Handheld b/w, a low-budget shoot but always terrific-looking in sharp focus. Not Lester’s first feature – why do you never hear about It’s Trad, Dad or Mouse on the Moon? DP Gilbert Taylor shot Dr. Strangelove the same year, Repulsion the following.

It has more of a story than most concert movies but much less of a story than most non-concert movies. The premise is that the guys catch a train to the city, have to rehearse and then film a TV appearance, but they keep wanting to run off and play and insult people.

As Paul’s clean grandfather, Wilfrid Brambell, known for playing comic character Albert Steptoe. As the two guys responsible for getting the boys through their day, Norman Rossington (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and TV writer/actor John Junkin. Uptight sweater-wearing TV director Victor Spinetti would return in Help! the following year.

I passed up seeing The Scarlet Empress in 35mm for this, but it was probably worth it [later note after having finally watched The Scarlet Empress: nope].

Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, Maya Deren)
One of the great poetic movies of the 40’s. Love when she’s climbing the stairs, bouncing off the walls as the camera twists from side to side. Love the multiple Mayas sitting at a table in the same shot (technically impressive, too). Love the movement, the plot (avant-filmmakers take note: an actual plot), the look, that iconic shot of Maya at the window.

Fuses (1967, Carolee Schneemann)
Fairly rapidly-edited shots of director having sex with James Tenney, with other scratched and weathered colored filmstrips superimposed over it. The editing and content are exciting for about ten minutes, but the movie is twenty minutes long, and silent. Girl in front of me tried reading from the reflected light of Tenney’s alarmingly red-tinted penis on the classroom wall, then texted people for a while. I sat wondering why there were so many shots of her cat staring out the window. Maybe it was supposed to be boring, and that was the point. Worth watching on pristine 16mm, glad I saw it, just saying it felt long. Schneemann has few film credits, but they’re in collaboration with Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Stan Brakhage. The Brakhage influence can plainly be seen here, and the film process work makes for some wonderful images. This was apparently a reaction to the objectification of women in movies, with Window Water Baby Moving named as an example. The director: “I wanted to see if the experience of what I saw would have any correspondence to what I felt – the intimacy of the lovemaking… And I wanted to put into that materiality of film the energies of the body, so that the film itself dissolves and recombines and is transparent and dense – as one feels during lovemaking.” Won a special jury prize at Cannes.

Reassemblage (1982, Trinh T. Minh-ha)
Black with ambient sound. Then shots of a rural scene in Senegal with silence. More shots with narration. More shots with ambient sound. More narration. Eventually, more black. The sound is rarely commenting directly on the visuals, and even the ambient sound rarely seems to line up. Shots of bare-breasted African women, daily chores, kids (two albinos!), youth playing in the river, and so on, with comments about ethnography. The commentary might make sense written down, but as we heard it, all scattered and edited (the sound editing was pretty poor), it seemed to circle around some points without managing to make any. Got nothing against the film, was fine to hang out in Senegal for a while. L. Thielan: “By disjunctive editing and a probing narration this ‘documentary’ strikingly counterpoints the authoritative stance typical of the National Geographic approach.”

Reassemblage:
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First Comes Love (1991, Su Friedrich)
Pop music by the Beatles, James Brown, Willie Nelson and more, but someone please get this woman a cross-fader – it’s all so abruptly edited. The songs sometimes work really well with the images, though. Image is of four wedding ceremonies, astoundingly woven together into an ethnographic study of heterosexual marriage ceremony, interrupted by a text crawl of all the countries in which homosexual marriage is prohibited (every country but Denmark). Bell & Zryd: “This simple strategy, which contrasts the lush life of heterosexual ritual with the stark legal and constitutional realities of gay and lesbian relationships, reframes the anthropological text with political rigor.” Rigor isn’t something I look for in a movie, but avant-critics love to proclaim it. What rigor! Anyway, would like very much to see more of her work.

Girlpower (1992, Sadie Benning)
I hear the intro feedback of a Sonic Youth song and all is right in the world. Even though this movie (the shortest of the bunch, I expect) is a half-res crap-quality videotape, the music and narration are clear. About the narration – sounds like either a petulant girl or a woman in performance-art mode… an impressionistic video diary of disaffected youth, comfortable with herself but not with society. Aha, Benning was 30 at the time. Lotta shots of the television. Punk film, but with nicer sound editing than the Friedrich, weird. Short, enjoyed it. Ooh, she’s James Benning’s daughter.

Thanks to Andy, I finally had the chance to see one of the most talked-about avant-garde films of all time. While it’s important to talk about experimental film, it’s more important to actually see the damned things – and while anyone can order a copy of Visionary Film for $26.95, it’s nearly impossible to see Wavelength on any given day.

Unfortunately, it’s one of those times (see also The Leopard) when I check out one of the Great Important Works of Cinematic Art and come out less than impressed. I didn’t find the audiovisual experience very enlightening compared to the descriptions I’ve read of the film. Didn’t dislike it (though I came close to disliking the soundtrack) but not an overwhelming experience like Zorns Lemma, either. A few updates to those written descriptions: (1) It’s not a single, continuous zoom a la Last Days – the zoom moves sporadically and the camera slightly changes position from time to time. (2) There’s sound – a sinewave tone that starts low and ends high, with other quieter tones joining it at times and sync sound during the four action scenes. Those action scenes: Woman gets bookshelf delivered, two women listen to “Strawberry Fields Forever”, man dies, girl makes phone call expressing concern that there’s a dead man in her apartment. (3) There’s a twist ending – after zooming the full length of the apartment, the photograph on the wall is of waves in the sea. I get it, ha ha. After reading Sitney and Snow, I see why the movie is interesting, even exciting in theory, but the viewing experience just wasn’t there… wouldn’t want to see it again anytime soon.

