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With: Linda Beech
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Chris Smith
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 66
Date: 03/18/2013

Home Movie (2001)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Out-sider House Rules

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Documentarian Chris Smith comes from that delicate school of filmmaking -- along with Errol Morris and Michael Moore -- that finds the most bizarre, entertaining human subjects imaginable and continually walks a thin line between ridiculing them and admiring them.

Smith's last film, the extraordinary American Movie (1999), followed the adventures of Mark Borchardt and his perpetually stoned sidekick Mike Schank as they struggled to complete a half-baked horror film. Despite Borchardt's weird fanatacism, Smith presented certain moments that allowed us to see his humanity.

At only 60 minutes, the new Home Movie is too short and deals with too many subjects -- five -- to end as such an unqualified success. But that doesn't mean this film is not a winning and wildly fascinating work.

Smith's camera travels to five disparate sections of America, starting with Chicago and Ben Skorka's gadget-house. Skorka has invented a "Star Trek"-like door that opens into four panels, a motorized chair, a talking, drink-serving robot, and much more. He describes a ski slope he once built on his roof and how he nearly killed himself flying across the road and into a cop car.

But Smith can't help lingering his camera on Skorka's younger and slightly silly significant other who wants to be an actress "like Julia Roberts." "All you need is the right producer," she says.

Linda Beech (who once starred on Japanese television) lives in a treehouse in the wilds of Hawaii -- so remote that one can't get to it or from it when the river is too high. She lived without running water for years and now has it only thanks to a waterfall and some ingenuity. Her little houseboy offers some amusing asides when she's not on camera.

Bill Tregle lives on a Bayou houseboat and shares the nearby waters with alligators. Fortunately he hunts them for a living, renting them out to movie people and selling jawbones and other trinkets for souvenirs. And in all that time, he's never lost a single body part except his heel, which he has had sewn back on. Looking out over the beautiful water lilies outside his front door makes his home seem the most welcoming of the five.

Ed and Diana Peden's home in an abandoned missile silo near Topeka, Kansas seems the least welcoming, if only because these are the folks we get to know the least. Ed can't drop his soft-spoken hippie act, and Diana seems to have been born without a personality. Nevertheless, they took a huge unused space and made it their own. The price they pay is that they sometimes go days without sunlight.

Finally we have Bob Walker and Francis Mooney's cat house, a home literally taken over by 11 cats. Little more need be said.

Home Movie's running time will be padded with Jeff Krulik and John Heyn's unbelievable 20-minute short Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which circulated as an underground video for years. Videotaped in the parking lot of a Judas Priest concert in 1986, the video captures humanity's funniest and most frightening side. Just remember to ask yourself: what happens when these people vote? Reproduce?

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