Movie Review - Beach Bums

I think I'm most surprised at the fact that this feature-length movie was photographed in only two days. I've heard of TV shows like soap operas or sitcoms churning out product in that amount of time, but feature-length movies typically take a couple of weeks to a couple of months to shoot. A couple of days and in fact only two is incredibly fast, even by independent film standards.

I didn't realize that going into the September premiere of Beach Bums. When I interviewed Anthony Spadaccini, the writer, producer and director, a week prior, he informed me of the brisk nature of the production, but I didn't think that principal photography was that brisk.

Beach Bums is a slapstick comedy, made in the style of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton's silent films. It's not a period piece. That would have been too costly and time-consuming, certainly requiring more than two days. Instead, Spadaccini's film is set in present-day Delaware, along its coast mostly, but, it has the definite look of an old silent film.

That look even included very thin, vertical lines that danced across the image. It's an effect that was utilized in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's Grindhouse, only Spadaccini isn't as obvious or over-the-top with it. Spadaccini's movie was photographed using high definition video, as are most Hollywood productions, but prior to the turn of the 21st century, most movies were photographed and then projected using celluloid film, often 35mm. When the film physically ran through the camera or the projector, the film could get scratched producing very thin, vertical lines.

Like with Chaplin's work, this movie is also in black-and-white. There's no dialogue or natural sound. Title cards relate any necessary information that can't be inferred, and, back in the 1920s, silent films were truly that, silent. Occasionally, movie theaters would provide live musical accompaniment. All of Chaplin's films have since had those accompaniments recorded and added as soundtracks. Similarly, Spadaccini has a musical score attached here.

I didn't take too much note of it, but it sounded like it consisted mostly of piano. It had a rhythm and beat that reminded me a lot of the music played on many carnival or amusement park rides, which might not be a bad way of describing this movie. Actually, if anything, this movie is like a funhouse. Looking at the Wikipedia page for "funhouse," it's defined as a place that seeks "to distort conventional perceptions and startle people with unstable and unpredictable physical circumstances within an atmosphere of wacky whimsicality." I think that perfectly encapsulates Spadaccini's Beach Bums.

Watching Chaplin's 1920s films or any old silent film from that decade, the movement isn't smooth or totally fluid. That's because the frame rate for silent film projection wasn't properly standardized until the 1930s. The actions on screen therefore looked choppy or slightly faster often. Spadaccini simulates that somewhat hyper speed. It's minor but it adds a level of immersion or mimicry that won't be seen in the other, major, silent film that will be released nationally in November.

The Artist premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The Weinstein Company will put it in theaters for Thanksgiving. It stars Jean Dujardin, the famous, French actor and comedian, as well as John Goodman and James Cromwell. The movie is about Hollywood in Chaplin's era as silent films are ending. Yet, the movie is itself a silent film. The style of it, however, is more akin to films of the 1940s or 1950s.

French director Michel Hazanavicius is clearly a filmmaker looking at short films from outside, whereas Spadaccini feels like a filmmaker looking from within. In that sense, Spadaccini perhaps sees the world as Chaplin did. Yes, his movie is in as modern and as sophisticated a setting as any film made in this post-Freudian world, but his movie doesn't apply that same, complicated, psychoanalytical sensibility. Spadaccini's statement about the nature of humanity is as simple as Chaplin's. A man wants something, so he goes and gets it. Another man hits him, so he hits him back. A man helps him out, so he becomes his friend.

Once that is established, the hilarity that ensues can seem easy. It's easy enough for Spadaccini who limits himself to long one-shots and few edits. The scenes become performance-based where the onus can seem to be on the actors like Barbara Lessin and Kevin Ashley, and especially Nate Edwards who plays the main character here of Trevor, but there is no onus. The acting is instead fun because it's always broad and exaggerated. Trevor follows in the tradition of characters like the Little Tramp or even Mr. Bean, except buff yet still bumbling and boorish. I liked the subsequent gags that Spadaccini and his actors developed. It made me feel like the efforts of Chaplin aren't totally lost to this generation.

Four Stars out of Five.
Not Rated but Recommended for All Audiences.
Running Time: 43 mins.
Available on for DVD or digital download.


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