Living in Oblivion (1995) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Living in Oblivion takes place over the course of a single day, primarily on a single set, where a film crew is shooting a single scene of a low budget movie.

The director's problems are endless. He has to balance off a clash of various egotistical, incompetent, and insecure actors. The cinematographer wears a beret and an eye patch, and questions the artistic integrity of every shot. The script girl is in love with a big-name star who agrees to a small cameo part. The smoke machine produces either no smoke or too much. The light bulbs break, alarm watches go off during scenes. 


Catherine Keener shows her breasts while lying in bed in an apres-sex scene, and then again when she walks to the shower and turns around briefly before closing the curtain.

In the words of Yul Brynner, "etcetera, etcetera, etcetera".

I guess "etcetera" was the "yadda" of the 50s.

Mr. Director (Steve Buscemi) even has to worry about offended minorities. "Why do dreams in crappy movies always have to include a dwarf?", asks the dwarf-for-hire in a blue prom tux. "Is that to show it's weird? Is that supposed to show that it must be a dream, because there's a dwarf in it? That's just dumb. Did you ever have a dream about a dwarf?  .... Did you?  ... Did you?  ... Even I never had a dream about a dwarf, and I am one."

The guy had a point.

To top it all off, the director's dotty mom has chosen to show up on the set to complain that he doesn't spend enough time with her.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1.  Good transfer.

  • full-length commentary

  • interviews with the director and actor Steve Buscemi

  • one deleted scene

You probably never heard of this movie unless you are a serious film buff, but it is a pretty damned funny film. It's kind of an insider movie, but you don't really need insider knowledge to get the jokes. The script walks you through everything clearly and concisely, and writer/director Tom DiCillo seems to be presenting a movie which is a collection of the best anecdotes he knows.

It works pretty well as a picaresque series of comedic vignettes, but you should avoid it if you like a film with a tight narrative structure and/or clearly defined dramatic movement. The story uses a lot of narrative gimmicks. For example, very little of the action we see is actually happening. About 75% of it turns out to be the "worst case fear" scenarios of several people, especially the lead actress and the director.  Furthermore, the remaining 25% of the plot,  which is real (I guess), doesn't really advance anywhere.

But it is fun to watch, and the writer/director seems to know what he's talking about.


Living in Oblivion (1995) is a small film. As a matter of fact, it started out to be a 30 minute short, but the cast and crew were having so much fun, that they wanted to expand it. At the same time, writer/director Tom DiCillo realized that there was no possible market for a 30 minute film. Festival short subjects are more like 10 minutes, and he realized he had to expand it to feature length. Most of his financing was from the cast and crew, which was composed mostly of old friends and relatives.

The film came about when he ran into a former film school acquaintance, who said, "You are so lucky. You actually got to make a film." His answer talked about how much can go wrong that is completely beyond your control even trying to shoot a simple scene, and that gave him the basic idea. Steve Buscemi, as the director, had already directed a short by the time they started on this, and was able to draw from that experience. He was trying to get financing to make Trees Lounge at the time.

The DVD includes commentary, and an interview done at a film school. While not everyone will enjoy this insider film about making indie films, it is flawlessly done. They did an amazing job of setting the scenes such that you needed no special knowledge or experience to get the humor.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. James Berardinelli 3.5/4. He picked it in this Top 10 for that year. I didn't see any other reviews as enthusiastic as his, but awarded 4/5, and the reviews at RT are considered 100% positive.

  • The film won the screenplay award at Sundance.

The People Vote ...

  • It grossed about a million dollars in arthouse distribution


The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "This film is at least a C+. Good comedy about filmmaking. Possibly could be a B-. Not sure about crossover and general audience appeal".  Tuna says, "If your favorite film is Die Hard, you might find the subject too narrow, and those who need plot and pace may not care for it, but critics loved it, and those who voted at IMDB give it a respectable 7.4. This is a C+, and very close to a B-."

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