Tiny Furniture – The Criterion Collection #597 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
February 6, 2012 by Dennis Amith
Lena Dunham’s award-winning independent film”Tiny Furniture” will be Criterion Collection’s first inclusion of mumblecore to their collection. A slice of life type of film that is enjoyable but equally frustrating. Nevertheless, showing promise for the filmmaking career of Lena Dunham.
Image courtesy of © 2010 IFC in Theatres, LLC. 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.
TITLE: Tiny Furniture – The Criterion Collection #597
MOVIE RELEASE: 2010
DURATION: 99 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio, 5.1 Surround
COMPANY: IFC Films/The Criterion Collection
RELEASE DATE: February4, 2012
Written and Directed by Lena Dunham
Produced by Kyle Martin, Alicia Van Couvering
Co-Produced by Alice Wang
Music by Teddy Blanks
Cinematography by Jody Lee Lopes
Edited by Lance Edmands
Art Direction by Jade Healy, Chris Trujillo
Lena Dunham as Aura
Laurie Simmons as Siri
Grace Dunham as Nadine
Jemima Kirke as Charlotte
Alex Karpovsky as Jed
David Call as Keith
Merritt Wever as Frankie
Amy Seimetz as Ashlynn
Lena Dunham got her start making YouTube videos, but she emerged as a major talent thanks to the breakthrough success of this exceptionally sharp comedy, which garnered the twenty-four-year-old writer-director-actor comparisons to the likes of Woody Allen. Dunham plays Aura, a recent college graduate who returns to New York and moves back in with her mother and sister (played by the filmmaker’s real-life mother and sister). Though Aura is gripped by stasis and confusion about her future, Dunham locates endless sources of refreshing humor in her plight. As painfully confessional as it is amusing, Tiny Furniture is an authentic, incisive portrait of a young woman at a crossroads.
Mumblecore. The definition of mumblecore is an “American independent film movement that arose at the turn of the 21st century”.
And I have watched a few of these low-budget independent films and while there have been good films and many bad, it has always been debated of whether these films should be held with a high regard. Similar to what John Cassavetes was able to accomplish in in his career with his theater group and creating indie films that eventually had impact on filmmakers and are appreciated today. Creating cinema with a micro-budget. Can it be considered as cinema?
With the cost of DSLR’s and the popularity of these low-budget films on YouTube and other video streaming sites, I have read threads on various cinema sites if mumblecore should ever be featured on the Criterion Collection?
Even I had taken part in instigating such a discussion with a graphic I have made of Jay and Mark Duplas’ “Baghead” with a fake Criterion Cover. But my intention was not to say that “Baghead” should be a Criterion Collection film but it was for people to acknowledge that with today’s technology, people are making movies may it be on high end equipment or affordable equipment on Canon 7D or an iPhone 4S.
We have seen American low budget films appear on the Criterion Collection before. Sure, they may have been created decades ago but why not mumblecore? And I’m sure there are cineaste who may be shaking their head about any mention of mumblecore being included in the Criterion Collection but in Feb. 2012, the Criterion Collection will include Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture”.
Daughter of artist and photographer Laurie Simmons, Lena Dunham’s 2010 film was created on a low-budget of $50,000, premiered at South by Southwest and it won “Best Narrative Feature”. The film was picked up by IFC films, given a theatrical release and not only has it made more than its money back, it also won “Best First Screenplay” at the 2010 Independent Spirit Awards.
While the film does share many aspects to mumblecore in terms of being shot on a low-budget, using Lena’s mother and sister as major characters in the film and also starring herself as the main protagonist, Dunham doesn’t really consider this film to be mumblecore because it was written on a “tight script” that the actors were faithful to.
But if there is one thing that many critics have noticed with “Tiny Furniture” is its ode to Woody Allen and Dunham’s appreciation for the filmmaker.
To describe “Tiny Furniture”, it’s a film that probably is best experienced than explained because just writing about it, may not seem flattering at all. In fact, it may seem like an average day of a college graduate trying to find out what to do with her life.
