copyright 2013, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 55, fall 2013

“Propane is for pussies”:
’s bromance of retro technology
and hip masculinity

by David Church

Inspired by their childhood love of The Road Warrior (a.k.a. Mad Max 2, 1981), two male friends build flamethrowers and a flame-spewing muscle car in preparation for a coming apocalypse. Yet, this apocalypse turns out to be a personal one when a woman comes between them. A surprise success upon its premiere at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director/star Evan Glodell’s feature film debut Bellflower quickly gained critical acclaim as an indie film wonder. It became promoted as much for its reported $17,000 budget and handcrafted aesthetic as its incendiary portrayal of masculinist fantasies among a particular stratum of disaffected young American men apparently including the filmmaker himself. Glodell had dropped out of a University of Wisconsin engineering program and moved to Los Angeles without a formal filmmaking education. He supported himself working behind the scenes on short films, commercials, and a low-budget horror movie. He eventually earned enough money to build a jerry-rigged hybrid analog/digital camera, along with the flamethrowers and custom cars that would appear in the film. Pooling his meager funds with a group of friends, Glodell and his crew shot in a piecemeal fashion over three years, resuming filming whenever enough money could be amassed. Upon its release, Bellflower became an aggressive announcement of Glodell’s arrival as a brash, young, self-made filmmaker who shared his onscreen counterpart’s eye-catching hobbies.[1][open endnotes in new window]

Critic James Rocchi astutely collapses these textual and extratextual elements in his assessment:

“Like Fight Club [1999], Bellflower is about the unspoken challenge facing American young men trying to make it into manhood—who do you have to explain to you how to be a man when your only models are the dads in the bad marriages who don’t stay and the actors in the bad movies that don’t stop? It is also a vigorous opening argument about the unspoken challenge facing American indie film, an increasingly tangled thicket of clichés where, shot on digital video, struggling novelists overtalk their way to a happy ending with Zooey Deschanel.”[2]

Rocchi here encapsulates much of the overlapping discourse circulating both within and about Glodell’s film, in which a rebelliously wayward and even self-destructive masculinity struggles toward heteronormative manhood. This struggle is inflected by a desire for (sub)cultural and technological cachet, in opposition to the cinematic mainstream and its ties to the pop-indie stardom represented by figures like Deschanel. Glodell and his characters ultimately forge an evaluative link between taste and gender by figuring the cultural mainstream as an inauthentic, feminized “other,” in contrast to their more hip, masculine “authenticity.”[3]

Descending from the work of Pierre Bourdieu and Sarah Thornton, the gendering of cultural distinctions is a well-worn idea in scholarly treatises on taste politics and works of popular culture like Fight Club. Such distinctions especially arise during disputes over an individual’s perceived degree of “coolness.” These disputes construct what Thornton terms “subcultural capital” (i.e., a hip, privileged status among a taste-based social niche) within the relevant milieu. Socially, this quest for subcultural capital tends to equate masculinity with active connoisseurship and mastery, while femininity is denigrated through associations with passive and undiscerning consumerism.[4] As Sally Robinson argues, consumerism has long been

“coded as ‘feminizing’ not because women are phony, self-indulgent, dependent, or will-less, but because American ideologies of individualism have a deep and stubborn attachment to the idea that only the normative, unmarked citizen has a claim to individualism and the corollary idea that the individual can only emerge in contradistinction either to those citizens marked by gender and other differences or to a ‘society’ that is radically at odds with his needs.”[5]

In other words, men are typically coded in discourse as the “normative, unmarked citizen[s]” in a male-dominated society. Their cultural prerogative toward individualism marks actively “masculine” forms of cultural production and consumption as supposedly more “authentic” than those associated with the ostensibly easy consumerism of a “feminized” cultural mainstream. Individuality, authenticity, and masculinity all become intertwined values that “mainstream” culture seemingly cannot deliver men. Each value ideologically reinforces the others, thereby making their interrelation seem less historically constructed and contingent than it really is. Following this logic, Bellflower may present what Rocchi calls “one of the most strong and stylish critiques of the idiocy and confusion in young manhood since Fight Club”[6] (a pull quote prominently reproduced, and thereby endorsed, in the film’s trailer). Yet, I will argue that other elements of Bellflower’s appeals to cultural distinction complicate its intended gender critique. These complications particularly arise around the filmmakers’ own embodiment and implicit endorsement of a “masculine” physicality associated with the material hacking and lo-fi aesthetic practices (explained in more detail below) championed by their characters.

Bourdieu uses the term “habitus” to describe the varied cultural preferences, dispositions, and values that circulate between and socialize members into a certain lifestyle. Through a given habitus, people share and mutually reinforce some common expectations, feelings, and ideologies as an element of social cohesion. However, they may not consciously know the cultural roots of these valuations, including the politically regressive implications of a niche cultural elitism that rejects mainstream consumerism. That is, class biases often inflect attempts at distinguishing a niche habitus from whatever denigrated objects of cultural production (and their insufficiently “hip” consumers) the cultural elitists associate with “mainstream” or “middlebrow” forms.

The terms “indie” and “hipster” have mutually constructed one another through attempts at cultural distinction in popular discourse since the late 1990s. These terms describe a particular habitus in contemporary American culture, overtly concerned with consuming forms of “independent” (i.e., “non-mainstream,” or not currently corporatized) cultural production. As Zeynep Arsel and Craig Thompson argue, hipsters became caricatured as trendy bourgeois consumers circulating around the developing field of “indie” cultural production (e.g., music, fashion, film, art, etc.). Hipsters endlessly compete to find the non-mainstream “authentic.” Yet, they are seemingly incapable of producing or consuming any cultural good without a thick dose of irony. Consequently, their ironic stance winkingly undermines the stakes of their consumption choices (except, of course, the all-important posture of asserting hip taste distinctions). Because the cultural stereotype of the hipster impinges upon indie culture, the indie consumer resists identifying as (but does not deny the existence of) that bad object. In reciprocal fashion, the supposed tastes of the stereotypical hipster have provided convenient cultural shorthand for what has popularly become branded as indie culture.[7]

Through its off-market aesthetic, the present-day image of the hipster evokes ironic forms of cultural slumming as “hip” sources of subcultural capital. These include the consumption of downscale goods like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and trucker hats, or stylistically outdated goods like large-framed eyeglasses, vintage T-shirts, cardigan sweaters, and fixed-gear bicycles. Nostalgia for lo-fi or analog technologies (including vinyl records, magnetic tape cassettes, and Polaroid instant cameras) also exists among indie/hipster predilections for reappropriating the culturally downscale or outdated as ironic sources of “coolness.”

Set in a downscale urban area with virtually no smart phones or computers in sight, Bellflower and its denizens similarly occupy an indie/hipster milieu filled with analog technologies. Their neighborhood is a seemingly barren landscape amid the high-tech California metropolis. This setting evokes both scarcity and the film’s own status as a low-budget product of that same indie culture. The film’s indie milieu is further evoked by its white bohemian characters spending most of their screen time hanging out, seemingly never going to work at actual jobs (though there is some talk of struggling to pay the rent). Furthermore, as I will elaborate below, their conversations typically combine an ironic tone and an underlying concern with coolness. As Arsel and Thompson’s argument would suggest, a simple web search reveals that the term “hipster” is virtually ubiquitous in negative reviews of Bellflower and its characters. Jeffrey Sconce likewise wonders if Bellflower’s representation of a hipster milieu where guys can spend their days blowing up propane tanks represents “a lifestyle fantasy or a generational lament.”[8]

On a formal level, the film’s visual style is deeply indebted to the concurrent phenomenon of digitally created faux-vintage photography, which I will discuss at length later. Commonly associated with the mobile phone applications Instagram and Hipstamatic, this photographic style immediately overlays simulated aging effects upon new digital photos, making them look decades old. Since premiering around 2010, these means of simulating old Polaroid instant photos have become quickly adopted by the indie/hipster habitus' nostalgia for outdated analog media. At the same time, however, these applications’ ease of use and trendy ubiquity also complicate what I will describe as indie culture’s underlying preoccupation with an implicitly “masculine” ethos of outsider “authenticity.”

On the level of both its production context and narrative concerns, then, the film emerges from and depicts a bohemian indie/hipster culture animated by nostalgia for the analog past. Rooted in a temporal disparity between past and present, this nostalgia can foster both sincere longing for and ironic distance from mediated visions of an aggressively asserted masculinity. In other words, Bellflower evinces a sincere desire to privilege masculine discernment and physical mastery over technology through a hip, lo-fi aesthetic wielded by both the filmmakers and characters alike. Yet, the film’s characters also display a defensively ironic self-consciousness about how indie culture is skeptical of the regressive gender traditionalism inadvertently evoked by such hip cultural distinctions. It becomes very difficult to separate the film’s characters from its creators, especially (as I note below) through the promotional strategies the latter undertook on the indie film circuit. The characters’ highly aestheticized fantasies of a barren, post-apocalyptic world without women thus implicate both the characters and filmmakers themselves. Ultimately, they all belong to a milieu where the supposed threat of cultural feminization signals a feared loss of both the analog “real” and the “authentic” (masculine) individual. 

In this sense, Bellflower provides a notable cinematic case study of how different but overlapping masculinities are mobilized within niche taste cultures that implicitly privilege a correlation between masculinity and authenticity. Yet, this correlation is inevitably compromised by an inability to make taste valuations and gender valuations map cleanly onto each other. That is, the film’s characters and creators tend to rely on an assumed opposition between the linked terms authentic/masculine/analog/hip and inauthentic/feminine/digital/mainstream. However, these idealized evaluative oppositions do not neatly correspond with the film’s style, narrative, politics, or reception. The film’s resulting ideological instability thus highlights wider contradictions within a contemporary indie/hipster habitus that fundamentally celebrates a sense of personal coolness over the importance of broader gender equality. In other words, Bellflower demonstrates how male gender privilege still finds ways to assert itself, even within niche taste cultures that value non-hegemonic or alternative masculinities. It particularly does so through bids for subcultural capital that can earnestly recall elements of hegemonic masculinity (i.e., the most socially sanctioned masculine ideals, such as aggression and domination) as a reactionary source of power, even under the cover of irony.

