Title: The Nobodies

Also known as:

Year: 2015

Genre: Mockumentary / Drama / Horror / Exploitation

Language: English

Runtime: 88 min

Director: Jay Burleson

Writer: Jay Burleson

IMDb: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3565472/

In 1993, Warren Werner set out to make his first feature film: “Pumpkin”. When he premiered the completed film to his town in Alabama, he was met with backlash. Not long after, Warren and his girlfriend, Samantha Dixon, committed suicide. “Pumpkin” disappeared from existence while rumors escalated about Warren and Samantha. The following year, a group of filmmakers decided to make a documentary about the film and its creators.

Our thoughts:
At the end of 2015, we listed Jay Burleson’s “The Nobodies” as one of the best films of the year — a nomination that still holds true. A review was suppose to proceed the BOTY list, but unfortunately, it wasn’t published when it needed to be. That being said, this seems like a perfect to revisit “The Nobodies” with a review as the movie finished up its last festival screening at the Sidewalk Film Festival last month. More importantly though ”The Nobodies” was picked up for distribution by none other than Troma (goddamn, Troma is the best)! And in all honesty it’s probably the most fitting company for Burleson’s film to end up at.

When it comes to discussing “The Nobodies” it becomes a bit of an issue (for me, at least) because in reality you’re talking about two films. First, there is “The Nobodies” itself which is a faux documentary about small town filmmaker, Warren Werner, and his girlfriend, Samantha Dixon, and the infamous movie they made. Second, there’s the film-within-the-film “Pumpkin” — the one and only movie made by Warren and Samantha that caused controversy in their lives and in their town. It isn't the fact that it's a movie-within-a-movie that makes discussing "The Nobodies" problematic. It’s that the two pieces are two entirely different entities that, while come together to make an engaging film, they have their own distinct reasons in how they make "The Nobodies" unique.

I feel as though I need to jump into the “Pumpkin” aspect first because it’s going to be an element that draws in a lot of viewers — especially those from the underground scene and those who have a love for bizarre fringe cinema. The general premise of “The Nobodies” is two kids who decide to make a movie in the early 90s with their only resources being inspiration to make a movie and a video camera. What they create is “Pumpkin” — a nightmarish SOV horror film that genuinely looks like it was made by misguided amateur filmmakers.

That may not sound interesting or exciting since, quite frankly, most of us have seen those no-budget ’90s shot-on-video movies, and more often that not, they were pretty terrible. However “Pumpkin” is more than that; it’s more representative of the kind of movie that you could only find through tape-trading rings, or bought it directly from the person who made it because no one in their right mind would touch it otherwise. “Pumpkin” is the kind of movie that you found by chance. It’s the kind of movie that transcends the notion of what a bad movie is because the people behind it are not merely trying to replicate the kind of movies they watched. They are specifically attempting to create their vision. The notion of what a movie can or cannot be is not something that occurs to aspiring filmmakers like Warren and Samantha. The result of that kind of approach to making a movie is amplified when you factor in restrictions such as using townies for actors, or more to the point of having no experience in filmmaking.

It’s an amalgamation of passion and naivety where the desire to make a movie overrides logistics and resources. Yet the urge to stay true to what they envisioned the film to be allows unintentional brilliance to shine through the hindrances.

And to continuing to look at "Pumpkin" as a real movie — people would most likely say that there's bad acting in "Pumpkin" because Warren cast the film based primarely on who he knew and who was available. However, the results of using those kind of people has an opposite affect. They draw you in because their presence creates this accidental charisma brought on by a combination of being bad, strange but completely natural in non-traditional manner. You can't help but become captivated by them and their performances. It's sort of the affect John Waters' early films had.

Again, “Pumpkin” would have been one of those movies you could only discover by accident, and when you did, it comes across as work of madness and genius, even though it is objectively bad by traditional standards. And what’s remarkable is that Jay Burleson is somehow able to authentically capture that enigmatic film form. What makes it extraordinary is that many modern filmmakers have tried to replicate this particular aesthetic but it never works. It always comes across as derivative; it's trying to be something that it never will. It's because what they are specifically trying to recreate are a person's unintentional results, and often they are trying too hard capture the essence of something that was more or less lightening in a bottle.

Somehow Jay Burleson managed to avoid this issue and created something that felt entirely genuine. “Pumpkin” feels like it came straight out of those early years of awkward no-budget filmmaking in the ‘90s. The kind of movie that would have been bought from the back of a magazine or found in a milk crate at a seedy flea market.

Or maybe in later years from some degenerate weirdo hosting a bootlegging website on an angelfire webpage.