Lena Dunham plays the character of Aura, a liberal arts student with a film studies degree who just graduated and returns back to her home to see her family and decide on her future.
Lena is a student who is unsure about herself, about life in general, about what she wants to do for a living and just wants to live life day-by-day. She likes making YouTube videos and feels confident about her body which is ridiculed via comments on YouTube for her being overweight and doesn’t mind walking around the house in her underwear.
Aura’s mother Siri (played by Dunham’s real mother, Laurie Simmons) is a photographer of tiny furniture, while her sister Nadine (played by Grace Dunham) is the opposite of Aura and the two are often bickering at each other. Although, Laurie looks at Nadine much more positively because of her intelligence and her achievements. For Nadine, she is often disgusted by her sister’s lifestyle, especially how she posts videos of herself on YouTube which she thinks is her way of Aura craving attention.
One day, Aura discovers her mother’s diary and starts to see a side of her mother that she never knew. Learning how her successful mother also had uncertainties about life when she was younger.
Having had a failed relationship back in college and not knowing what to do, she takes a job as a hostess at a restaurant (a job in which she keeps coming late), she befriends a YouTube star named Jed (played by Alex Karpovsky).
Jed is an absolute stranger that Aura knows nothing about but because her mom and sister are going away for a little while, she allows Jed to stay at her home for a shortwhile. Meanwhile at work, she starts to fancy the chef named Keith (played by David Call) who tends to flirt with her.
Keith constantly talks about his on-and-off relationship with his girlfriend and for Aura, having a Jed stay at her place and now striking a friendship with Keith, she wonders if she has a chance with either of them.
Her best friend is Charlotte, a free spirit that loves to have fun and listens to Aura when she complains about life.
“Tiny Furniture” is a film about a young woman who is in the crossroad of her life, wondering what she will do next after graduating college. Take on odd jobs? Work for the money? Or pursue a passion towards filmmaking?
“Tiny Furniture” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1 Aspect Ratio). For a low-budget film, Dunham worked with cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes and both decided to use the prosumer Canon 7D DSLR. The film was shot via 1080p High Definition, ISO 200 was used for the exterior and 400 ISO for interior nights while night exteriors were shot at ISO 600-2000 and shot in 24fps.
According to an article featured on the Filmmaker Magazine blog, Lipes learned the limitations of the DSLR while using prime lenses but converted the camera’s h.264 files to Apple Pro Res and edited on Final Cut Pro and from there on, Technicolor would create an up-res the Pro Res Quicktime to a 10-bit uncompressed 4:2:2 Quicktime and record it to HDcam SR. Color correcting the HDcam SR to HDcam SR using a Davinci 2K Plus system. And the master was used for exhibition, while Quicktime was used for electronic distribution.
The film was shot digitally while not having that digital-look that people stray away from. The colors are actually very good and goes to show how spending the extra money on having Technicolor doing the color correcting makes a pretty big difference from the original digital recording. I didn’t notice any high level noise during the night shots or any compression and for the most part, I was pretty content with the overall look of the film.
While Criterion does say it was shot with a Canon 5D (the 5D Mark II is a better camera), it was actually shot with a 7D according to Lipes in the Filmmaker interview. According to the Criterion collection, the final color-corrected DPX files were output to rec. 709 high-definition color space for BD and DVD release.
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“Tiny Furniture” is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is crisp and clear, the music sounds great and according to the Criterion Collection, the film was master at 24-bit from the original digital audio master files using Pro Tools HD.
“Tiny Furniture – The Criterion Collection #597” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:
- Nora Ephron and Lena Dunham – (30:29) Nora Ephron and Lena Dunham talk about “Tiny Furniture” and discuss cinema, Woody Allen and shooting on a low budget.
- Paul Schrader on Dunham – (7:41) film critic Paul Schrader talkes about mumblecore and the people who hate on “Tiny Furniture” and what he enjoyed about the film.
- Introduction to Creative Nonfiction – (8:14) An introduction by Lena Dunham of the making of “Creative Nonfiction” and what she learned from that first experience.