To unfold this argument, I will begin with an overview of the film’s narrative, focusing on how sexual tensions structure the gendered relationships between major characters. As I note below, the cinematic “bromance” is a useful point of comparison in exploring how male bonding has been commonly figured in recent cinema. After exploring why some critics viewed the film as misogynistic, I then turn to the film’s two most cited cinematic touchstones, The Road Warrior and Fight Club. These two films offer particular fantasies of violent but homoerotic male bonding, while also helping explain the gendered relevance of Bellflower’s post-apocalyptic preoccupations. Next, I take up the gendered connotations of hacking to explain the importance of handcrafted material goods within indie cultures. These connotations help illuminate the filmmakers’ aggressively gendered promotional strategies, even as these same strategies failed to assuage critical ambivalence over the film’s “trendy” faux-vintage cinematography. Because the film’s “hip” look echoes the hip posturing of the characters and filmmakers alike, it is ultimately difficult to separate filmic style from the characters’ personal style. Consequently, reflections on taste politics, gender politics, and aesthetics are interwoven across my argument, while viewer responses drawn from the film’s reception are peppered throughout as evidence of my larger claims about Bellflower’s taste and gender appeals.

Bellflower’s bromance from Hell

Bellflower opens with a brief, disjointed montage of chaotic footage, all unspooling in reverse to foreshadow the coming emotional disintegration. It concludes with our main protagonist, Woodrow (Glodell), sitting in his living room starring at a cardboard box labeled “Milly’s Shit.” Cut to the epigraph “Lord Humongous [sic] cannot be defied,” attributed to The Road Warrior’s main villain, Lord Humungus (Kjell Nilsson). As we will see, this hulking, leather-clad gang leader with a homosexual love slave serves as a fantasy role model for Bellflower’s dyad of hip, young male friends. Like Glodell himself, Woodrow and Aiden (Tyler Dawson) grew up in Wisconsin, endlessly re-watching a VHS recording of George Miller’s cult action film, before moving out to California together. They are now twenty-something male hobbyists living on the skids in Los Angeles, with no apparent jobs or source of income, but seemingly equipped with enough cash for their masculine hobbies and plenty of cheap alcohol.

Aiden subsequently sets the thematic tone for much of what follows by telling Woodrow his fantasy of the two friends prepared to take control over their environs with a muscle car and flamethrower in the aftermath of an unspecified apocalypse. This fantasized road trip lurks in the background throughout the film. Its failure to reach fruition echoes the indefinitely extended adolescence evoked whenever the two friends are together. Hanging out together in a secluded outdoor area near a ruined building, for example, Woodrow scribbles designs for their post-apocalyptic “Mother Medusa” gang in his notebook. When he complains that he doesn’t think women even like him anymore, Aiden half-jokingly replies, “Do you know what I was thinking earlier when I was looking into your eyes, when you were holding that big gun by me? Dude, you harsh reminded me of Lord Humungus. And I was the Birdman,” an allusion to the feather-bedecked Wez (Vernon Wells), Humungus’s homosexual love slave and co-villain in The Road Warrior. “Okay, listen,” Aiden continues, “We’re going out tonight, and if I even catch you looking at someone—I don’t care if it’s a fucking guy—you are going to hit on them. You are going to pick them up. You are going to take them home. And I’m going to be right there by your side the whole time…until the finishing act.” Readying the real reason for their afternoon idyll, Woodrow fires a sawed-off shotgun at a distant propane tank that explodes in a massive fireball. Surveying the results, they decide that diesel will be a better fuel for their unnamed project. Both men laughingly agree that “propane is for pussies.”

This opening scene contains many of the film’s core tensions, abruptly shifting from homosocial banter to dangerous weaponry, accompanied by blatantly gendered valuations of some technologies over others. Aiden’s fantasized comparisons to The Road Warrior’s villainous homosexual couple also suggest that the close emotional relationship between himself and Woodrow occupies that ambivalent space between homosociality and homosexuality among male friends called the “bromance.”[9] Of course, intimate male bonding has a long tradition in American literature and cinema, as seen in works including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), The Great Gatsby (1925), Hud (1963), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Midnight Cowboy (1969), The Shawshank Redemption (1994), and Fight Club. Although these relationships are often explicitly tempered by heterosexual desires, they also implicitly contain the seeds of potential homoerotic affection between men. We can think, for example, of the intimate Jack Kerouac/Neal Cassady “bromance” in On the Road (1957) as a literary predecessor of the Woodrow/Aiden dyad, particularly in their hip sensibilities and the road trip’s potential for fostering inter-male relationships. The contemporary cinematic bromance, however, has typically been associated with comedies about men in various states of arrested development on the path to normative adulthood (e.g., the films of producer/director Judd Apatow). Nevertheless, I find it a useful term of comparison for discussing the far darker twists that Bellflower takes as its story of (b)romantic competition unfolds.

The contemporary bromance, for example, allows men to openly exhibit more “sensitive” emotionality with each other (e.g., openly weeping, admitting personal weaknesses) than permitted in traditionally stolid displays of homosocial masculinity. Whereas a man’s less traditional performances of masculinity are typically reserved for situations with a heterosexual partner and downplayed when around other men,[10] the bromance plot allows more flexibility in this regard. The comedic context of most cinematic bromances (e.g., Superbad [2007], Pineapple Express [2008], Step Brothers [2008], I Love You, Man [2009], 50/50 [2011]) allows the male viewer to distance himself from fully identifying with these figures of “compromised” masculinity. Still, bromances ultimately tend to uphold the unconventionally masculine man’s eventual entry into a stable heterosexual union and other normative rewards of conventional masculinity (e.g., higher social status or earning power).[11] As a serious drama, however, Bellflower appeals to different generic expectations. It thereby allows its male protagonists to fall short of these rewards, even if the men still display openly emotional responses to their relationships with each other and the opposite sex. By foregoing such rewards, Bellflower may open more space for male viewers to critically reflect upon their ideological investment in these characters. Yet, as I will elaborate later, the film’s reception still shows quite variable responses in this regard.

In her pioneering study Between Men, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues that narratives focusing extensively on inter-male bonding or competition may displace latent homoerotic intimacy into socially accepted forms of homosocial or heterosexual activity. For example, love triangles featuring two men fighting over the same woman often feature men paying far more attention to each other’s inner psychologies than the heterosexual love object who serves as a relay for their displaced same-sex desire.[12] Indeed, Aiden’s aforementioned comparison of himself as the subservient Wez to Woodrow’s Lord Humungus suggests that Aiden’s eagerness to let Woodrow be the first to test their homemade flamethrowers and cars effectively figures these contraptions as gifts of affection. Rather than a romantic rivalry over the same woman becoming the primary relay of homoerotic desire, these handcrafted, traditionally “masculine” technologies serve as the prime intermediaries of their desire for each other. Perhaps fearing he will lose his longtime friend (and latent love interest), Aiden’s enabling presence perpetually keeps Woodrow trapped in an emotional stage marked by adolescent homosocial bonding instead of adult heterosexual union. This retardation of Woodrow’s personal development echoes the stasis preventing their fantasized road trip as the Medusa gang from ever achieving fruition. Furthermore, it also echoes the two men’s underlying longings for their adolescent or pre-adolescent past together.

Consequently, I would argue that their relative feelings of distance from or closeness to homosocial/homoerotic desire is linked to a related ambivalence between ironic distance from and sincere longing for their objects of personal nostalgia. With its “comic book aesthetic,”[13] for instance, The Road Warrior might seem primed for ironic celebration as a cheesy, mockable piece of 1980s cinematic extravagance, but it clearly remains a deeply heartfelt part of their shared pasts as well. Furthermore, this ambivalence is partly a product of occupying an indie/hipster habitus in which irony suffuses the communication patterns of its predominantly young, white, bohemian denizens. Woodrow and Aiden’s chuckling banter about the Medusa gang suggests that they recognize the ridiculousness of their masculinist fantasy about male technological superiority in a post-apocalyptic landscape. Beneath their defensively ironic affectation of insincere appreciation, however, is a post-ironic love for a film that their hip peers might otherwise criticize as “juvenile” or politically suspect. The masculinism of their Road Warrior-inspired reverie also helps deflect the homoerotic implications of their more sincere investments in a fantasy scenario that has sustained their close bond for years. As Jeffrey Sconce notes in his review of the film, “There is a sense that their love of the franchise’s universe has moved from a childhood fascination to teenage irony and then back again to an oddly invested earnestness.”[14] This dynamic also tellingly describes the men’s intimate relationship with each other, but not necessarily their relationships with women.

During a night out at a local dive bar, Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman), a young woman who has volunteered for a competition to eat the most live crickets. Answering the host’s tongue-in-cheek call to find “anyone [who has] what it takes to beat this little girl,” Woodrow jokingly calls Milly a “daddy’s girl.” But his mock swagger ends when she promptly defeats him by gleefully stuffing her maw with insects, effectively proving herself “one of the boys.” Her unexpectedly competitive performance undercuts Woodrow’s own ironic performance of a traditionally macho gender role that sharply contrasts with his friendly, laid-back appearance. (We later hear that she was lit on fire during the previous week’s bar competition.) She agrees to go on a date with Woodrow after he admits to building a flamethrower in his spare time. The hip novelty of this strange hobby intrigues Milly. In return, her forcefully vivacious attitude seems to energize Woodrow in a way that he only otherwise experiences with Aiden.

