, Honey Davis

PLOT: Mike Pinkney is an aspiring director living in East Hollywood, where he dreams of making his passion project: a remake of Carrie featuring an all-cat cast. No one is interested in his work, so he makes ends meet by working as a dog groomer, where he meets a beautiful woman who improbably agrees to go out on a date with him. Unfortunately, his run-down rental house suffers from a rat infestation that threatens to ruin his big chance with his dream girl.

Still from She's Allergic to Cats (2016)


  • Director Michael Reich and star Mike Pinkney had previously worked as co-directors on music videos for Ryan Adams, the Shins, My Chemical Romance, Yuck, and other bands.
  • Reich wrote the part explicitly for Pinkney. They took acting classes together to prepare, which is where they met Sonja (daughter of Nastassja, granddaughter of ) Kinski.
  • The movie was shot in Reich’s own house and neighborhood. Honey Davis, who plays the landlord in the movie, was Reich’s landlord at the time.
  • Parts of She’s Allergic to Cats were inspired by director’s Michael Reich’s work as a dog groomer in Hollywood, where he expressed the anal glands of pooches belonging to George Carlin and , among other celebrities.
  • It took the movie four years from its film festival debut to finally be released on video-on-demand.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Take your pick from two briefly glimpsed images from the climactic montage: a naked woman holding a bowl of rotting bananas while rats crawl over her, or a naked woman whose upper half is a banana. We’ll accept either answer. (If you’re looking for a non-nude pick, Sonja Kinski posing seductively with a DVD of Congo is your go to).

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Sensual dog grooming instructional video; anal gland expression

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In She’s Allergic to Cats, dog groomer Mike Pinkney bashfully confesses to “making weird video art that nobody wants to watch.” He’s wrong. Somebody wants to watch this portrait of a pathetic artist struggling to make an all-cat version of Carrie while dealing with a rat infestation and an internal video monologue that consists of glitchy nightmares run through a circa 1989 public access AV board. That somebody is you.

Original trailer for She’s Allergic to Cats

COMMENTS: The old writer’s cliche is to “write what you know.” The danger of this advice, of course, is that, if every aspiring writer  Continue reading 6*. SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS (2016)