The lobby of Baltimore’s Charles Theater is packed with people. An older crowd, one you might find at a one o’clock matinee on a Sunday. This crowd though, not only bigger but also sprinkled with high schoolers, is dressed up and here to see The Clutch, a student-made film. Handling all aspects of production, a group of friends (Matt Malis, Alex Dorman, Matt Ringler, Tim Hornig, Andy Strain, Leland Nislow, with Sarah Spevak) have fulfilled what remains a pipedream for most and completed a feature-length film, shot on video and self-financed. Theater 1 looks just about at capacity, filled with kids catching up, talking about summer and school. More are yet to come, fashionably late. The movie’s crew and principal actors gather in front of the screen, give a brief introduction, and the The Clutch starts.
This is an amateur production and things are bound to go wrong. The movie’s first scene is almost inaudible, and for a moment you can hear how uncomfortable everyone is, whispering to each other and waiting for someone to fix it. Someone does, and the movie goes on, pretty much without a hitch for its entirety. The Clutch is the story of three friends who are scouted for a reality TV show after getting into an argument at a restaurant. Everything eventually goes awry, victims of swollen egos and thoughtlessness. A friend of mine compared the story to a soap opera afterwards, and I think that’s a good way to put it. Love triangles and other shapes, tears, blood, guns, death, pills…by the end, The Clutch got surprisingly heavy.
What I found most satisfying about the movie was how well-cut and edited it was. Editing goes unnoticed if it’s good—like baseball umpires, it’s only obvious when it’s fucked up (Malis’ words). I’ve seen a lot of amateur student-made films, and where almost all of them fail is in these basic technical areas, where poor shot choices and herky-jerky editing can completely take the audience out of it, facing the reality that this is a movie, and a crummy one at that. In an interview with The Baltimore Messenger before the premiere, Malis admitted to a lack of style or directorial flare in crafting The Clutch, focusing on conventional technique and process.
This philosophy is apparent in the final product, and the film is a stylistic void. You don’t get a sense of whom the filmmakers are or where they’re coming from with the movie, and there’s an absence of voice. But filmmaking is a two-headed beast, one of creativity and technicality. You may have a brilliant, artistically innovative screenplay, but you won’t make a great movie if your tripod is missing a leg, or you lost a prop, or your lead actress flaked out. As a filmmaker, I see The Clutch as a triumph, the end result of a dream many, including myself, have harbored: to make a feature film entirely on your own. What Malis, Dorman, Ringler, and their actors Hornig, Strain, Nislow, and Spevak have done is really capital-A Amazing, and to see it fully realized in widescreen before a rapt, excited audience felt great. What they lacked in style or voice was handily made up by the behemoth they had conquered.