Unless you’ve been moviegoing in New York, Los Angeles, or downtown Ventura recently, it’s a cinch you haven’t seen Evan Glodell’s debut movie, Bellflower.
That’s a shame because it comes pretty highly recommended. In the September 5 issue of the New Yorker, for instance, we read: “… his images are as fiery and bruising as the action he depicts, and the meticulously wrought, raw rock-and-roll fury of his vision, joining cosmic conflagration to post-adolescent romantic bathos and banal self-destruction, is realized on a budget that would be Hollywood lunch money. … Glodell blasts open a new dimension in the cinematic imagination.”
And he did that blasting (and shooting) in and around downtown Ventura, too. In a way, the city and its surroundings are costars in Glodell’s brilliant no-budget film. The 31-year-old filmmaker, who hails from Baraboo, Wisconsin, where he grew up obsessed with “making things,” only lasted about a week in a Midwest engineering college program. It was then and there he realized he wanted to make movies, so he packed his Tarantino obsession up and headed west for Hollywood, stopping on the way to visit his father in Ojai and ultimately settling in Ventura, where a lot of his homies came after flirting with Los Angeles. “I just liked it here,” he said. “It’s quiet enough to get things done.”
Glodell took advantage of the quiet to pen the script for his first film in a two-week rush — though it took considerably longer to realize his vision. “It struck me that I had never seen a film that had a love story split into two halves — I couldn’t think of one — the dreamy falling-in-love part followed by a nightmarish breakup.” He was getting over his own “difficult” relationship, yet most people who see the film remember it more for what the New Yorker describes as “rock-and-roll fury,” hinged as much on apocalyptic imagery and youthful anomie as it is unhinged by bad love. Glodell’s protagonist, Woodrow (played by Glodell), and bro bud Aiden (Tyler Dawson) wander in and out of parties, drink like existentialists, and build flamethrowers in their spare time, obsessed with Mad Max movies. As their story turns nightmarish, their obsessions turn nihilistic. Glodell then moves them, along with his character’s love interest, Milly (Jessie Wiseman), from a naturalistic setting to a fever dream. The characters live magically outside of all consequence and responsibilities, until Woodrow’s insentient grief finally turns into a vision of all possible catastrophes.
“These people are lost,” explained Glodell as we sat over lunch in a downtown Ventura eatery. “That’s why they are thinking about the apocalypse. When things aren’t working out for people, the end of the world seems like an easy way to wipe the slate clean.”
But Bellflower doesn’t easily fall into a plot reiteration. Woody’s life after Milly is dominated by hallucinations and pain. It’s here, in Woody’s phantasmagoria (shot by Glodell’s invaluable partner Joel Hodge), where Glodell’s moviemaking and his love of tinkering come together best.
“It was a hobby I got into a long time ago, hacking cameras. I was able to make my own using different lenses,” he explained. He found some lenses in thrift stores, others in industrial catalogs, and assembled hybrid machines that allowed for poetic, though clearly sketchy-scratched, images, tilted focuses, and amazing special effects, especially considering the budget. He made virtue from necessity. “Maybe someday when my budgetary constraints aren’t so bad, I can really take off,” he laughed.
Glodell’s behind-the-scenes story is nearly as surreal as the vision he put up on the screen. After wrapping the film he’d been working on for seven years, Glodell decided to rent a screening room in Hollywood and invite the best-connected people he knew to see it. According to Glodell, the whole crowd competed to shout discouraging words. One studio friend told Hodge to get his name off the project if he ever wanted a career. Glodell went home and slept “for about a month.”
But one fan in the room kept pressuring Glodell to submit Bellflower to Sundance, which he did without hopes right before the festival’s deadline. A few days later, lightning struck. “The phone rang, and this guy said, ‘Hi, I’m Trevor from Sundance.’” Within a few weeks, Glodell had been signed to the prestigious Creative Artists Agency (CAA). And within a few months he had wowed crowds at Sundance and South by Southwest and scored a distribution deal with the art-film studio Oscilloscope. Then came release, a host of great reviews, and a 92-percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Glodell, still amazed, had just returned from a Spanish film festival when we spoke. “I’ve never been out of the U.S. before this,” he laughed. He’s taking meetings with a new script in hand — and already turned down one intriguing offer. “It’s crazy,” he said over soup and salad. “I don’t know what will happen next. But I do have some cameras that I’ve never used before.”
Bellflower screens at Isla Vista Theater on Friday, November 4, at 7 p.m. Evan Glodell will be on hand to answer questions following the film. For info, call 966-3652.