“Living in Oblivion” (1995)
Directed By Tom DiCillo
Starring Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, Danielle von Zerneck and James LeGros
“Living in Oblivion” is the ultimate tribute to anyone who works on the independent film circuit. It captures the dedication and hardships anyone can go through during the production of a motion picture.
The story takes place during one long day of principle photography for a non- budget film set. The main character, Nick Reve (played wonderfully by Steve Buscemi), is the epitome of the ambitious, struggling artist with a soft heart and a razor’s edge. Relationships with his co–stars varies in professionalism, often overly ambitious, with a minor hint of insanity. Defining him as a person and a filmmaker is not only a simple thing to do; it practically hits you in the face.
In the film’s opening scene, we see Nick and his crew preparing to shoot. Right off the bat, Nick is introduced by telling his cameraman Wolf (Mulroney) where the camera needs to go and what he needs to do for the scene. Immediately after giving directions to his director of photography, Nick is pulled aside by the assistant director, Wanda (von Zerneck), to discuss the tight production schedule the crew is facing for that particular day.
After dealing with the uptight assistant, Nick then talks one-on-one with the actors regarding the emotional impact of the scene they’re about to shoot. Here we are not even 15 minutes into the film and we understand the intense nature and driving ambition of his character.
When we get to the moment where the crew is ready to film, we’re introduced to more sides of Nick’s personality. As the camera rolls on the infamous scene six, over a dozen foul-ups have already happened. One of the delays was caused by two actors not feeling the emotion that needed to be captured for the specific moment. Nick pulls them aside and asks, “What’s the issue?” The actors explain themselves while Nick listens.
After listening to both perspectives, Nick gives direction in a calm professional manner that gets the actors to where they need to be. In this three minute moment, we not only understand Nick’s very personal connection with other people, but we also understand the atmosphere his professionalism creates.
Following the conversation, Nick and his crew return to work. Once again, they encounter problem after problem, culminating during one of the scene’s multiple takes with a beeping noise that breaks the film crew’s attention. Nick and the crew try to hunt down the nuisance sound with no luck. At this moment, Nick snaps, goes off on a tangent and puts down everyone and everything on the set.
This moment really captures the ambiguous reality and stark emotion of what an ambitious, calm and professional artist can go through when things go astray. Nick Reve is the summation of all sides of a multi-faceted personality driven to perfection, professional to a fault and giving toward his actors with deft understanding, projecting calmness when chaos reigns supreme…and yet, with the tiniest, most insignificant interruption he is completely undone.
As I said before, I could go on for hours explaining how true this film is to the real experiences and hardships one faces to put together a piece of cinema. Coming from an award-winning filmmaker, out of all the films I’ve seen about the industry, this one is true to what really happens.
Four Out of Four Stars