What can one say about a movie that is nothing more
than 90 minutes of a guy trying to start an old VW bus? That’s what Ryan Steven
Green’sCircle the Wagens seems
to be, as we follow a couple of good-hearted fellows in their attempt to bring
a “baby blue ‘72” across the country to California. The vehicle, a rusted Volkswagen Transporter
Deluxe won on eBay, is affectionately known as “The Croc.”It breaks down. It starts up. It breaks down.
It starts up. Somebody paints it. It breaks down. And that’s the story.
The movie is supposed to amuse us with the camaraderie
of men linked by their love of VWs, but there’s really not enough here to hang
a story. It grows monotonous to hear someone groping for words to explain why
these vehicles inspire such devotion. No one really has a good reason, although
a few people correctly point out that all cars “look the same nowadays.” True, the old VWs stand out and have some
character, but what’s the point if yours won’t start?
Our happy go lucky protagonist, Dave Torstenson,
doesn’t help matters, labeling himself early on as someone who knows nothing
about cars. Great, just the guy we want
to spend 90 minutes with as he fumbles with his heap. We’re told constantly
about his adventurous spirit, and how he went to Iraq in 2006 to teach
elementary school, but while I’m sure he’s a nice guy, none of this makes one
care if he gets his piece of junk bus across the country. Green even stops the movie halfway through so
Torstenson can enter a steak eating contest at some hillbilly dive, as if
watching someone chew a steak is any more interesting than watching someone try
to start up an old rust bucket.
According to the movie’s website, Green “made his first documentary at the tender age
of 19. Its subject was the ‘blue flame,’ that is, lighting farts on fire. The
topics of subsequent films are equally symptomatic of an unfashionably happy
childhood: snails, moustaches, modern homesteaders, coffee, and now Volkswagens.”
Well, I haven’t seen his movies about farts or mustaches, but if Circle The Wagens is any indication,
I’ll avoid them. Circle the Wagens is almost saved by cinematographer Lawson Demming,
who shoots the roadside motels and the big sky scenery with élan. It’s not enough, though.
The movie has been well received on the festival circuit,
and given a surprisingly high rating on the IMDB, I imagine due to its DIY vibe.
(Green edited the thing on a computer inside the Croc, which earns him some
points from “do it yourselfers.”) Some viewers may be satisfied with the
colorful photography, the nostalgia for cheap roadside kitsch, and the
earthiness of the characters. Some may
find a metaphor here for an old America that is dying. Some may even be tickled to know about this
Volkswagen subculture. To me, watching this was like listening to someone who
doesn’t speak a language try to bluff his way through a conversation. The
rhythms may be there, and the right facial expressions, but there’s nothing
If you can’t wait for this one to hit the cable
channels devoted to cars and such, it will be available VOD on 7/29, and DVD
8/26. For more about the film, visit CircleTheWagen.com.