Rather than go to dinner at “a nice place” on their first date, for example, Milly insists that Woodrow take her to the “cheapest, nastiest, scariest place that you know of.” It turns out to be a dilapidated roadside diner that he and Aiden had been too scared to enter during a past road trip but had agreed to one day visit together. Although this diner happens to be located halfway across the country in Texas, Milly and Woodrow embark on the impromptu journey in his heavily customized car, “Speed Biscuit.” Along the way, he describes the fantasy of the Mother Medusa gang, and she declares her intentions to eventually become an “honorary member,” potentially impinging on the men’s homosocial fantasy world.

Sure enough, the road trip delays Aiden’s plan to test their newly completed flamethrower (the “Medusa Model 1”) until Woodrow arrives home from Texas. Along the way, he has traded Speed Biscuit for an old motorcycle that reminds him of The Road Warrior. Despite all the time and labor that he and Aiden spent customizing the car together, Woodrow declares that Speed Biscuit is “not worth anything” compared to the motorcycle that Milly has suddenly brought to his attention. In this sense, Milly’s excited participation in the post-apocalyptic fantasy begins to outweigh the value and cachet of Woodrow’s customized creations. The homosocial intimacy of the men’s fannish fantasy once found material expression in the “boys’ zone” of custom-built cars and weaponry. It is now sublimated into a heterosexual relationship with a woman who has proved herself worthy of being treated as “one of the boys.”

The emotional and tactile materiality of this sexual relationship thus stands in for the alternate form of materiality once afforded by the men’s hands-on hobbies. Hence, Aiden grows increasingly jealous and frustrated over the amount of time that Woodrow devotes to Milly than to their upcoming plan of building a Mother Medusa car. This is not to say, of course, that Milly’s presence utterly mitigates their male homosocial/homoerotic desire. When Woodrow and Milly have sex for the first time, for example, they do not realize that Aiden is also in the same room, all three sleeping off a particularly drunken night. After Woodrow ejaculates prematurely, Aiden jokes, “It would probably help if my fingers were in your butt.” “Wow, you guys are really close,” Milly replies, “We can switch spots if you want.” Echoing the homoeroticism in his earlier promise, Aiden has indeed been “right there by [Woodrow’s] side the whole time…until the finishing act.”

Feeling smothered by Woodrow’s increasing attention, Milly subsequently cheats on him with her roommate Mike (Vincent Grashaw). Upon discovering them having sex, Woodrow drives away on the motorcycle and is promptly struck by a car. He lands in the hospital with severe head trauma and possible brain damage. From this point onward, the film’s narrative becomes increasingly non-linear, with abrupt flashbacks suggesting that Woodrow is indeed mentally damaged on some level.

Woodrow’s personal and fantasized apocalypse thus increasingly converge in the wake of Milly’s assertion of her sexual independence. This is further suggested when Aiden takes him home from the hospital in a newly acquired hot-rod that will soon be customized into the Mother Medusa car. Although Milly had warned him during their Texas road trip that she would eventually hurt him, her betrayal becomes the film’s definitive turning point. Woodrow’s return to Aiden coincides with the former’s new sexual dalliance with Milly’s best friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes). Courtney sympathizes with Woodrow over the romantic betrayal and, on a narrative level, deflects the potential homoeroticism of the male reunion. Despite Aiden’s budding feelings for Courtney, he ultimately endorses Woodrow’s sexual conquest as a valuable part of his friend’s recovery. Like the weapons and cars, then, Aiden’s willing relinquishment of Courtney to Woodrow relegates her to just another relay for the men’s latent homoerotic desire. After all, Aiden seems unconcerned whether their temporary dalliance will bloom into a relationship that threatens his own desire for Woodrow. I would suggest that this speaks to Courtney’s overall portrayal as more passive and less overtly “hip” than either Milly or Aiden. As such, she would seemingly pose little significant competition for Woodrow’s affection.

The ability to perform coolness with little effort allowed Milly to more easily become “one of the boys” within their milieu, although the film’s depiction of her sexuality repeatedly inscribes her as a “naturally” female object of desire. That is, she might be able to rival the boys in gamesmanship like the cricket-eating contest or joining the Medusa gang, but her highly visible role in multiple heterosexual sex scenes biologically reiterates her femaleness. Aside from the latent homoerotic tension between Woodrow and Aiden, Milly’s sexual choices provide the film’s narrative crux. In contrast, Courtney is part of the same milieu but does not seem concerned with becoming one of the boys. Milly’s resistance to monogamy challenges the traditionally male prerogative of monogamy as a source of sexual control over women. Courtney, however, very quickly moves from consoling to sleeping with Woodrow, forsaking her friendship with Milly and thereby fueling the post-breakup animosity between Milly and Woodrow. She is consequently portrayed as more stereotypically “feminine” than Milly (e.g., emotionally needy, a passive recipient of male affection, etc.), and, as we soon see, even fatally invested in a monogamous relationship that Woodrow won’t reciprocate.

The bromance quickly grows more nightmarish when Woodrow finally decides to use the flamethrower to burn the box of “Milly’s Shit” in her front yard. Soon afterward, Mike vandalizes the Medusa car in retribution, so Aiden strikes him with a baseball bat and flees. With Aiden now gone, Woodrow decides there is nothing left for him in Los Angeles, including Courtney, and resolves to leave. Before he can leave, however, Mike and Milly forcibly capture him and tattoo a huge mustache on his face. It will serve as a permanent reminder of the facial hair that Woodrow never liked, but had nevertheless grown at Milly’s insistence during their relationship.

Later bursting into Milly’s house, Woodrow furiously threatens to do some “really fucking sick shit” to her in retribution, but she cries that she just wanted to see him. They have rough sex on the kitchen floor until he violently assaults her (off-screen) and emerges from her house covered with blood. A distraught Courtney shoots herself in the street after he brushes her aside. Suddenly, we cut back to Woodrow sitting in his living room staring at the box of Milly’s Shit. The preceding, increasingly outlandish scenes of chaos may have been Woodrow’s misogynistic revenge fantasy of what could happen if he torches the box. Although the film’s non-linear structure lends some narrative ambiguity, the fact that we have already fleetingly glimpsed these scenes in the film’s first moments, before the main action commences, accentuates their status as an extended flight of imagination.

The film concludes with Aiden and Woodrow taking the completed Medusa car for a nocturnal test-drive, and the men finally rest together on a seaside bench. In this evocatively “bromantic” scene, Woodrow weepingly apologizes for the recent strain on their friendship, while Aiden suggests they leave California together (“I mean, you’re the only reason I’m here”) and make a fresh start elsewhere. As at the film’s start, Aiden narrates the Mother Medusa gang fantasy while they imagine a mushroom cloud rising as their car speeds down barren back roads. “Dude, you are Lord fucking Humungus!” Aiden exclaims, continuing,

“Lord Humungus doesn’t get cheated on by some stupid bitch. Lord Humungus doesn’t say ‘Was it good for you?’ He doesn’t say ‘Who called?’ or ‘Where were you last night?’ And he doesn’t leave the fucking gang when he falls in love. Nobody fucking tells Lord Humungus what to do. Lord Humungus fights when he wants to fight, and fucks when he wants to fuck, and when all else fails, he drives straight into the fucking tanker. The thing is, is that Lord Humungus dominates his women, and they fucking love him for it.”

Of course, Aiden ignores or disavows the fact that women are not actually Lord Humungus’ sexual preference in The Road Warrior. Still, he soothingly tells Woodrow, “It’s okay that it hurts. You’re not the only one who fucked up. You’re getting ready to start your new life as Lord Humungus.” These images of an imagined future conclude with the two men trotting together into the desert, equipped with shotguns and flamethrowers. These escapist fantasies are finally juxtaposed with the real-life image of a solitary Woodrow quietly burning the box of Milly’s Shit on the beach as he remembers happier moments from his doomed romance. Fleeing into fannish dreams of post-apocalyptic frontier masculinity ultimately proves a more seductive course for Woodrow and Aiden than facing the scorched earth in their real lives. Consequently, their bromance constantly regresses into reveries that seem all the more pathetic because so intractable.

Unlike Bellflower, many bromance comedies start at the beginning of dyadic male friendships. The homoerotic potential of the ensuing mutual curiosity tends to be partially assuaged by the men’s preexisting heterosexual relationships. Furthermore, the heterosexual couple formation that resolves these narratives is not accompanied by a loss of the male friendship. The bromance is thereby indefinitely extended beneath the “safe” auspices of heterosexual union. I Love You, Man, for example, opens with two men (Paul Rudd and Jason Segel) becoming unlikely friends. It concludes with a heterosexual wedding at which the real emotional payoff is the reunion of said friends, previously driven apart by the future wife. Likewise, Step Brothers begins with two perpetually adolescent man-children (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly) becoming stepbrothers when their parents marry. It ends with their later-divorced parents reuniting once the brothers prove they can reconcile their childish ways with “grown-up” entrepreneurial aspirations.[15]

In Bellflower, however, the dramatic narrative begins and ends with the isolated male dyad. The fact that Woodrow and Aiden are under no social obligation to change their preexisting relationship with each other thus seems a far more gloomy implication than raised by the bromance comedy. Aiden says that if they leave Los Angeles, it will seem “like nothing’s even changed” between them. Woodrow, however, is far more pessimistic that “nothing ever changes.” One friend sees a change of scene as bolstering the hyperbolically masculinist vision they will take wherever they go together, while the other seems dismally resigned to these very implications. Although Bellflower contains elements of the road movie, the road movie’s central homosocial journey largely exists unfulfilled in their own heads. Their Medusa projects represent attempts to bring cinematic elements into their real lives in preparation for the coming road trip. Yet, these material talismans also signal just how far they are from realizing their fantasized post-apocalyptic dystopia. The film thus seems more primed to critique than to endorse the adolescent masculinism behind its protagonists’ stunted emotional/political development.

