Sliwinski’s Law; or, “Why Indie Isn’t Indie”

Sliwinski’s Law: Just because a film is only shown on the Lifetime Network does not make it an indie film.

When my friend Mike came up with that, I wasn’t just struck by how true it was. I was also struck by how perfectly it encapsulates my feelings on hipster cinema. Let me see if I can define that term:

Hipster cinema encompasses films that are made for tiny budgets and by tiny names, typically starring tiny actors (not dwarfs, stop getting distracted!). Because of this, they never reach the mainstream, and remain “underground”, where only hipsters can enjoy them. Hipster cinema is characterized by quirky characters, avant-garde (read: terrible) cinematography, often depressing themes, and generally awful story structure. Why “cinema”? Because that’s the exact word that fans of this genre would use to describe it.

I don’t have a problem with this (except perhaps in principle), mostly because I stay away from hipsters and they stay away from me. I don’t have to watch hipster cinema, I don’t want to watch hipster cinema, so I don’t watch hipster cinema. I know what I’m going to get with one of those cinematic dog-piles, so why bother watching?

No, my real problem is how they have apparently decided that it is okay to co-opt the word “indie” to describe their awful genre.

Hipster cinema is not independent cinema. They are not even close to the same. However, fans of hipster cinema (e.g., hipsters) have developed a bizarre habit of referring to it as such. Now, I know that I probably sound exactly like a hipster, defending the “honor” of indie movies, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. Most indie films are steaming piles of crap, made by hack directors and inexperienced writers. However, according to Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is crap, so this is to be expected. But every so often, a really great indie movie manages to slip through the cracks. Clerks. Memento. Reservoir Dogs. Boogie Nights. Sex, Lies, and Videotape. Somehow, these great movies were made with tiny budgets by directors who were new to the game.

But indie movies are more than just movies with tiny budgets. William Goldman probably put it best. He says that the difference between a mainstream movie and an indie movie is that a mainstream movie reinforces your beliefs and an indie movie challenges them. Those films up there seem to fit the description. Most of hipster cinema does not. Oh sure, people can argue that a lot of hipster movies are challenging. “You’re just too caught up in the mainstream, man! The movies that I like do challenge you, because they don’t tell you what you’re used to hearing! If only you would only agree to watch The Burning Plain with me, this would all seem obvious to you!”

Well, that’s exactly my point. What I’m not used to hearing is not the same as what shakes the foundations of my belief system. The great crime of hipster cinema is that it commits the crime that Goldman applies to mainstream Hollywood. It reinforces the beliefs of hipsters. They believe that they are special, entitled people because they know about things that other people don’t. To them, “knowing other things” is equivalent to “knowing more things”. Hipster cinema gives them something that’s totally underground, something that they can brag to their friends about knowing of. It gives them special movies that they can keep all to themselves. But isn’t the great thing about cinema the community that comes with it? I love finding a great movie that no one has ever heard of, but what I love more is finding the group of other fans that inevitably comes with it. Finding Firefly was awesome. Finding the Browncoats was better.

Hipster cinema is the antithesis of all of that. It eliminates the community. It hates the community. If lots of people like it, then it isn’t cool anymore. Indie films, Serenity probably being one of them, often bring awesome groups of people together. So hipster cinema by definition is not “indie”. And it’s something of an offense to indie movies to hear people use that term to describe it. So here’s my message to hipsters: You are not indie. But then again, neither am I. No one is. Everyone from Tarantino to Soderbergh can be described that way, and consider how different they are. There is a time and place for the use of that word. Hipster cinema is not it.


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Josh Rosenfield

Josh Rosenfield is a Film Media major at the University of Rhode Island. He has been writing Popcorn Culture since 2010.

One thought on “Sliwinski’s Law; or, “Why Indie Isn’t Indie””

  1. This is a great little article. I have seen a few movies (ahem, I mean FILMS) that were so “indie” it hurt to watch, and trust me, they were crap. Also, sorry for stalking your blog but you mentioned it on the news feed and I wanted to read it:)

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