I’m emphasizing this fact because these are the kind of movies that don’t exist anymore and are fading away because, still, nobody wants to touch them. They're still not wanted or welcomed (even though those aforementioned modern filmmakers desperately try to recreate them) because they’re too far gone from resembling anything that of a traditional movie. It's to a point where they are viewed more as works of transgressive art. In the case of “Pumpkin”, while it was suppose to be a horror movie, it becomes this vile and off-putting insanity that's been transposed to an analog signal. So when the footage from “Pumpkin” starts to be intercut into “The Nobodies” it is quite shocking to see because, again, you don’t see movies like that anymore, and it’s even more surprising to see someone successfully capture that spirit with a new film.

Even better is that this form of forgotten fringe filmmaking has a purpose within the context of “The Nobodies”. It isn’t being done simply for the sake of creating something that's eccentric nor is it an attempt to jump on a popular kitschy film style. The specific nature of what “Pumpkin” does is to reinforce the theme and overall point of “The Nobodies” — what it’s like to be ambitious and to be creative and the dismissals of those passions from those around you, but from the perspective of an outsider.

To go back to the concept of the movie — “The Nobodies” is a faux documentary about Warren Werner and Samantha Dixon. Two kids who wanted to make a movie while living in a small town. The movie covers their life, the production of “Pumpkin”, it’s eventual release, and all of the backlash that Warren and Samantha experienced as a result.

While it can’t be applied to everyone, for many, the life an artist and the pursuit of the creative path can be wrought with frustration, turmoil and depression. It’s made worse when you’re presenting a completed form of work because you’re not just presenting something you made, you presenting part of yourself. And even though art is suppose to be subjective, it rarely is. No matter what is made, it will always be held to a standard of whether or not its existence has value based merely on what it is or isn’t. In the case of amateur filmmaking, said work will always be looked down upon because it is always judged by whether not it meets the preconceived notion of what qualifies as a movie.

Even I’m guilty of that. In this review as a matter of fact because even I said “Pumpkin” would be consider objectively bad even though it has certain merits. That’s essentially the point of “The Nobodies” though. You’re watching the destruction of two people who are trying to make a movie — an artistic expression that should be allowed to exist whatever form it may take. Even if that form is a vile and bizarre exploitive horror movie. Warren made something, something that was part of him, something that he had envisioned, and to have that work rejected was a rejection of him.

Suicide may seem like a drastic response to having your work rejected, but much like “Pumpkin”, there is reality in this aspect of “The Nobodies”. As I said, the life of an artist is a difficult one. It’s made worse when you yourself are already an outsider as well. When you open up your work, and yourself, to people who have already disregard your existence, it is overwhelming by having that crushed.

And it has to be noted that the setting of “The Nobodies” is important. The movie is taking place in a small town in Alabama in 1993. It might be hard to imagine with today’s younger audience members where “weird” is celebrated (even then, only if it is part of a trend), there was a time when it was hated. Even when pieces of work weren't weird they were still dismissed because it didn't fit into a paticular mold of what was considered acceptable. Living in the early ‘90s, your reach to the outside world was limited to your immediate surroundings. Characters like Warren and Samantha, and their film, where never meant to be in the environment that they unfortunately found themselves in. That isolation in combination with being attacked by their peers in that environment would be too much for anyone.

There’s a scene in “The Nobodies” that encompasses that aspect. When Warren Werner is brought onto a local cable-access program after the release of “Pumpkin”, he is berated, trashed and verbally abused for his work. While the host of the show is grinning with self-satisfaction for tearing the young man down for what he made, you can see the life leaving Warren’s eyes (a great little performance moment). It is there in that scene that the death of these outsiders — these nobodies — was inevitable.

When considering what “The Nobodies” is about, it seems perfect that it is being released by Troma. There were many fly-by-night video labels that popped up and released off-the-wall no-budget movies. Troma was the first label to come along and actually celebrate films that were made by and were for the outsiders in the world of movies. They were cinema’s counter-culture, and who knows, maybe if characters like Warren Werner and Samantha Dixon had access to a group like Troma, things would have be different for them.

Fictional scenarios aside, as it stands, Jay Burleson’s film — a movie about what it’s like to be an outsider and trying to do what your passionate about and make something that they want to see exist in this world — found the perfect home with Troma. Hopefully "The Nobodies" will reach its audience because what Burleson put together is admirable due to the sincerity and authenticity in the work. He utilized the faux-documentary style to put together a wonderful character study about outcasts and fringe filmmaking. It's also impressive that he was able to create a movie like “Pumpkin” which felt like a genuine lost oddity that would exist in the world of no-budget amateur filmmaking. “The Nobodies” is a remarkable movie in how it feels real in all aspects (from the concept to the cast) and tells an effective story about weirdo films and the undesirables who make them.

Positive things:
- Genuine and sincere in the story that's being told.
- The film "Pumpkin" feels like an authentic weirdo SOV film from the '90s.
- Very well cast. The people put together help sell the believability of both "The Nobodies" and "Pumpkin".
- Effectively uses the faux-documentary style.
Negative things:
- I understand its use here but I'll never like the film scratch filter.

Gore: 2/5
Nudity: 3/5
Story: 4/5
Effects: 1/5
Comedy: 0/5

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