Audiences view independent films in a different light; there is no doubt about that. Through particular viewing strategies utilized by audiences, (and with the guidance of indie’s alternativeness from Hollywood films in many factors), indie film becomes a cultural category. Cultural value comes from indie cinema’s dual use of “resisting and perpetuating the dominant ideology” from major films (Newman, 3). From there, expectations grew on producers and exhibitors, leaving the audience with common viewing strategies that Newman lists as: “
- Characters are emblems
- Form is a game
- When in doubt, read as anti-Hollywood” (Newman, 29)
In explaining how these contribute to the formation of indie film’s cultural category, I will focus on strategies 1 and 2 in relation to the movie Buffalo ’66.
To portray the characters as emblems, or badges of reality, indie movies form their characters with the unique complexity of every human. This in turn allows for social relation, interaction, and discussion between audiences and film. Buffalo ’66 creates this through its main character, Billy (amongst a very real-feeling cast), who are socially identifiable. Billy, while at first jarringly violent, has realistic and justifiable views and emotions once we see and understand his rough childhood. He is someone that does seems out of reach, in fact, audiences may connect with Billy on many emotion levels for various reasons. The depth of the characters allows for this personal connection, as well as an outlet for cultural and social discussion.
Aesthetically, Buffalo ’66 has experimental qualities within its narrative, mise-en-scene, and more forms. As exhibitors employ Newman’s second viewing strategy of seeing “form as a game”, they overcome the confusing or strange aspects and figure out the purpose and contribution the form had/has. For example, Buffalo ‘66’s scenes with flashbacks are odd and helpful at the same time. They appear suddenly and briefly, through a window out of Billy’s head. Considering that Billy is having these troubling thoughts of his past right then, and the audiences gets to experience them too, bringing another level of relation between the two.
These unique distinctions are common among indie films, whether when producers create or viewers watch. They become the coherence between indie films as a culture. While producers keep the audience in mind, the audience understands the producer’s mind when viewing an indie film. This relationship through the viewing strategies helps define indie cinema as a cultural category; and further cultural, social, and even political discussion.