tongue-tied lightning

Alan Zweig’s Mirror Trilogy
May 8, 2009, 4:21 PM
Filed under: film


Why is Alan Zweig so fascinating?  I watched Vinyl, the first film in his mirror trilogy, and just over 24 hours later I had completed I, Curmudgeon and Lovable as well.  The compulsion I felt to continue watching eerily echoed that of the record collectors in Vinyl.  The mirror trilogy is so dubbed because the interview segments in each film are intertwined with footage of him talking to himself in the mirror.  These segments quickly became my favorite parts of the films, and by the end of Lovable I was less focusing on the interviews than anticipating the next mirror bit.

In fact, the films seem to be more about Zweig than the topics at hand (Film Comment dubbed it his ‘narcissism trilogy’, though narcissism would imply he thought highly of himself).  Or perhaps he chose the topics to gain greater insight into his problems.  Filmmaking as therapy.  Vinyl is about the compulsion some people feel to collect things, in this case records and I, Curmudgeon is about people with a relentlessly negative worldview.  Zweig seems to think both things have limited his ability to enjoy life.  He even goes as far as blaming them for his being a 50-year-old childless bachelor.  Which is where Lovable comes in.  The interviewees in the first two films are predominantly male, and in Lovable he switches it up.  He interviews older single women and tries to find out why some people have such a hard time finding love (or is it Zweig searching for a potential mate?).

Lovable isn’t quite as funny as the first two films.  Most likely because the topic is more tragic and the people he’s interviewing aren’t nearly as eccentric.  Vinyl is probably the most fascinating on that level.  Among it’s subjects are a man who’s goal is to own every song ever recorded, a guy who threw his records in a dumpster instead of selling them because he wasn’t comfortable with someone else selling them, and a guy who spends 10-15 minutes clearing paths through his vinyl so he can go to the bathroom and go to bed.


Harvey Pekar is in the first two films and is his humorous cynical self.  Discussing record collecting in Vinyl he says “After awhile it wasn’t about the music, I just wanted to own everything by this guy or that guy whether I ever intended to listen to it or not.”  At which point I warily eyed the Intolerable Cruelty DVD on my shelf.  Zweig voices a similar concern saying the fact that he owns 20 records of Jewish music he’ll never listen to makes him very nervous.  Later on he asks Pekar “Did you attain a greater clarity after you stopped collecting records?” Pekar deadpans “No, I started collecting books.”

Zweig has no problem asking his subjects difficult, perhaps loaded, questions.  Such as “Do you ever think that you’re a sad guy who hates himself and that’s why you fell you have to have all these records?” or “Are you comfortable dismissing 90% of your fellow human beings as stupid sheep?” In both cases the reply is “Yeah, I think so.”  Perhaps he doesn’t have trouble asking such penetrating questions because they apply to himself as well.  Indeed, watching Zweig’s development throughout the three films is the most satisfying aspect of the mirror trilogy.  By the end he seems to have come to terms with the things he doesn’t like about himself, if he hasn’t ridded himself of them.

I felt a deep connection to the films, as I can relate to all these problems albiet on a smaller scale.  I’ve felt an irrational need to collect things I certainly didn’t need (CDs, comic books, books, movies, etc.), I have the potential to be cynical about the world and about other people, and I’ve never had a truly fulfilling romantic relationship.  As far as the first two go, well, it’s never gotten to the point where it’s overwhelmed my life, and regarding the latter, I’m only 23.  Perhaps they’re problems everyone has dealt with to some extent while struggling to find meaning in a Godless world.  In fact, that seems to be what Zweig sets out to do over the course of these three films and it seems they have brought him at least some measure of peace.



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[…] to find love, perhaps all rooted in self-loathing.  Films that are very of their time.  I wrote this piece and could write much […]

Pingback by 20 Best Films I Saw in 2009 « tongue-tied lightning

Is there any chance you can tell me where you saw his second two films, namely I, Curmudgeon and Lovable? Thanks…

Comment by David

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