review
originally published in The Dog Pile

If I Had A Hammer

By Chris Watson

September 17, 2002

Several years ago, I kept hearing about a film called Running Time. I looked into the film and discovered the website for its writer, producer, and director, Josh Becker. The site kept me coming back with its insight into filmmaking and constantly entertaining Q & A. I would finally work out a deal with someone to send me the films Running Time, Thou Shall Not Kill...Except, and Intruder.

I watched Running Time first and was instantly impressed that someone was brave enough to blow a wad of money on a film that they'd shoot in black and white, not to mention letting the running time of the film only be around seventy minutes. In a nice filmmaking trick, it was shot in real time a la Rope. The film was paced nicely and the acting wasn't half bad. There were also a couple of very memorable shots and it had a great ending. In other words, I loved the film.

Thou Shall Not Kill...Except was another film by Josh Becker that I got to watch via the same tape. This film was a little older, being Becker's first feature effort. I enjoyed the film, although a couple of the actors in the movie were incredibly annoying to watch and listen to. Years later, I would catch another Josh Becker feature entitled Lunatics, a Love Story. This delightful film features Ted Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Deborah Foreman. All three of these films have received pretty good releases, although they are easier found on the internet than in your local store.

Lately, I've been reading about Josh Becker's latest film, If I Had a Hammer and was eagerly awaiting its release. As luck would have it, one day I opened my mailbox and found a copy waiting for me.

I sat down to watch it not really knowing what to expect. The little I did know about the film was that it had something to do with the folk movement. So without hesitation, I went into the world filmmaker Josh Becker would take me. Somehow this film succeeded in sucking me in to the world of the two main characters. This, I would make a case to say, has never really happened to me before. Typically, there's something about a character that turns me off, or a plot that makes me not go all the way in. However, I must say this rare feat was done with this film. I felt as if I was sitting next to these characters as they sat watching the performances. All it took was a little life experience and a good set up before taking me into the club.

I would have to say the character development in this film is the highlight, unless of course you're into folk music. It highlights multiple performances that other films wouldn't. This however, could likely be a big turn off for the average viewer. It almost has a concert feel to a huge section of the film and you're forced as a viewer to watch characters on stage that you don't have any reason to care about, and it's for a good amount of time.

However, the focus on all of these singers is a lead-in to what are some rather humorous moments where we see Brett Beardslee panicking, knowing that he might have to sing when he stinks. Had this been a Hollywood movie, we would have seen these singers for about five seconds, and then we'd cut to breasts or an explosion. But this is where the movie really succeeds, it's different. It's not what you'd see if you were renting something at Blockbuster or Hollywood Video. It's a movie that succeeds by going its own way. Can you imagine an exec at Warner Brothers greenlighting a film about the end of the folk movement that actually concentrates on characters? God forbid.

Instead of going on ranting or summing up a movie you need to watch for yourself (you can get a copy at www.beckerfilms.com), I'm going to sum up my thoughts on the film. If I Had a Hammer is a solid achievement because of great direction and storytelling. As someone who has written several scripts, I can only imagine the hard work it took to get this script in the right shape and form to make a movie like this one. The direction is perfect and unlike other independent films, it's not distracting. The actors are actually good and the film looks beautiful. I would highly recommend If I Had a Hammer, especially for the independent film enthusiasts that haunt this site.

Chris Watson is currently in pre-production on his next film, Minds of Terror, set to star Joe Estevez, Robert Z'Dar, and other cast members from his film debut, Mob Daze. A regular columnist for The Dog Pile, Chris will chronicle his struggles, triumphs, and setbacks as a lowly independent filmmaker.

 

 

 

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