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A mockumentary starring Jerry Stiller as Morty Fineman, a independent filmmaker who once had a long running streak of success in making Exploitation Movies (427 of 'em, in fact), but has since fallen on hard times. The film focuses on Fineman's attempts to make a comeback by seeking out the rights to make a biography of a notorious serial killer. This is actually a pretense to seek funding to complete another movie, Mrs. Kavorkian. Things don't go over so well when the serial killer insists that his biography be told as a musical.
The Independent parodies real-life directors of mostly gimmicky and schlocky films, like Roger Corman and William Castle, and a variety of different Exploitation Film genres, and a very specific parody of both Billy Jack and Heavens Gate.
Janeane Garofalo appears as Morty's long-suffering manager/daughter. Jerry's real-life son, Ben Stiller, briefly appears in a fake clip from one of Morty's movies. Real life independent filmmakers like Ted Demme, Peter Bogdanovich, Fred Williamson, Nick Cassavetes and even Roger Corman (a subject of parody in the film's main character) appear as themselves. B-movie actress Julie Strain, and comedians Andy Dick and Brian Posehn also have appearances in the film.
It's often been screened on Comedy Central, but is otherwise little seen. In addition to parodying the independent film scene, it's also an independent film itself, and a somewhat low budgeted one at that, although it doesn't show it. Clips from Morty's big budget flop, for example, look remarkably well done.
The Independent provides examples of the following tropes:
- Blaxploitation: Morty makes one, called The Foxy Chocolate Robot.
- Chess with Death: One of Morty's earliest films is an army training film about VD, done in the style of The Seventh Seal. This very event happens in the movie.
- Downer Ending: Morty's big budget, Billy Jack-esque flop has this: It's a historical epic which ends with the main character finding himself in modern day New York City for some reason, and, horrified by the modern architecture replacing what he saw as a noble land, commits suicide. It's not explained how the character got to a modern time period within the context of the clip, and considering how little competence Morty often displays as a filmmaker, and his pretense of it being an artistic statement with a lot of meaning, it probably wouldn't have been explained too well if this were an actual film.
- Exploitation Film: The genre of film Morty most often makes.
- Faux Symbolism: Often exhibited in Morty's movies.
- The Musical: Morty seeks the life story rights for a film about a serial killer who wants his life to be told as a musical.
- Numbered Sequels: Morty makes a movie awkwardly titled World War III II. He also claims to have invented the Roman numerals sequel thing, and that the producers of The Godfather Part III and Friday the 13 th Part VII stole this idea from him.
- Refuge in Audacity: A lot of Morty's movies.
- Shoo the Dog: Parodied in a scene from Morty's movie Whale of a Cop. The in-universe story goes that the movie was scripted as a Free Willy rip-off, but the producers wanted the whale to be changed to a cop, so we see a scene from the movie where a kid has to let the title character (played by Ben Stiller) go "to be with the other cops". The cop is acting like a whale for much of the scene, then stands up and begins exhibiting human behavior...up until the point where he spits water like Flipper.
- Small Name, Big Ego: Morty.
- Suicide as Comedy: Within universe, the suicide of a character in one of Morty's films is played for dramatic effect. In the context of The Independent, however, the pretentiousness of the scene and the overtly dramatic presentation of the suicide is played for laughs.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Heil, Titler!
- War Is Hell: Brothers Divided, about the conflict between two brothers, a right-wing conservative and a left-wing hippie, who are conjoined twins, and drafted into Vietnam. After the hippie brother is shot in battle, the former conservative begins protesting against the war when he gets home...with his dead brother's corpse still attached to him.
- What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Morty's psychedelic '60s hippie flicks.