Ahhhh, the early nineties; when flannel shirts and combat boots ruled supreme, and fabricated teenage angst swept through our nation’s schools. Though the grunge movement was relatively short lived, it has secured a relevant niche in our cultural timeline. With the rise of indie rock music, came also a rise in indie cinema. Young hopeful filmmakers found that as long as they had a credit card and some friends that would work for free, they too could make a movie.
This do-it-yourself attitude led to an explosion of unique and innovative independent films being produced, and Hollywood execs would defile their own grandmothers to snag the distribution rights to any one of them. Like the record labels signing a number of many sub-par rock bands just to jump on the grunge bandwagon, there were a number of poorly made films that got picked up as well. But a few clunkers aside, the era remains as a real goldmine for great filmmaking. Here is a look back at some of the films that really encompass the independent boom of the nineties.
Slacker (1991) Director Richard Linklater presents us with the day in the life of some Austin, Texas twenty-something outcasts. Presented more as a series of short vignettes, moving from one character study to the next, Slacker epitomizes independent filmmaking, and is the cornerstone for the indie explosion of the nineties.
El Mariachi (1992) A traveling mariachi heads into a small Mexican town, and is mistaken for a guitar case carrying criminal. Robert Rodriguez’s famously inexpensive film ($7,000) is a shining example of ingenuitive filmmaking. The film plays like a high energy Mexican spaghetti western, with the lack of a budget as part of its charm.
Reservoir Dogs (1992) Quentin Tarantino’s post-bank heist crime thriller is filled with violence, suspense, pop culture references, vulgarity, and brilliant seasoned character actors. Tarantino borrowed heavily from a variety of American and Asian films, but managed to create a new genre in the process.
Dazed and Confused (1993) It’s the last day of high school in 1976 Texas, and everyone is trying to drunk, stoned or laid (or all of the above). Richard Linklater delivered this film at the height of a seventies nostalgia revival, and that, coupled with its universal themes of social acceptance and high school uncertainty (along with some memorable dialogue), made it an instant cult classic.
Clerks (1994) Two convenient store workers irritate their customers, talk about Star Wars, and play hockey on the roof of the store. Writer/director Kevin Smith proved that a lack of any real plot can be made up for with witty dialogue and likable characters. The filmmaking is crude at best, and the acting isn’t exactly Oscar worthy, but the sum is greater than its parts.
Kicking and Screaming (1995) Noah Baumbach’s debut film is centered on a group of college graduates who are trying to find their way through life after school. Smart dialogue anchors this film, which showcases the concerns of the older Gen X crowd as they enter the real world.
Kids (1995) A dark, almost disturbing, film about the life of teenagers in the inner city. The plot is loose, and with filmmaker Larry Clark casting non actors, the film has an almost documentary feel to it. Sex, drugs, and violence dominate the script, which serves as a precautionary tale if nothing else.