However, this critique is undercut by the text’s own resonances with several of the films looming in the memories of Bellflower’s viewers. Benjamin Mercer, for example, argues that Bellflower’s affectionate pastiching of other “turn-of-the-21st-century masculine-identity-crisis features,” such as Fight Club, negates its ability to effectively critique its own portrait of contemporary masculinity run amok.[16] In the film’s reception, unappreciative critics accused Bellflower of giving “a tacit approval” to misogyny “without taking its characters to task for their real or imagined misdeeds.”[17] For these critics, the amount of screen time devoted to Woodrow and Aiden’s violent fantasies of male camaraderie and female submission outweighed the film’s implied critique of adolescent male psychology. As another reviewer remarks, “After a point, Bellflower becomes a film about men who hate women, and it comes awfully close to endorsing their point of view.”[18] Far more problematically, some fans of the film concur that it confirms their own deeply masculinist beliefs. This type of fan response is exemplified by a top-rated YouTube comment posted under the film’s trailer:

“I have never seen a movie that has captured the mindset of young men better. All the rage and fear and hope that only we can understand. Fight Club got close, but this nailed it. I think some women would be scared to learn this, but this is what the world feels like to us. We are animals with fundamental core instincts that our society has deemed inappropriate. So we go through our lives trying to be what society wants us to be while all the while, our minds and our souls [are] exploding inside.”[19]

Much like fan responses to Fight Club, appreciative fans have generally said little about Bellflower’s homoerotic male subtext. This subtext is instead disavowed under the auspices of celebrating either platonic friendship or violent masculinity.

Several elements of characterization lead me to believe that Glodell intentionally depicts Woodrow and Aiden as latent misogynists, although I am not so quick to dismiss the text itself as wholly endorsing such attitudes. In his final speech about Lord Humungus sexually dominating women, for example, Aiden most openly gives voice to the men’s unveiled misogynistic attitudes. Additionally, the film does suggest that Woodrow’s imagined transformation from nice guy to violent avenger is a direct consequence of Milly’s sexual indiscretions. Her warning to Woodrow that she will eventually hurt him only proves too true. Likewise, he fantasizes about a bloodied Milly remorsefully reuniting with him just after he has brutalized her, implying that his imagined violence was justified. Meanwhile, Courtney largely exists as a catalyst for the simmering tension after Woodrow and Milly’s breakup. She hysterically kills herself off when she no longer plays a role in Woodrow’s fantasy of manly retribution.

However, the alternation in the film’s final moments between the startling misogyny underlying the Mother Medusa fantasy and the somberness of Woodrow’s real-world coda to his failed romance (uneventfully burning the box on the beach) leads me to tentatively push back against critical assessments that the film definitely endorses misogyny on a textual level. Critics and fans may see Woodrow’s fannish commingling of fantasy and reality throughout the narrative as implicitly endorsing a misogynistic worldview. Alternately, I find the final disparity between Woodrow’s idealized, hypermasculine fantasy and his quiet, dismal reality to be a poignant reminder of hegemonic masculinity’s own phantasmatic status. That is, hegemonic masculinity may be a historically contingent concept, but it can certainly have detrimental real-world effects when romanticized as part of men’s identities (as seen in the fan response cited above). Yet, it also remains a constructed ideal that men inevitably and often painfully fail to achieve. No amount of personal striving can achieve this elusive ideal, since the potential to become more “masculine” in one’s look or disposition can always be imagined. All men therefore fall short of this imaginary ideal, albeit in different ways or proportions.

This shortcoming fuels the comedy of most cinematic bromances, and the intended pathos of Bellflower’s ending. Yet, I would suggest that the latter film’s underlying masculinist ethos is more clearly reinforced in its promotional strategies than within the ambiguous narrative itself. As I will discuss below, Woodrow and Aiden’s failure to achieve their fantasies of hegemonic masculinity is contradicted by the filmmakers’ own efforts to build indie cachet rooted in such fantasies.

The manly fantasies of The Road Warrior and Fight Club

To better understand Bellflower as an emotional wasteland only inhabitable by the male dyad, it is worth exploring the physical wasteland so central to the protagonists’ idealized cinematic inspiration. As a sequel, The Road Warrior differs from the first Mad Max (1979) by not taking place during the breakdown of society. Rather, it occurs after a cataclysm spurred by a global war over dwindling petroleum supplies. The trilogy’s first film depicts Max (Mel Gibson) as a police officer, a representative of social institutions that remain functional amid a societal collapse spawning a new kind of Wild West along the Australian highways. The Road Warrior, however, virtually dispenses with images of civilization altogether. Max is now a man who has lost everything, wandering across the Outback in search of fuel. He becomes a reluctant savior to a band of settlers attempting to leave their besieged outpost in a remote refinery. They desire escape to the distant coastal cities which have become little more than a dimly remembered myth, idyllically pictured in a surviving tourist brochure.

As critics have noted, the film’s wasteland setting evokes the lack of reproductive potential figured in its primal, homosexual denizens like Lord Humungus, Wez, and their gang.[20] It is a male-dominated landscape where queerness becomes linked to male bonding and primitive tribalism. Homosexual desire often becomes channeled into violence and casual misogyny. Those few women who appear are eventually victimized and killed, leaving Max with no potential love interests. Heterosexual reproduction is instead associated with the distant coastal paradise where, as one character puts it, there is “nothing to do but breed.”[21] In this respect, it is noteworthy that Woodrow and Aiden do not idolize Max or the settlement leader Pappagallo (Michael Preston). Rather, they identify with the gang of villains who would prevent the heterosexual settlers from seeking out more “fertile” territory. (This territory is eventually reached in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [1985], in which Max leads a pack of children to the ruins of Sydney.)

The Road Warrior thus unfolds in a liminal fantasy space literally distanced from the depictions of coastal civilization that bookend the trilogy. Yet, Max is not the only character haunted by what he has lost. As Christopher Sharrett observes, even Lord Humungus seems to be a member of an old order. His “wooden case containing his revolver, military decorations, and old photographs,” all serve as nostalgic traces of a prelapsarian past that he cannot completely forget.[22] These nostalgic traces are not unlike the VHS copy of The Road Warrior has itself become for Woodrow and Aiden. We see Woodrow watching The Road Warrior while recuperating from his breakup and injury, for example, suggesting that it mnemonically renews him. Woodrow, Aiden, and their Road Warrior analogues are thus not only animated by nihilistic ambitions, but also by cherished remembrances of what they have lost.

Adrian Martin notes that The Road Warrior has less moral ambiguity between “good guys” and “bad guys” than its trilogic predecessor. Yet, he argues that The Road Warrior’s bad guys are far more interesting than the good guys. The settlers are in search of the idealized, “mainstream” vision of Australia illustrated in a brochure originally made for national-cultural outsiders. Alternately, there seems something defiantly more “authentic” about the villainous gang’s nomadic and marginal existence.[23] Perhaps it should be little surprise, then, that the Humungus/Wez and Woodrow/Aiden dyads share a masculinist fantasy of forcibly mastering those wild and “authentic” desert frontiers lurking just beyond their respective coastal metropolises.

Woodrow and Aiden live amid a bohemian urban milieu that offers a shallow sense of rootedness, instead of lasting ties to one location. We see living arrangements in constant flux throughout the film as characters move in and out of friends’ rented houses. Consequently, it makes sense that the two young men’s post-apocalyptic fantasies lean toward the self-destructive. Both characters’ recurring desire to pull up stakes and abruptly vanish metaphorically recalls the fate of their Road Warrior counterparts: “driv[ing] straight into the fucking tanker” and perishing together in a spectacular crash.[24]

Indeed, on a formal level, Glodell visually depicts the titular area along Bellflower Avenue as already somewhat resembling a post-apocalyptic cinematic landscape. It is littered with dilapidated buildings, depopulated streets, and a sickly yellowish-green tint exacerbated by his extensive use of selective focus and grainy artifacting upon the camera lens. Glodell’s vision of Los Angeles, the quintessential cinematic city, thus expresses the filmmaker-as-star’s own aestheticization of a downscale milieu seemingly bereft of modern high technology. Consequently, his stylization allows the Bellflower area to feel primed for the mix of primal masculinity and hands-on technological mastery that his protagonists remember from The Road Warrior as a source of “authentic,” action-oriented male power.

This fantasized association between violent masculinity and cultural authenticity recalls Bellflower’s frequent critical comparisons to Fight Club, another film explicitly discussed as a bromance about self-destructive masculinity.[25] Rather than set in a post-apocalyptic milieu, Fight Club depicts its unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton) as a downtrodden company man living in a late-1990s, urban, consumerist culture that will soon be demolished through the efforts of his bromantic partner, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden teaches the Narrator to replace his “feminizing” dependence on mass-culture commodity fetishism with a primal masculinity rediscovered during illicit bare-knuckle fights with other men. The anarchistic Durden, however, is actually the Narrator’s violent, hypermasculine split personality, erupting from his own undiagnosed mental illness. For the Narrator, the confirmation of his long-buried emotions (including homoeroticism) through bonding with other men is central to recovering an “authentic” sense of masculine selfhood. Nevertheless, Tyler’s recruitment of a “private army” ultimately leads, like Lord Humungus’s gang, to a fascistic tribalism where nihilistically violent men are masculinized but perhaps no longer clearly individuated.

As I have noted above, Aiden narrates his post-apocalyptic fantasy at the beginning and end of Bellflower, featuring the two-man gang rolling into desert towns in the Medusa car and immediately asserting dominance with their flamethrowers (à la Lord Humungus). This recalls Tyler’s post-apocalyptic dream of “stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center” and “laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.” Thus, these characters share a common nostalgia for a mythical time of greater material authenticity, when “men could be men.” A recurrent cultural fantasy of manly rebellion resonates across the past, present, and not-too-distant futures of The Road Warrior, Fight Club, and Bellflower alike. Masculine individualism may not be wholly guaranteed in each of these films, given the forms of tribalism that arise in them. Yet, the intimacy of the homosocial/homoerotic dyad seemingly becomes all that is needed in a one-sex fantasy world cleansed of femininity.

