There exists in this country whole universes of subculture. Working at an independent radio station during college, I was blown away by the most obscure scenesters I had ever run across. From strict surf rockers to adherents of ambient drone to rabid alt-country buffs who hated rockabilly, many of these fine folks ignored anyone who wasn’t hip to the fine intricacies of their subgenre’s finer artists.
‘Course, I suppose I’m really much the same way. Some of the things I use to define myself are my knowledge of obscure indie bands, or my voracious, snotty appetite for flicks. I generally don’t listen to much pop music and I don’t have a whole lot of friends that do. I have a nasty habit of being awful cynical about major studio Hollywood films. The very sad and shallow fact is that, while I am not a snob about people and I like to talk to just about anyone, I rarely end up becoming close friends with people whose taste in media is nowhere near mine.
R for language, sex
I think Terry Zwigoff would understand. In Ghost World, Zwigoff tackles all that is great and all that is ugly about being a maladjusted, anti-culture geek. For the story’s protagonist, we get Enid, played by Thora Birch (best known as the awkward daughter of masturbatory Kevin Spacey in American Beauty). In Ghost World, she’s a highly intelligent, socially retarded hyper-snob with little motivation or ability to assimilate with mainstream society. She finds herself mired in directionless mediocrity, aiming to find some way to survive without living like a mindless sell-out. She spends most of her time hanging out with Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson), who isn’t quite up to Enid’s no-holds-barred anti-everything standards.
Along comes all-time indie hero Steve Buscemi. As Seymour, Buscemi plays an obsessive record collector who meets Birch through a prank which she set up to humiliate him. These two beacons of the indie film community complement each other nicely as they vainly struggle to make some semblance of the social structures around them.
This film was made for Zwigoff. Based off a Daniel Clowes graphic novel, Ghost World returns him to an arena he covered well in the critically acclaimed documentary Crumb. In Crumb, Zwigoff tells the tale of cartoonist R. Crumb, a defiantly strange perverted dweeb with an even stranger family. While Zwigoff portrays Crumb in a positive and sympathetic light, the film shows an unflinching dedication realism that makes it, at times, difficult to watch.
In Ghost World, too, discomfort rules. My feeling on Birch’s character alternated between wanting to bludgeon her with a dull hammer so she would just shut her snotty mouth, to cheering her on for the strength and originality she showed. It’s pretty hard not to like Steve Buscemi whoever he plays, but Seymour is a supremely pathetic guy at times and a really commendable fellow the next. The truth isn’t usually pretty, and in this case it can be pretty painful.
With the extensive talents of director Terry Zwigoff, the acting talents of Thora Birch and Steve Buscemi, and the inspiration of a comic classic, Ghost World is well worth seeing. It has much to say about a subculture that rarely gets talked about. Catch it in its waning hours in Denver area theaters or get it on video soon.