- Creative Nonfiction – (58:26) Lena Dunham’s first feature shot when she was a film student at Oberlin College.
- Short Films – Featuring four short films by Lena Dunham:
– Pressure – (2006, 4:00) Three students and friends talk about having an orgasm in the school library.
– Open the Door – (2007, 4:54) – An improvised short film about a girl trying to have her mother say something on an intercom.
– Hooker on Campus – (2007, 4:47) A girl goes on college campus and tries to solicit herself for sex.
– The Fountain – (2007, 6:01) A girl uses the campus fountain to wash herself and brush her teeth but is confronted by police.
- Trailer – The original theatrical trailer for “Tiny Furniture”.
“Tiny Furniture – The Criterion Collection #597” comes with a 5-fold essay “Out There” by Phillip Logan.
Everyone has their start before making a major movie. Some are lucky to transition from film school to making a big budget film but many start out with an independent film and hopes it gets bought by a company for theatrical distribution and video.
Call her film a mumblecore film or a very good low-budget film or perhaps even lucky. The fact that “Tiny Furniture” has made it into the Criterion Collection is quite amazing and surprising!
“Tiny Furniture” is a film which I enjoyed for its quirkiness and while it is a slice-of-life film, I know many people like Aura who have graduated from college and are unsure about their lives during these tough economic times.
While the character of Aura may seem a bit unusual and awkward, may it be letting a stranger live with her while her family is away for a week or having sex with a guy inside a pipe, while watching this film, I appreciated Dunham’s witty style of acting but as far as the character goes, I was disturbed by her choices that she makes in her life.
Lena Dunham talked about how her passion for Woody Allen made her feel inspired in making “Tiny Furniture” but with Woody Allen films, there is a sense where the characters come full circle with the decisions they have made. For the main protagonist of Aura, while we do get witty banter, we are not entirely sure where her character is headed and the film’s focus on “uncertainty”. Woody Allen characters accept their choices, good or bad. In the case of “Tiny Furniture”, while there positive aspects that are learned from the film between mother and daughter, we are unsure what is wrong with Aura? Everyone has fears about life after college but for Aura, she has a way of thinking about her decisions (or lack of thinking).
And as mentioned, I’ve know people like Aura, who walk on the beat of their own drum, wanting to experience things no matter what people say. It’s just their way of living, no matter how frustrating it may be to others. And those people frustrate me in reality, so to watch a film of a character that frustrates me by her choices, while watching the film…all that went through my mind is, I hope there is some sort of resolution to her character, may it be happy or sad.
And as far as being a viewer, I’m sure there are some who will laugh at her misery. May it be her wearing her tight spanx to a guy she likes telling her how she sweats so much on the bed. I was not laughing, I was more on the side of…I hope something good happens to her because her lack of ambition was becoming a bit depressing.
Still, I do like the fact that this film kept things real. And the fact that she was able to get her mother and sister to be part of her film, the chemistry between the three is realistic and I enjoyed their constant banter.
As for the Blu-ray release, I felt that it was interesting to have this exclusive interview between Dunham and Nora Ephron discussing filmmaking and women making films. Also, seeing film critic Paul Schrader defending the film from the haters and you also have four Dunham shorts and Dunham’s first feature “Creative Nonfiction”.
Overall, I’m sure that “Tiny Furniture” will be hotly debated on whether or not this film should have been included in the Criterion Collection but for modern independent filmmakers and those who create mumblecore films, the inclusion of “Tiny Furniture” is quite significant.
For me, it’s great to see another female filmmaker featured in the collection featured but at the same time, would love to see more films from female filmmakers such as Chantal Akerman (who did receive Criterion’s Eclipse treatment), Maya Deren, Alice Guy-Blaché, Leni Riefenstahl, Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola be given the Criterion Collection treatment as well.
“Tiny Furniture” is an amazing step forward for the career of Lena Dunham. While I found the film to be good, I will say that I was surprised that it did receive the Criterion Collection recognition, but by saying that, I do look forward to seeing how her career progresses from the success and recognition from “Tiny Furniture” and that her next feature film is even better.
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