This was the first film I watched in 2020 and thus the first I watched this decade. There's something beautiful about that for the sole reason that this film is so genuinely inspiring as a piece of filmmaking. As we move into the era of streaming theoretical opportunities for making low budget, DIY projects are increasing. Yet despite this the humungous amount of choice available as well as the dominance of a new generation of streaming companies makes the practicality of making your own film, and actually getting an audience, smaller. Local Legends, therefore, represents a wonderfully personal, funny and sometimes sad film that was a genuine pleasure to watch. For anybody that fancies themselves as a would be low budget filmmaker Matt Farley's auteur driven project acts as both a manifesto for how to make art, and make it pay off-just a little, and as an argument for a new kind of homegrown cinema that challenges, albeit only a little, in Hollywood's status.
Clocking in at just under 80 minutes Local Legends concerns the semi-autobiographical exploits of Matt Farley (Farley) as he goes about his life in Manchester, New Hampshire. Farley's day job is working at an old people's home 'wiping their arses' as he narrates to us, yet he does this so he can write songs, sometimes twenty or so a day, to earn money off and funnel some of that money into making films with friends and family, primarily for friends and family. Alongside what is essentially a long advert for Farley's music and films, including repeated use of his own phone number, we see Matt play basketball, chat and meet friends, play music, go for walks, pontificate on the nature of Billy Joel fandom and perform stand up.
Farley has gained notoriety as the songwriter behind over 20,000 songs, almost all of them available on streaming sites. The idea behind Farley's efforts, explained in the film, are that whilst a few novelty songs about excrement and animals may gain him a few dollars each year, twenty thousand such songs will gain him thousands of dollars. Farley's efforts have paid off. In the latest financial report at the end of 2019 Farley made just shy of 60,000 dollars via his songs. Farley has also gained fans for his films, many of them monster movies, that he has made with the same rotating cast of friends, family and the occasional professional. These films, including Don't Let The Riverbeast Get You, Slingshot Cops and Freaky Farley, are usually written, produced and star Farley with direction by his longtime friend and close collaborator Charles Roxburgh. They are immensely funny.
In this film however Farley takes a slightly more serious approach. Farley directs alongside all his other usual roles, (Roxburgh appears in a humorous telephone call scene), and presents the audience with a manifesto for his work, a reflection on art and its relationship to commerce and a history of his life and how he came to do what he does. Despite his novelty songs Farley explores his and his friend Tom's (Tom Scalzo) band, Moe's Haven, and their numerous albums which, in his own words, combine the musical stylings of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Pink Floyd. Yet the band toils in obscurity and Farley realises he can make money off the novelty songs.
Farley is not ashamed of this. The conflict between art and money is presented in a number of symbolic sequences where Farley, the artist and ordinary hero of the story, meets the businessman, also played by Farley with his hair slicked back and an eighties yuppie jacket. In an interview with Justin Decloux on the Important Cinema Club podcast Farley explained that he preferred the businessman character because at least he was honest about wanting to make money. The film makes clear Farley's desire to be recognised. Fans who call him on his number are genuinely thanked. He sends people free DVDs and CDs and writes a song about three fans who call him. One phone call, received whilst he's on a basketball court pretending to be another NBA star with his friend, reveals the caller saw his film at three in the morning on public access television. It doesn't matter to Farley. He's just glad the guy enjoyed it. The fan can't believe this is Farley's real number. "I'm shameless," Farley replies.
The difficulties of producing art that nobody wants to see is summed up by the major plot point of the film, Farley appearing in his friend Milhouse G's comedy showcase which is continually downgraded in terms of venue. In another Farley laments to Tom that all they wanted to do in life was entertain but they could never find anyone who wants to be entertained. These moments are sad but Farley does not see his work as a waste of time. Indeed, he always carries a CD or DVD to leave round random locations whilst out on one of his long walks, another autobiographical element of his life that Farley explains.
The camera moves in a functional and minimalist manner. Shot in black and white Farley mentions Woody Allen, including Stardust Memories, as influences whilst much of the film recalls a mumblecore aesthetic. The deadpan approach of Farley and Roxburgh's other films is here presented in a truly sincere fashion. Farley isn't posing. His whole life is up here, with full honesty about his desire to make money and how his life is more interesting than almost anyone else he knows. Occasionally the realism is interrupted by the businessman sequences and a hilarious about turn at the end of the film where reality and fantasy meet. Sometimes moments of Farley's life seem brutally disappointing. He sneaks CDs into a record store and is misunderstood by family who give him poor advice or do not take him seriously. Yet the sincerity always shines through. Farley has crafted a unique way of living. If the film is his manifesto then it speaks to the heart, but also the head in terms of earning money.
Even with the realism Farley allows himself moments of wonderful deadpan comedy. Regular Farley and Roxburgh star Kevin McGee appears as a wise father like figure with recommendations about delivering soup to a lady with a migraine. The soup is made by Farley's basketball friend-Soup, so-named because of his love of making soup.
In a strange, roundabout way I was reminded of John Cassavetes, in particular his 1976 film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. In that the club owner protagonist who gets into trouble with the mob desperately tries to add artistic elements to the striptease acts that appear on his stage but nobody is interested. Farley similarly creates genuine art in both his music and films, yet is unfairly ignored or dismissed. He has created something truly unique and it is a crime more people have not seen this and his other films.
The difficulties of creation and the ability to keep going have been explored in a number of mainstream indie productions, usually in places like New York. Good films though they are nothing can match Local Legends for the sincerity of its subject matter and auteur creator. The film is both a manifesto for Farley's life and work as well as an inspiration. Why not make your own film? It will cost you, one scene reveals Farley hasn't been to a party since 1998, yet you will produce something that is really your own. If you do it with friends and family all the better. In his podcasts and interviews, as well as this very film, Farley talks about getting Hollywood to come to us. You don't need to be a native of New England to enjoy this film. Indeed, I come from old England, but the specificity of Farley's world is open to all, he'll explain it for you anyway. Farley's film pushes the boundaries of filmmaking. Many people talk but few people do. Farley has proven you can create your own films, create your own music and even become a local legend yourself, a whole universe available to you via your friends, family and community.
Who knows what the future of cinema will bring but I truly believe, in all sincerity, that Matt Farley has created something beautiful, the most personal of visions and put it out for the world to see. If cinema is about pushing deep into the souls or essences of characters, seeking out some truth, or simply making art for art's sake, Farley has achieved all three. This will broaden your horizons of film, give you access to an eccentric but wonderful world and make you laugh all in one. Regardless of whether it's your cup of tea or not you owe it to yourself to give it a go. Well done Mr Farley.