As I have said, Bellflower may offer a critique of just how insular and futile its protagonists’ masculinist fantasies ultimately are—albeit a critique too ambivalent for some critics. One major political limitation of this critique, however, is a corollary denunciation of the implicit queerness within the dyad. On one hand, unreconstructed sexism and imagined visions of violence temper the homoeroticism lurking in Woodrow and Aiden’s relationship. On the other hand, Bellflower’s ostensibly criticizes the inescapability of their intimate bond, and thus posits inter-male love as a nightmarish and undesirable conclusion. This implication likewise appears in the latter half of Fight Club, in which the Narrator tries to prevent Tyler from triggering an anti-corporate apocalypse. These efforts conclude with the Narrator symbolically “killing” his homoerotically desired split personality, and immediately afterward reuniting with an unlikely heterosexual love interest.

To its credit, Bellflower does not go as far as Fight Club in associating homoeroticism with mental illness. As we see, the Woodrow-Aiden bromance clearly predates Woodrow’s head trauma and does not narratively end with the formation of heterosexual couples. Still, the film’s attempted critique of their naïve, post-apocalyptic gang fantasies still represents a normalizing call for men to accept heterosexual manhood as a more realistic option for living in a future with women. Although some fans came away with a very different interpretation, Bellflower arguably rejects a perpetual retreat into adolescent fantasies and sexual ambiguity as a viable design for living. In this respect, Bellflower’s denouement may attempt to critique a defiant masculinity that sublimates homoeroticism into violence. In doing so, however, the film’s critique is not so far removed from the tenets of retrograde gender traditionalism (e.g., masculine aggression and the subordination of femininity) that the film wants to otherwise challenge. As I will now explain, we can also see this ideological contradiction in the film’s approach to the interrelated gendering of niche taste cultures and low-tech/analog materiality.

Material hacking and the hipness of lo-fi nostalgia

Figures like Tyler Durden and Lord Humungus pose a gendered opposition to the sort of slick, mass-produced cultural detritus represented by the settlers’ commodified vision of Australia in The Road Warrior. Meanwhile, Woodrow and Aiden’s lo-fi, handmade projects evince the related gendering of a subcultural ethos privileging the hip cultural distinctiveness of do-it-yourself (DIY) creative ventures and material hacking. Localized forms of DIY cultural production have a long tradition in indie culture, including independently produced zines, crafts, music, and films. Woodrow and Aiden’s pastime also clearly plays into longstanding links between male hobbyists, custom-car cultures, and men’s hands-on repurposing of machinic technologies—but with a specifically “indie” subcultural twist. Their hobby also shares certain similarities with the DIY culture-jamming mayhem perpetrated in Fight Club (e.g., billboard banditry, vandalism of corporate monuments) and The Road Warrior’s heavily modified vehicles, decked out with metal armor, gun turrets, and supercharged engines. Apocalyptic fantasies about the collapse of capitalist society, after all, speak to a desire for an overwhelming sense of scarcity. This scarcity would re-enchant everyday or outmoded consumer goods with “authentic” value and a need for careful attention.[26] Indeed, I argue that this desired scarcity also inspires the allure of lo-fi aesthetics/technology within the indie/hipster habitus. This is because the desire for hipness springs from the scarcity of subcultural capital—a form of capital potentially accrued by those select users who still manipulate such aesthetics/technologies. Subcultural capital would lose its allure if such knowledges and dispositions were widespread and easily accessible, hence its investment in niche preferences for the culturally residual and antiquated.

In a more general sense, Woodrow and Aiden’s hobby falls beneath the banner of hacking, especially in its older, pre-computing connotations of any ingenious, unauthorized manipulation of technological artifacts. As Paul Taylor observes, hacking has long carried particular gender connotations. Male hackers are often seen as attempting to master and impose their will upon another’s system. Female hackers (a disproportionate minority within hacking subcultures), however, are viewed as engaging in a more interactive, dialogic process of trial-and-error. Cyberspace has been discursively constructed as a sort of Wild West frontier where hackers are alternately figured in masculine terms as “cowboys” or “outlaws.” Still, the time and energy poured into hacking has also tended to figure male hackers as asexual or perverse outcasts sublimating their erotic drives into their largely homosocial subcultures. Furthermore, the homosociality of hacking subcultures is often policed through displays of misogyny (e.g., the use of sexually degrading language, the insulting or neglecting of female participants).

We can see the material hacking depicted in Bellflower as similarly channeling (homo)social desire into projects supporting a misogynistic frontier mentality. Yet, the physicality of hacking analog materials avoids some of the challenges to one’s masculinity raised by popular images of nerdy, asocial computer hackers obsessed with the more disembodied, abstract minutiae of digital worlds. That is, the computer hacker is more open to charges of feminization via the “openness” and “soft manipulations” of the digital. The material hacker, however, retains greater ties to a sense of masculinity rooted in the tactility of analog objects. As Daniela Rosner and Jonathan Bean note in discussing DIY hackers of mass-produced furniture, material hacking is more invested in taking advantage of an existing (analog) design’s strengths. The (digital) code hacking associated with computers, on the other hand, is about exploiting unplanned weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, then, material hacking has been shown to attract far more men than women. These hackers see their creativity ultimately serving instrumental goals by building usable objects. In fact, they may even fear their designs will be copied by others or co-opted by corporations for mass production.[28] The (male) material hacker’s ingenious reworking of mass-produced goods can thereby become a highly valued source of non-mainstream identity. Their hobbies build a sense of cachet implicitly linked to a physical, hands-on mastery of strengths. Traditional associations between masculinity and physicality can thus remain a privileged node in the social values circulating within DIY cultures.

At the same time, though, the contemporary indie/hipster habitus is quite invested in digital consumer technologies and networked socialities. It is little surprise, then, that many members of indie subcultures espouse a generalized nostalgia for “vintage” analog media and low-tech devices. Critics like P. J. Rey have described this nostalgia as offering

“the illusion of agency; it provides affirmation for the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative to be an individual, to be unique.”

In other words, fetishizing the low-tech or outdated offers an imagined fantasy of escape from the high-tech world. Yet, this fantasy paradoxically plays into the post-Fordist economic values of innovation and uniqueness, which marked a shift away from the “conformity” of mass production. Whereas Fordist economics banked on the sameness of assembly line labor and products, post-Fordism favors more flexible, individuated workers and means of production. As such, “the hipster aesthetic reflects an ideology of hyper-individualism, though this individualism is itself paradoxical because it is socially mandated” by both subcultures and neoliberal economic systems.[29]

Embodying a DIY aesthetic and faux-vintage visual style (as further elaborated below) consequently allowed Bellflower to effectively stand out and achieve a valuable distribution deal within the overpopulated world of indie film. Yet, those same aesthetic choices also opened the filmmakers to charges of hipster inauthenticity. As one representative review complained, for example,

“The movie swims in hipster clichés, from the second-generation mumblecore mumbles to the romantic hem[ming] and hawing over relationships that are as flat as vinyl. The whole thing feels like it was shot on a Polaroid camera, and ultimately finding itself with little to say about its characters or their world, it continually falls back on style and cult references for content.”[30]

Likewise, the “mumblecore” comparison appeared in a number of other reviews, referring to the emerging corpus of low-budget, digitally filmed feature films made by young, white, urban filmmakers about that privileged demographic’s struggles to find lasting personal relationships.

Aymar Jean Christian notes that mumblecore films are often nostalgic for an unattainable sense of “real” experience, prior to the heavy mediation of daily experience in the digital age. Despite their characters’ striving for both love and the real, these goals are invariably doomed. Yet, even if “[t]he search for the real is lonely and desperate,” this struggle is “in itself satisfying.”[31] For Aiden and Woodrow, the Mother Medusa gang may represent a search for the pre-digital “authentic” in their own lives. Still, it remains a fantasy whose inevitable failure to come to full fruition results in personal identity struggles. They ultimately express these struggles in masculinist terms, nostalgically harkening back to that mythical past when “men could be men.” But, as noted earlier, their hipster credentials require that that past cannot be wholly celebrated without at least some measure of ironic self-consciousness.

As Michael Z. Newman notes, indie culture may espouse progressive values in opposing whatever it constructs as the corporate “mainstream.” Yet, the ability to draw such distinctions is often based upon the same unacknowledged class privilege that, for example, provides the appeal of cultural slumming.[32] Furthermore, I would add that gender privilege is an overlapping and often unacknowledged ideological contradiction within an indie culture that simultaneously permits a measure of ironic play with gender norms (e.g., Woodrow’s ironic mock-macho challenge to Milly in the cricket-eating contest). Whereas the demands of hegemonic masculinity mandate men’s role as wage earners, Woodrow and Aiden’s masculinity within the diegetic indie habitus is linked to their acquisition of subcultural capital instead of economic capital. In particular, the low-tech distinctiveness of their DIY material-hacking projects serves as a valuably hip marker of (masculine) identity.

This masculinizing pursuit of coolness is repeatedly driven home in Bellflower’s final scene, in which Aiden recalls that he and Woodrow had originally moved to California because they thought it would be “cool like in the movies.” For Aiden, roving the U.S. deserts in the Medusa car would

“look so fucking cool. We would go places and park the car where we know we’d look cool, hang out smoking cigarettes, leaning against the car looking cool, and let people look at us.”

(An actual apocalypse would no doubt dismantle the structural bearings of subcultural capital, thereby rendering “coolness” moot as one-time subcultures vanish in the ensuing struggle for survival. We can therefore see Aiden’s use of “cool” as a euphemism for “threatening” or “powerful.”) Milly and Woodrow’s visit to the “cheapest, nastiest, scariest” Texas diner also smacks of ironic cultural slumming below their level of (sub)cultural capital. Likewise, a later scene shows them ironically delving above their class-inflected milieu by ordering (with deliberately horrendous pronunciation) the cheapest bottle of wine at a snooty French restaurant. They then leave in an exaggerated fit of mock indignation when they receive poor service, retiring to a public park with boxes of take-out and a pornographic novel. The fact that these scenes centrally involve very different restaurants attests to the film’s indie/hipster preoccupation with taste.

