Upstart film studio packs a fiery punch

What do you get when you mix two eschatology-obsessed eccentrics with flamethrowers, a muscle car named Medusa and a girl named Milly?

Thematically, the result is a haywire phantasmagoria representing the misogyny of the male ego, decadence and abandonment.

In practice, the result is Bellflower, an official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival that has blown up recently thanks to the hard work of the film’s writer, director and star Evan Glodell and his production crew, Coatwolf Studios.

Bloody mess · Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) are two incredibly passionate people whose love is strong to the point of intimidation, their passion strengthened by the threat of the end of days. - Photo courtesy of Coatwolf Studios

Bellflower’s story centers on the relationship between Woodrow (Evan Glodell) and his mordant girlfriend Milly (Jessie Wiseman).  It is Woodrow and Milly’s seditious relationship that powers the film through bizarre twists and turns that keep audiences guessing and questioning the whole ride.

Glodell brought his film, cast and crew to the School of Cinematic Arts’ Ray Stark Family Theatre for a special screening and Q&A session Monday nigh to shed some light on his thought-provoking film.

“I was going through an extremely rough end to a relationship,” Glodell said when asked about the inspiration for his narrative.

Palpable emotions flow vividly throughout the film, enabling Bellflower to strike a chord of realism with its audience.

Bellflower, however, is more than a love story.  The film toys with comedic, dramatic and romantic undertones, making Bellflower a bipolar concoction of realism in the tradition of  cult hit novelist Chuck Palahniuk.

The film is equal parts heartbreak, anger and disappointment — all strong emotions — so why the seemingly nondescript title, Bellflower?

“It’s just a title,” Glodell said.  “I was walking around an old neighborhood I used to live in, and I came across a street called Bellflower. … ‘Bell’ reminded me of a chime, and ‘flower’ made me think of growth.  To me, [the title] means it’s time to grow, which I think you can say about the characters in any story.”

But make no mistake: Bellflower is no run-of-the-mill coming-of-age story.  The omnipresence of alcohol, drugs, casual sex and violence in the film hardly signify growth, but these vices aren’t simply glossed over: They function as specific calls to either grow up or risk being left behind in the decadence of their pathetic lives.

One of the most stunning and eye-catching aspects of Bellflower is its cinematography.

“Most of the movie was shot on homemade cameras,” Glodell said.  “And roughly 90 percent of the effects were in-camera.”

Photo by Sean Fitz-Gerald | Summer Trojan

The film is jam-packed with aesthetically pleasing experimental shots, including scenes where dirt is visible on the lens of the camera — adding grit, both literally and figuratively, to those particular scenes — as well as scenes where it is evident the camera is attempting to mimic Glodell’s various states of mind, as seen during drunken stumbles and awkward brawls.

Not only did Glodell and his crew work on the cameras, but they also built the weapons and cars seen in the movie, and acted out a majority of the stunt scenes themselves.

“We wanted to make the film as real as we could,” Glodell said.  “For a lot of the flamethrower scenes we would just shoot them and hope nothing bad happened.”

How does a crew of indie filmmakers pull off such reckless feats? When asked about the police’s involvement and interference with the film, Dawson said, “To be honest, the cops came all the time, but they were always really chill.”

With such an alarming amount of explosions, gunshots and flame-throwing-action, it is hard to believe Glodell and his crew weren’t once arrested, but that alone speaks to the cavalier attitude that makes this film such an audacious thrill to watch.  It is hard to avoid hooting and clapping during the film’s numerous pyromaniacal shots.

Arguably the most amazing aspect of Bellflower is its ability to deliver such a powerful story with so low a budget.

“There was never any money,” said Vincent Grashaw, who plays the character Mike in the film.  “We shot the film on a budget of roughly $15,000.”

Granted, there are very few special effects in the film, but the ones viewers will see, like massive explosions and a particularly gruesome headshot, are all homespun, thanks to the inventive technical genius of Glodell and Coatwolf’s production crew.

Bellflower is a nonpareil summer film, guaranteed to produce laughs, gasps or applause, if not all three.  But regardless of what you actually do by the end of the film’s combustive 106 minutes, one thing is for sure: You will not forget Bellflower.