Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

When director Chris Smith was commissioned by homestore.com to make an hour-long documentary about eccentric, customized homes across America, the temptation was to act as a real-estate broker, rushing the audience through as many spaces as possible in the allotted time. But in keeping with the warmly inquisitive spirit of 1999's American Movie—his funny and inspired portrait of fellow Milwaukee filmmaker Mark Borchardt—Smith takes more of an interest in his human subjects and the grand creative vision they have for their lives. Whittled down from an extensive nationwide search, Home Movie settles on only five diverse properties, allowing enough time to catch a vivid, memorable glimpse into the oddly symbiotic relationship between home and homeowner, both a marvel of interior design. In Louisiana, an alligator wrangler shows off a single-room bayou houseboat cluttered with sentimental knickknacks and enough trundle beds and floor space, he estimates, to sleep nine or ten guests comfortably. Linda Beech, a former American star on a #2 rated Japanese TV show, moved even deeper into nature with her "treehouse" in the Hawaiian rainforest, a secluded paradise of house boys and hydroelectricity. Outside of Topeka, Kansas, a couple of Peaceniks converted the "heavy energy" of an abandoned missile silo into an underground shrine to Native American mysticism and a space that "redefines the meaning of the word 'shelter.'" Another couple in California modified their living space to accommodate their 11 cats, constructing an elaborate maze of runways and rat effigies across the ceiling. In the funniest segment, an inventor in suburban Chicago designed an "all-electronic" house that looks like a vision of the future from the '70s, with a revolving living room, a motorized easy chair, and a friendly humanoid robot named Arok. None of the subjects are bothered by such mundane concerns as resale value or what the neighbors might think, but each care greatly about how they fit into their surroundings and how their surroundings fit into them. Deceptively modest in scale and ambition, Home Movie is about nothing less than the meaning of home as a whimsical, imaginative, and serene extension of self. Smith delights in these offbeat personalities and their jerry-rigged accoutrements, but the real joy in the film comes from the happy interaction between the subjects and their creations. Whether playing flute in the acoustic chamber of an underground tunnel or hauling in fresh crabs right off the front porch, they've each found peace in do-it-yourself architecture. For the theatrical release, the distributor attached John Heyn and Jeff Krulik's 1986 underground favorite Heavy Metal Parking Lot, which spends 15 hair-raising minutes with the headbangers and burnouts before a Judas Priest concert.