Bellflower may attribute part of its male characters’ misogyny to their ambitions of bringing Road Warrior-style elements into their own lives. Yet, their fannish desire to merge fantasy and reality is paradoxically premised upon the hipster’s desired separation of “inauthenticity” from “authenticity” as a means of building status within his/her habitus. In other words, Woodrow and Aiden’s fantasy of entering a nostalgically remembered cinematic past may be more valuable to their dyadic identity as friends than to the local Bellflower social scene they are willing to leave behind at the film’s conclusion. Regardless, this fantasy’s emphasis on low-tech DIY materiality still remains inseparable from their habitus’ gendered connotations of subcultural authenticity as (masculine) resistance against the “feminizing” mainstream.

While fueling fantasies about embodying a post-apocalyptic coolness, their post-ironic nostalgia for The Road Warrior also plays into the homosocial “boys’ zone” of cult film fandom. However, this sense of subcultural distinction is simultaneously premised upon their beloved cinematic visions of action-movie hypermasculinity. Such hypermasculine representations would likely be out of place within an indie/hipster milieu that associates gender traditionalism with mainstream conformity. Stereotypically “mainstream” gender performances are often viewed with some skepticism within indie cultures valuing distinctive personal styles. Yet, instances of hegemonic gender attitudes might be excused if performed with a large grain of hipster irony. This strategy allows Woodrow and Aiden to superficially downplay the misogynistic implications of their sincere Lord Humungus appreciation. As Christy Wampole notes, the hipster’s predilection for irony is a “self-defensive mode” of living. It allows the past to be self-consciously cited, but largely so long as irony “allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise.”[33] When Woodrow first tells Milly about the Mother Medusa gang, for example, his impromptu elucidation quickly falls apart into self-conscious joking about his failure to explain it in a “cool” way. He thus downplays the fantasy’s more violent and sexist implications by reframing them as film-historically anachronistic quirks.

In this sense, a hip sense of knowing irony can provide a defensive cover for Woodrow and Aiden’s politically regressive fandom. (He jokingly notes that he and Aiden’s “minds got warped” after watching the film so many times as kids.) Irony thus allows the gendering of cultural distinctions to (however uneasily) coexist with a hypermasculinity that the protagonists can earnestly reclaim or ironically disavow, depending on whether interacting within or beyond their dyad.[34] These men may try to escape into an “authentic,” analog past associated with The Road Warrior. Nonetheless, their adherence to fantasies of hypermasculinity is complicated by their habitus’ imperative to uphold the subculturally “authentic” while simultaneously rejecting regressively traditional gender performances as inauthentically “mainstream.”

Nevertheless, the DIY aesthetics associated with hipster/indie cultures can still evoke certain complications for notions of hegemonic masculinity. In his “gendered genealogy of the hipster,” James Penner notes that the cultural figure known as the hipster has been considered a masculine “frontiersman” into subterranean cultural realms as far back as Norman Mailer’s famous 1957 essay “The White Negro.” Yet, the hipster has also been seen as a cultural frontiersman whose masculinity is more fluid than the heteronormative ideal. He may engage in bisexual or homosexual passions taking what Mailer deems a non-effeminate form (such as the carousing Kerouac/Cassady characters in On the Road). The hipster’s rejection of the cultural “mainstream” can thus extend even to hegemonic gender/sexual norms, permitting a measure of ambiguity. This predilection has descended to the more contemporary inheritors of the term, who are less often associated today with the Beats and jazz culture than an anti-corporate and anti-mainstream ethos of indie cultural production.

Alongside indie/hipster tastes in the lo-fi, downscale, and outdated, we can therefore find an ironic approach to performing gender and sexuality as well. This may include more “effeminate” forms than seen in Mailer’s day, as some hipsters “devour gay style” through androgynous attire and behavior (e.g., tight, women’s-cut jeans worn by men). Moving in the opposite direction from androgyny, however, we can also see the ironic embodiment of lo-fi masculine “authenticity” in retro styles of mustaches and beards. These are rather different signifiers than associated with the contemporaneous figure of the so-called “metrosexual” (i.e., the ostensibly heterosexual man who affects an upscale, cosmopolitan attention to personal style and grooming traditionally associated with effeminacy). While the male hipster may share some of the metrosexual’s openness to gender fluidity, his careful attention to subcultural style is more often characterized by a down-market bohemian look. Unlike the trendiness of the wealthy, fashionable metrosexual, the hipster ironically embraces far more déclassé or outdated gender signifiers, such as vintage clothing over couture boutique attire.[37] Indeed, we might think of the ironically worn handlebar mustache as the quintessential hipster signifier turned faddish pop-cultural kitsch. Perhaps it is little surprise, then, that Woodrow hates mustaches, but ends up with an ersatz one tattooed onto his face as revenge. A stereotypical hipster signifier of ironically performed masculinity becomes part of him and literally cannot be erased. This would seem especially egregious now that the ironic mustache’s one-time hipness within indie cultures has since been appropriated by mainstream commodification (e.g., the present ubiquity of mustache-themed merchandise in gift shops) in a way that would undesirably evoke a sapping of subcultural capital.

Tony Coles discusses the need to situate multiple masculinities in relation to a Bourdieuian discussion of habitus. He argues that marked differences often exist between hegemonic masculinity as an impossible ideal socially upheld to some degree by the majority of men in a patriarchal culture, and the different types of dominant masculinities that are valued in a given habitus. “It is possible to be subordinated by hegemonic masculinity” on the basis of race, class, appearance, etc., “yet still draw on dominant masculinities and assume a dominant position in relation to other men” in a particular milieu. “Physical capital” (i.e., the body’s size, strength, and utility) may be privileged in some milieus, for example, but these factors are less applicable to the dominant masculinities at play in others.[38]

In my estimation, then, the indie/hipster habitus offers different dominant masculinities than the hegemonic masculine ideal. The value of masculinity instead becomes reinforced through the “coolness” that subcultural capital bestows upon men like Woodrow and Aiden in the eyes of the relevant beholder. They may not fit the hegemonic ideal in terms of their physical capital or their ability to acquire economic capital. However, the subcultural capital linked to their hobbies, disposition, and objects of fannish fantasy still harkens back to certain elements of hegemonic masculinity, and thus allows them to perform a dominant masculinity within their peer group. ] There may be something seemingly “immature” or “geeky” about their continuing devotion to a childhood text. However, like Milly’s initial reaction of charmed amusement at the cinematic inspiration for Woodrow’s hobbies, hip indie film audiences were likely to be similarly tickled by the spectacular, flame-spewing fruits of the filmmakers’ own efforts. As I will elaborate below, for example, Bellflower’s filmmakers used the actual Medusa car as a key component of promoting their masculine DIY prowess on the festival circuit.

To again quote Coles,

“The struggle for legitimacy that exists in the field of masculinity between dominant and subordinated masculinities is validated by habitus and the belief that one’s own masculinity is ‘natural’ and ‘true.’ Thus, even those men in subordinated positions in the field of masculinity may not see their masculinity as subordinated or marginalized, particularly if they operate in social fields and domains in which the actions and dispositions of other men are similar to their own.”[39]

In this sense, the indie/hipster impetus to gain subcultural capital by fetishizing the “authentic” resonates with a belief in the “authenticity” of one’s own non-hegemonic form of masculinity. This remains true even if exercising dominant masculinities in the indie habitus also involves a hip irony toward hegemonic gender norms. In other words, a hip, ironic stance toward hegemonic masculinity’s traditional norms may be displaced by the performances of more “authentic,” nonhegemonic gender norms within the indie/hipster habitus. At the same time, however, this very emphasis on the subcultural value of outsider “authenticity” paradoxically allows the cultural roots of masculine dominance to sneak back in to the indie/hipster habitus under the cloak of irony. 

Woodrow and Milly’s visit to the Texas diner, for example, begins with Woodrow ironically mocking its grungy menu options. He then angrily confronts a white, rural, working-class man who has just slapped Milly’s ass. He has, however, entered a working-class milieu where dominant forms of masculinity are rooted more in demonstrations of physical than subcultural capital. Consequently, Woodrow is promptly punched out, although he later tells Milly that he at least hopes his swollen eye “looks cool.” A desire for coolness would thus seem to compensate for the fact that his sudden, smirking shift into paternalistically “defending her honor” had obviously fallen flat. As this scene illustrates, the expectations of hegemonic masculinity (e.g., chivalry) lurk beneath Woodrow’s “sensitive,” politically reconstructed masculinity. They reveal themselves when a shift in the social field unsettles the dominant masculinity he is used to performing among his indie/hipster friends. Likewise, his later, post-breakup fantasy about the possible repercussions of destroying Milly’s Shit depicts the threat of violence as another signifier of hegemonic masculinity that can reemerge from beneath alternative masculinities thrown into crisis. As I will now explain, this underlying masculinism is reflected in the film’s own hypermasculine promotional strategies, belying the text’s implied rebuke of violent male psychology.

