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10/40/70 - Build The Wall

In the book 10/40/70, author Nicholas Rombes recognizes the necessity of constraint as a means of liberating film criticism in the digital era. In this section of my reviews, I will be deploying the same techniques utilized by Rombes; analyzing the contents of the frames a film (released since the year 2000) contains at the 10 minute, 40 minute, and 70 minute marks.

These reviews will be posted every Wednesday.

Craigen Z Oster


Build The Wall (Joe Swanberg, 2020)

Joe Swanberg was the king of independent American cinema, or at least, in my eyes he was. When I say independent, I truly mean independent. He wasn't developing films through the likes A24, Neon, or any of the other arthouse establishments that have risen to new heights in the streaming era. No, Swanberg was creating feature films entirely out of his own pocket. These were home movies made for the big screen. Cinema on digital video.


This couldn't last, sadly. As Swanberg gained notoriety, he was able to start working with bigger stars, bigger budgets (although still super-miniscule by most standards), and on bigger platforms. But somehow, in 2020, Swanberg has released his latest feature film entirely for free on joeswanberg.com.


I was stunned finding this out, but really I shouldn't have been. While Swanberg himself citing a growing fear he had in 2019 of an American economy on the brink of collapse in an interview he did on the website NuBudge.com, a streaming platform created by his longtime friend and collaborator Kentucker Audler, I think the frames of the film itself reveal a different answer, one not so rooted in best business practices and a desire to make something cheap and easy. Swanberg's cinema has always been one of profound minimalism, and nowhere has this been more evident than in Build The Wall. The frames of the film, shot and edited by Swanberg himself, are a perfect marriage of form and function.


10 Minutes

In this frame we see the beginnings of the titular wall. Kent's friend Kev has come to his isolated home in Vermont to build his friend a stone wall for his 50th birthday, unannounced and uninvited.


This is the first image in a sequence that appears to be a film within a film. Kev addresses some anonymous viewer, describing how one goes about building a wall in the practice of stone masonry. The image seems like it was shot by Kev as it differs from the style of the film until this point. Is this a video he himself is making? Is this actually the wall he is building for his friend? It doesn't appear as if Kev himself is in the image, although it is difficult to tell given that the face of the man in the right of the frame is turned away from the camera.


This has me wondering why he would be making these videos and who for. Kev is a man who lives out of his car with just his dog and takes his masonry practice incredibly seriously. He seems to be disconnected from modern society and technology, so would these videos be just for himself as a personal account of his practice? Is he running some sort of vlog for others to learn the practice of stone masonry?


None of this is answered by the film. The sequence comes and goes, cutting back in to the normal narrative, before eventually circling back around to similar sequences of footage that appears to be shot by Kev with his voiceover.


But still, the rawness of this image lingers. It is not beautiful composed, the color isn't perfect, there is broad focus so that everything can be seen with somewhat clarity.


40 minutes

Kent and Sarah roll around in bed on the morning of Kent's birthday, the day the entire weekend has been building too. But from this frame alone it is uncertain who is who. Watching the scene again, it would be obvious, but having already captured the frame and just now looking at it again, its impossible for me to guess. Have the two finally achieved a unison? After a weekend of will-they-won't-they, albeit an awkward, middle-aged version of the old song and dance, the couple has finally slept together.


70 minutes

When I chose this film, I didn't realize it was only going to be 56 minutes long, so there is no frame at 70 minutes. All we are left with is the collection of thoughts and ideas continued within the first two frames.


A third and final frame may have helped, as this movie proved to be a difficult one to analyze through 10/40/70 where the construction of the image was much more practical. Joe Swanberg makes films that don't attempt to use a heightened, realist-style of cinematography to artificially induce the viewer to believe that what they are seeing is reality. Instead, he lets the camera sit there, allowing the actors to feel there way through scenes, something that can be incredibly awkward for both their characters and the person watching. This was often how I felt attempting to analyze the film through 10/40/70: awkward and disjointed. I was unsure of how to decipher these images, constantly rewriting, feeling physically crappy as I did, and hating everything I could come up with.