Storefront Hitchcock (1998, Jonathan Demme)

It’s a Jonathan Demme picture alright, and he’s got the crew to prove it. Demme works here with a camera operator from Silence of the Lambs, editor from Beloved, cinematographer from Cousin Bobby and Subway Stories, assistant director from Married to the Mob and Philadelphia, sound crew from Heart of Gold and Manchurian Candidate, producer from Stop Making Sense, and unfortunately, a studio (Orion Pictures) that didn’t even exist anymore at the time of the film’s release, hence its obscurity.

Robyn plays half of his most recent album Moss Elixir, some songs that won’t come out on albums for a few years, a cover song and scattered older tracks (but no “oldies”). Demme keeps the visuals interesting but never distracting, and that’s a hard line to follow. With a solo artist standing still and playing songs on acoustic guitar, it would seem tempting to make the film more “cinematic” by adding and adding and cutting and re-cutting, but the presentation is simple enough to do great service to the music, making you feel more like a concert-goer than a movie-watcher. Unlike in Stop Making Sense, with its very few audience shots, this film has no audience shots at all, at least none that we can see on the cropped “modified to fit your screen” image of the DVD, so there’s no “them” in the crowd, only “you”. We get a mirror ball, a colored gel backdrop, a few planted passers-by on the street, a line of text for Robyn’s father at the start of The Yip Song, a few moments of quick editing, and a nice four-camera split for the credits and the final song. Interestingly this movie semi-references Stop Making Sense, with Robyn shouting David Byrne’s name in the middle of “Freeze”.

I can’t remember if I’d discovered Robyn’s music before I first saw this movie, but the movie has surely made an impression. I’ve played it more than any other DVD I own, and possibly (if you include the soundtrack) I’ve played it more than I’ve listened to any other Robyn release all the way through. Was just pondering that this weekend when I put this disc on instead of a CD while painting – it’s really one of my all-time favorite films. It’s great in the same way as the Spalding Gray movies and Stop Making Sense… it’s an elegantly simple film of a great performance, a documentary of an event worth documenting. It’s not gonna be studied in film class or given a large chapter in a book on Jonathan Demme, since the performer is the auteur here, but hopefully at least it stays in print for other Robyn fans to enjoy.

Film Tracklist:
Devil’s Radio
1974
Filthy Bird
Let’s Go Thundering
I’m Only You
Glass Hotel
I Something You
The Yip Song
I Am Not Me
You and Oblivion
Airscape
Freeze
Alright, Yeah
No, I Don’t Remember Guildford

The soundtrack albums have a different running order and also include:
Statue With a Walkman *
I’m Only You *
Where Do You Go When You Die? * +
The Wind Cries Mary * +
Eerie Green Storm Lantern *
Beautiful Queen * +
* double LP
+ CD

But neither soundtrack includes “Devil’s Radio” or “I Am Not Me” from the 77-minute film. So it would be something like a 105-minute show if edited all together.

Robyn says: “I’m Only You,” “Freeze” and the “The Yip! Song” are descended from my days with the Egyptians, “Glass Hotel” is much as it was on Eye. “I Something You” appeared on a K-Record 7-inch. I’ve been playing Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” for years. “1974,” “I Don’t Remember Guildford,” “Let’s Go Thundering” and “Where Do You Go?” were written with the movie in mind.

Robyn again: “It’s worth pointing out, however, that a concert movie and a soundtrack record are radically different things. A film doesn’t have to bear the repeated scrutiny that the soundtrack does. An album has to survive a degree of repetition. So I’ve reduced the number and volume of introductions to the songs and they have been cued up on the CD as separate tracks, so you can skip them. It’s also worth mentioning that a song like “Airscape” worked better visually than sonically, so it didn’t make the CD. Conversely, “Beautiful Queen,” although a great performance, didn’t make it into the movie.

Edit: can’t believe I didn’t think to put this in the “musicals” category earlier. If this isn’t a musical, what is?

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