The faux-vintage aesthetic and the showmanship of dudes

Perhaps it is little surprise that we can see the film’s aesthetic and promotional strategies working against its ostensible critique of misogynistic fantasies. This is precisely because of the male filmmakers’ own unwillingness to sacrifice the masculine claims to indie “authenticity” that even an (imagined) apocalypse cannot seem to nullify. One of Bellflower’s major promotional hooks and claims to indie cachet was the fact that director Glodell, much like his onscreen role as Woodrow, participated in the same hobbies as his protagonists. Glodell and his friends built their own flamethrower, the customized Speed Biscuit and Medusa cars, and even their own movie camera to shoot the film. When Aiden fantasizes about rolling into towns across America and immediately impressing onlookers with the coolness of their flame-belching Medusa car, this is virtually what Glodell did when touring Bellflower to film festivals and repertory theaters, showing off his Medusa car at each stop. This car is even highlighted in its own bonus feature on the Bellflower DVD, which includes footage from such promotional appearances. This archived footage thereby extends the car’s potential to generate subcultural capital as a unique, handmade analog artifact. In this sense, Glodell’s means of promoting his film further collapses the distinction between filmmaker and character. In doing so, he effectively endorses the masculinist ethos that I have described as implied by an aggressively asserted “coolness,” the DIY “authenticity” of analog material hacking, and non-mainstream individualism. Furthermore, he asserts this masculinism in a far more compelling manner through the promotional stunts than implied by the film itself. Showing audiences that his real-life car from the movie spews real flames, not just special effects, allowed Glodell to effectively blur the lines between cinematic fantasy and quotidian reality. This directly resembles how his onscreen counterpart, Woodrow, pursues the same blurred boundaries through his Road Warrior-inspired hobbies. Such distinctive promotional strategies thus allowed this supposed sense of “authenticity” to translate into subcultural capital within the indie film world.

This masculine showmanship extended to the film’s overall visual aesthetic as well, as provided by Glodell’s makeshift camera. Like the completed projects within the film, this camera was given a name (the “Coatwolf Model II”), and is prominently displayed on the website of Glodell’s company, Coatwolf Productions. Growing from his hobby of “camera hacking,” the Coatwolf Model II derived from a SI-2K digital cinema camera, but with a 4x5 large-format view camera mounted to the front as an extension lens. According to Glodell, this distinctive fusion of digital and analog camera technologies would provide capabilities unique to any other camera in the world.[40] The hip sense of masculine “authenticity” represented by the hacked camera would thus extend to the images it could produce.

This veneer of “authenticity” is highlighted by the fact that many critics described the film’s intentionally dusty, grimy look as a “grindhouse aesthetic.” This critical shorthand alludes to the simulated veneer of celluloid degradation popularized in retro-styled exploitation movie pastiches like Grindhouse (2007) and its highly violent, deeply masculinist cinematic brethren. I have collectively dubbed these films “retrosploitation,” since they are intentionally designed to evoke the anachronistic thrills of outdated exploitation genres.[41] Indeed, Glodell experimented with similarly making fake “grindhouse”-style trailers using his DIY technology while the ideas for Bellflower’s plot were gestating.[42] Futhermore, this proliferation of an ersatz “grindhouse aesthetic” associated with outdated and well-used 35mm exploitation film prints evinces a nostalgia akin to that held by Aiden and Woodrow toward The Road Warrior. That is, an ironic awareness of the past (pre-digital) text’s material datedness combines with a deeply sincere celebration of the politically unreconstructed thrills that outdated films still offer fans. In my estimation, this mix of ironic distance and sincere longing has become internalized into the retrosploitation film’s overall feel. Unlike slick, clean digital imagery, this nostalgic aesthetic evokes a “rougher,” less easily palatable look. It implicitly casts gendered lines of distinction between the “rebellious” (masculine) indie film and the passive, feminized mainstream viewership supposedly lacking in subcultural capital.[43] Whereas the dirt and smudges on Glodell’s view camera plates might be seen outside this context as flaws in craftsmanship, they are here recoded as subculturally valued signs of earthy, rough-and-tumble materiality.

At the same time, however, Bellflower’s aesthetic appears considerably beholden to the recent rise of faux-vintage photography applications for mobile phones, especially Instagram and Hipstamatic. As I noted earlier, these applications gained great popularity among indie/hipster milieus after premiering around 2010, because they digitally replicated the retro look of the antiquated vintage/analog past as a relative obscurity in the digital age. Yet, they also gained much broader cultural use, becoming a widespread trend among young technology users. As one critic remarked of Bellflower’s look,

“Hailed as visionary in some quarters, I can’t help but think that those quarters haven’t spent much time on the internet in the past couple of years. Most of Glodell’s effects—hyper-saturated colors, selective focus, grime on the lens—look much like popular smartphone vintage photography filters. This is essentially Instagram-inspired cinematography; there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, and it does create striking images, but it doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking.”[44]

In this respect, the discoloration, vignetting, and image grain seen in Bellflower might not be unambiguously read as unique signifiers of masculine “authenticity.” Instead, they might be seen as undesirable signifiers of the hipster as a trend follower constantly striving for a lo-fi/analog/retro cool always on the verge of mainstream cooptation.

In a much-discussed analysis of faux-vintage photography, Nathan Jurgenson argues that mobile apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic are all about trying to make the digital seem physical. They emulate the “authentic” by instantly overlaying present-day digital photos with the contingent photographic effects of a decades-old instant camera. In doing so, the ersatz archaism of the faux-vintage photo self-reflexively foregrounds the fact of its own documentation. That is, by evincing an analog look, it paradoxically signals its own status as a deliberate product of digital manipulation. The faux-vintage photo thus provides further proof of our own existence as actively engaged users during a period where smart phones are virtually always with us, always connected to social media platforms. For Jurgenson, then, faux-vintage photography evokes a nostalgia for the present, a desire to view one’s own everyday existence as potentially renderable into a lasting document.[45] Indeed, as Andreas Huyssen argues, the digital age has meant that “many of the mass-marketed memories we consume are ‘imagined memories’ to begin with, and thus more easily forgotten than lived memories.” Consequently, “the more we are asked to remember in the wake of the information explosion and the marketing of memory, the more we seem to be in danger of forgetting.”[46] Hence the emergence of a desire to document the potential pastness of one’s present moment through faux-vintage photographic trickery.

Yet, as Mary E. Lord observes, anyone can now make “cool” faux-vintage photos, without the need to even educate oneself in image manipulation software like Photoshop. This potential “mainstreaming” complicates the very sense of subcultural capital that spurred the faux-vintage photography boom within indie cultures. On one hand, these photos can amaze us by stylizing our present moments into looking “cooler” than we originally experienced them. On the other hand, the very name “Hipstamatic” implies that this novelty can evoke suspicion among some users that this is the technological equivalent of a hipster “trying too hard” to look cool. Furthermore, Lord concurs with Jurgenson that viewing the present as always translatable into ersatz “vintage” imagery might alter one’s ability to fully engage with the present on its own cultural and political terms.[47] That is, always viewing the present as capable of being overlaid with a sense of pastness could imaginatively distance faux-vintage technology users from the political implications of their own present actions.

If there is no masculine sense of hacking skill or technological mastery required to create faux-vintage images, then this aesthetic choice seemingly undercuts its own ability to shore up a regressive masculinism which itself turns toward the past for inspiration. On one hand, it makes sense for Glodell’s film to display a faux-vintage aesthetic, since it is so clearly filtered through Woodrow’s nostalgia-fueled fantasies and fannish longings. Yet, the fact that the director is so difficult to separate from his starring role leads me to speculate that Glodell himself may see his present through a politically inflected faux-vintage lens of potential pastness. That is, Glodell himself may share his onscreen counterpart’s semi-earnest upholding of the archaic gender inequalities associated with a primal, violent masculinity. The use of nostalgia within Bellflower’s form and content suggests that Glodell’s aesthetic lens for nostalgically framing his contemporary indie milieu also coincides with politically regressive views about women. This is especially suggested by his admission that the film was his attempt to cinematically capture the feel of his personal experience with “a really brutal relationship and a break-up.”[48]

In the end, the masculine ethos behind Glodell’s “rough” visual aesthetic cannot be wholly guaranteed, due to its possible associations with inauthentic hipster affectations and/or the mainstreaming of faux-vintage photography apps. Nevertheless, the masculine self-promotion surrounding his DIY projects like the Medusa car and the Coatwolf camera still represents a yearning in vain for an “authentically” masculine sense of low-tech individualism. This “authentic”/masculine individualism is valued in the indie/hipster habitus reflected both within the film itself and on the indie film circuits where Bellflower was promoted. Furthermore, the subcultural value of masculine “authenticity” is desired as more than a retributive bulwark against threats to one’s masculinity. It also attempts to defuse threats to one’s sense of identity within an indie/hipster habitus preoccupied with living in a digital age where the immaterial and ephemeral seem to increasingly impinge upon one’s ability to live “authentically” as an individual.

Like Woodrow and Aiden’s Mother Medusa fantasies, there is something tellingly overwrought and excessive about Glodell’s deliberate attempts to gain indie cachet. His aesthetic and self-promotional strategies as a young male filmmaker assert his DIY self-reliance against the ostensibly feminized mainstream, but without reflecting on the broader gendered implications of such distinctions. As I have noted, this very excessiveness proved to be alluring for some male viewers. However, this aggressive posturing also bespeaks nagging doubts about the ultimately fragile correlation between masculinity, individuality, and non-mainstream tastes invoked by the film and its promotion. As the film’s reception indicates, the film’s uses of nostalgia can be accused of misogyny, trendiness, and a lack of authenticity, not just desirable sources of cultural distinction. Consequently, Bellflower’s ambivalence about its hip sense of pastness is ultimately symptomatic of its place within a subcultural milieu undergirded by rather traditional gender disparities. Despite the indie/hipster habitus’ alleged rejection of mainstream values, regressive gender valuations underlie its aesthetic distinctions. These taste distinctions may be as socially constructed and historically contingent as masculinity itself, but they are no less open to contestation.


1. For other details of the film’s low-budget production process, see “Bellflower,” Film Independent, accessed November 18, 2012,
. [return to text]

2. James Rocchi, “‘Bellflower’: Brutal, Beautiful,” MSN Movies, accessed October 31, 2012,

3. On the contradictions of indie culture’s taste distinctions, see Michael Z. Newman, “Indie Culture: In Pursuit of the Authentic Autonomous Alternative,” Cinema Journal 48, no. 3 (2009): 16-34; and Newman, Indie: An American Film Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011).

4. Representative examples of such scholarship include Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); Andreas Huyssen, “Mass Culture as Woman: Modernism’s Other,” After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 44-62; Sarah Thornton, Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996); and Joanne Hollows, “The Masculinity of Cult,” in Defining Cult Movies: The Cultural Politics of Oppositional Taste, eds. Mark Jancovich, Antonio Lázaro Reboll, Julian Stringer, and Andy Willis (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 35-53.

5. Sally Robinson, “Feminized Men and Inauthentic Women,” Genders, no. 53 (2011):

6. James Rocchi, “South by Southwest and the Best of the Fest—So Far,” MSN Entertainment, accessed October 31, 2012,

7. Zeynep Arsel and Craig J. Thompson, “Demythologizing Consumption Practices: How Consumers Defend Their Field-Dependent Identity Investments from Devaluing Marketplace Myths,” Journal of Consumer Research 37, no. 5 (2011): 792, 795-96, 800.

8. Jeffrey Sconce, “Baffled by Bellflower,” Ludic Despair (blog), posted September 26, 2012,

9. David Buchbinder, Studying Men and Masculinities (London: Routledge, 2013), 85.

10. Sharon R. Bird, “Welcome to the Men’s Club: Homosociality and the Maintenance of Hegemonic Masculinity,” Gender & Society 10, no. 2 (1996): 126, 130.

11. David Buchbinder, “Enter the Schlemiel: The Emergence of Inadequate or Incompetent Masculinities in Recent Film and Television,” Canadian Review of American Studies 38, no. 2 (2008): 236-37.

12. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).

13. Ross Gibson, South of the West: Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 77.

14. Sconce, “Baffled by Bellflower.”

15. Karen Boyle and Susan Berridge, “I Love You, Man: Gendered Narratives of Friendship in Contemporary Hollywood Comedies,” Feminist Media Studies 14, no. 2 (2014), forthcoming. (My thanks to the authors for graciously sending me an advance version of this article.) As Boyle and Berridge continue, this narrative resolution contrasts with contemporary films about female friendship (e.g., Baby Mama [2008], Bridesmaids [2011]), which tend to downplay potential homoeroticism by focusing on larger groups of preexisting friends than dyadic relationships. These films also mark heterosexual couple formation as a point of narrative resolution connoting the female friendship’s symbolic end. In Bellflower, the growing rift between Milly and Courtney is consonant with this dynamic. Once the latter becomes sexually involved with Woodrow, their inter-female friendship is depicted as a stage incompatible with heterosexual relationships.

16. Benjamin Mercer, “Is Indie Smash ‘Bellflower’ Sexist? Sure, but Also Derivative,” The Atlantic, August 10, 2011,

17. Ian Buckwalter, “Out of Frame: Bellflower,” DCist, posted September 9, 2011, http://dcist.com/2011/09/bellflower.php.

18. Keith Phipps, “Movie Review: Bellflower,” The A.V. Club, August 4, 2011, http://www.avclub.com/articles/bellflower,59936/.

19. Carbog, comment on “Bellflower - Official Trailer [HD],” YouTube.com, accessed November 17, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3KX2IPTbjE.

20. Eric Lichtenfeld, Action Speaks Louder: Violence, Spectacle, and the American Action Movie (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004), 129.

21. Christopher Sharrett, “The Hero as Pastiche: Myth, Male Fantasy, and Simulacra in Mad Max and The Road Warrior,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 13, no. 2 (1985): 84-85, 89; Dennis H. Barbour, “Heroism and Redemption in the Mad Max Trilogy,” Journal of Popular Film and Television 27, no. 3 (1999): 32; and Adrian Martin, The Mad Max Movies (Australian Screen Classics) (Sydney: Currency Press/ScreenSound Australia, 2003), 17-18.

22. Sharrett, “The Hero as Pastiche,” 87.

23. Martin, The Mad Max Movies, 50-52.

24. At the climax of The Road Warrior, Wez is perched atop the grill of a speeding tanker truck driven by Max. Before the murderous Wez can pull the Feral Kid (Emil Minty) off the hood of the truck, Lord Humungus crashes head-on into the front of the tanker. The two villains/lovers are instantly killed.

25. Buchbinder, Studying Men and Masculinities, 87-88.

26. Christian Thorne, “The Revolutionary Energy of the Outmoded,” October, no. 104 (2003): 113-14.

27. Paul A. Taylor, “Maestros or Misogynists? Gender and the Social Construction of Hacking,” in Dot.cons: Crime, Deviance, and Identity on the Internet, ed. Yvonne Jewkes (Portland, OR: Willan Publishing, 2003), 129, 131-33, 136-37. Also see Alison E. Adam, “Hacking into Hacking: Gender and the Hacking Phenomenon,” ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society 32, no. 7 (2004): 0095-2737.

28. Daniela Rosner and Jonathan Bean, “Learning from IKEA Hacking: ‘I’m Not One to Decoupage a Tabletop and Call It a Day,’” CHI 2009: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Boston, MA, April 4-9, 2009 (New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2009), 420-22. Kaya Oakes notes that the women who predominantly participate in DIY crafting cultures also fear theft of their creative ideas by major corporations scouting through DIY marketplaces. See Oakes, Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture (New York: Henry Holt, 2009), 177, 185.

29. P. J. Rey, “Hipsters and Low-Tech,” Cyborgology (blog), posted September 26, 2012,

30. Peter Simek, “Movie Review: Bellflower is a Male Hipster Fantasy That Can’t Even Be Bothered to Blow Up Its Characters,” D Magazine, September 9, 2011,

31. Aymar Jean Christian, “Joe Swanberg, Intimacy, and the Digital Aesthetic,” Cinema Journal 50, no. 4 (2011): 119-20, 134-35. Quote at 135.

32. Newman, “Indie Culture,” 22-24.

33. Christy Wampole, “How to Live Without Irony,” New York Times, November 17, 2012,

34. On the use of irony as a defensive cover in male cult film fandom, see Jacinda Read, “The Cult of Masculinity: From Fan-boys to Academic Bad-boys,” in Defining Cult Movies, 61-63.

35. James Penner, Pinks, Pansies, and Punks: The Rhetoric of Masculinity in American Literary Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 118, 120.

36. Christian Lorentzen, “Why the Hipster Must Die,” Time Out New York, May 30, 2007,

37. For a parody of this affectation taken to exaggerated extremes, see the sketch “Dream of the 1890s,” from the IFC series Portlandia (2011-), YouTube.com, accessed February 4, 2013,
Along with Rick Alverson’s film The Comedy (2012), Portlandia is perhaps the quintessential comedic skewering of hipster lifeways. The Comedy aptly depicts the hipster milieu as home to privileged, white pseudo-bohemians aimlessly living off trust funds. With no apparent income but plenty of capital to invest in their DIY hobbies, Woodrow and Aiden could fit a similar profile, although they are not explicitly identified by the film as such.

38. Tony Coles, “Negotiating the Field of Masculinity: The Production and Reproduction of Multiple Dominant Masculinities,” Men and Masculinities 12, no. 1 (2009): 31-33, 38. Quote at 33. Also see Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

39. Coles, “Negotiating the Field of Masculinity,” 39.

40. On the Bellflower Model II camera, see John Pavlus, “The Secret Sauce Behind Bellflower, a Buzzy Indie Film? Handmade Cameras,” Fast Company, posted August 1, 2011,

41. Several other examples include House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Pervert! (2005), Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), Viva (2007), Black Devil Doll (2007), Hell Ride (2008), Bitch Slap (2009), Black Dynamite (2009), Machete (2010), Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives (2010), Hobo with a Shotgun (2011), and Dear God No! (2011).

42. Steven, “Evan Glodell – The Next Great American Filmmaker – Creator of ‘Bellflower,’” Cinedork.com (blog), posted August 5, 2011,
The making of fake “grindhouse” trailers has helped build online buzz among genre aficionados, with several trailers spinning off into finished feature films. Examples include Machete, Hobo with a Shotgun, Nude Nuns with Big Guns (2010), Nun of That (2009), and Father’s Day (2011). Bellflower itself, however, did not have such origins as a fake trailer, even if the film’s visual style is still informed by an ersatz “grindhouse aesthetic” of simulated aging that helped build its air of indie distinction.

43. Fight Club is again a key point of reference here, by equating a masculinist rejection of the feminized mainstream with moments where the cinematic apparatus suddenly lurches into view. Occupying an increasingly outdated occupation, Tyler Durden is a part-time projectionist who splices frames of hardcore pornography (“a nice big cock”) into family films (and into the last shot of Fight Club itself). He also literally points out the appearance of the intentionally added blotches (“cigarette burns”) that appear in the corner of the filmic frame to signal the 35mm reel’s approaching end. Bellflower and Fight Club thus share not only a rejection of femininity as men intimately bond through violence. Fight Club’s linkage of eruptive masculinity and eruptive celluloid materiality can also be seen as an important precursor to the simulated “grindhouse aesthetic” popularized in the late 2000s.

44. Buckwalter, “Out of Frame: Bellflower.”

45. Nathan Jurgenson, “The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Parts I, II, and III),” Cyborgology (blog), posted May 14, 2011,

46. Andreas Huyssen, “Present Pasts: Media, Politics, Amnesia,” Public Culture 12, no. 1 (2000): 27-28.

47. Mary E. Lord, “Imag{in}ing Nostalgia,” Harlot, no. 5 (2010):
Although introduced in 2010, Hipstamatic’s website includes a fake backstory about the technology, claiming that it originated as a real-world analog camera in 1982 (incidentally, the year after The Road Warrior’s release) before being rediscovered and repurposed for the digital age years later. See G. Beato, “Disposable Hip,” The Baffler, March 2012, 108.

48. Matt Barone, “Interview: ‘Bellflower’ Director-Star Evan Glodell Talks Guerilla-Style Filmmaking and Homemade Flamethrowers,” Complex, August 5, 2011,

To topJC 55 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.