P. Adams Sitney: “This is the story of the diminishing area of pure potentiality. The insight that space, and cinema by implication, is potential is an axiom of the structural film.”

Snow: “I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of planning for a time monument in which the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying to make a definitive statement of pure Film space and time, a balancing of ‘illusion’ and ‘fact,’ all about seeing. The space starts at the camera’s (spectator’s) eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind).”

Hollis Frampton: dead man:
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Actors included Joyce Wieland and Hollis Frampton (as the man who dies). Assisted by Ken Jacobs, and sound by Ted Wolff, who unsurprisingly didn’t do any other film sound after this. Snow screws with the camera a bunch: focus, filters, film stocks (supposedly – I hardly noticed), light settings, time of day and lighting inside, etc. My favorite part is one or two frames where the picture on the wall towards which we are slowly zooming is highlit by a sunburst of drawn lines (screenshot below). I’m glad I got to see it anyway, and glad Andy played this and not Warhol’s Empire or something.

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When I got home, watched WVLNT (2003) and Prelude (2000). The former was a shortened version of Wavelength “for those who don’t have the time” – he cut the movie into three equal parts and superimposed them. Except for the now-intolerable soundtrack, I liked this version much better! There’s much more to look at.

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Prelude was a cute intro bit from the same Toronto Film Festival that brought us The Heart of the World. It’s hard for me to tell exactly how cute since my copy is such low-quality (think it came from streaming realvideo on the TIFF site), but it seems to be a single camera take, clean picture on a clean set, with unsynched sound edited in all over the place – actors and film crew talking about films in general and the one they are presently inside. This and WVLNT travel a similar road as Snow’s SShtoorrty, with its color-coordinated set, single camera move and superimpositions.

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I.
Movie opens exactly how I would’ve opened a Tom Petty movie, with a concert performance of “You Wreck Me”. And this is a four-hour movie, a four-HOUR movie, so I thought we’d have some breathing room and could afford the four minutes to hear the whole song uncut, set the stage for your epic Tom Petty documentary by letting us hear a whole Tom Petty song, just so we know what exactly we’re celebrating here. But P.Bog goes the obvious talking-heads documentary route instead, cutting into the song so people like Eddie Vedder, Stevie Nicks, Dave Grohl and Johnny Depp can tell us that they love Tom Petty and his music so much. Damn, almost had something there. I guess P.Bog doesn’t want people tuning in and thinking it’s gonna be a straight-up concert, but still, I hope in the next four hours he finds time to play one song, just one song all the way through without voiceover. Can you celebrate a musician without actually playing any of his songs?

We may not get to hear a song uninterrupted, but we can enjoy watching Johnny Depp talk without any bothersome on-screen text saying “Johnny Depp”. But I didn’t recognize half the people who spoke, so if he doesn’t eventually start with the text, I’ll just never know.

But look at me complain. It’s an enjoyable show so far, talking ’bout Petty’s early obsession with rock music and his meeting Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench and early days in Mudcrutch. All songs I’ve heard before from the box set with nice home-movie footage to go with it.

II.
Tom drives to L.A. to find a record deal, gets a few of those, Mudcrutch breaks up because the studio wants Tom more than the rest of the band, and the Heartbreakers are quickly formed to replace it. Their record producer wrongly assumes that they mean the name Heartbreakers ironically. Tom is shot in arty black-and-white.

III.
First two Heartbreakers albums are out. There was all of one sentence about the second album being more difficult than the first before they cut to people raving about it. Some good live footage, some talk about drug use. And finally, one entire TV performance of a song with no cuts or voiceovers. Hoorah! A “required monthly test” on my tape cut out one talky segment. The band was initially popular in Britain before they caught on in the U.S.. Someone’s trying to convince us that Tom Petty was part of the Talking Heads/Sex Pistols rebel new-wave/punk movement, since the Heartbreakers’ roots-rock was out of fashion on the radio, replaced by bloated dinosaur rock and disco. I guess it’s a workable theory but I want to hear David Byrne’s opinion first.

IV.
Third album was a big deal. Jimmy Iovine shows up and tells us that third albums are always big deals. Petty found out he was being dicked around by his record company and he sued them… big unprecendented event, led to settlement giving Tom more control and royalties from his music and the eventual release of “Damn The Torpedoes,” feat Refugee, Even The Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. Movie plays nearly the whole album over the story.

V.
Some pressure for the fourth album, “Hard Promises”, another great one, feat. Insider and A Woman In Love. Very nice segment on The Waiting that starts with Petty singing it acoustic, cuts into music video / studio version, then after an interview piece closes out the song with Eddie Vedder on vocals during a live performance. We lost a bass player (no hard feelings), gained a new one (Howie Epstein), won another fight with the record company (over album pricing), dealt with Stevie Nicks, and played the great Stop Dragging My Heart Around. First time diving into Tom’s angry youth, his abusive father (plenty of hard feelings) and sweet mother who died during the recording of this album after long illness. Iovine presents his theory: missing mother + abusive father = rock star. Towards the end of 1982 I drove back to work blasting Insider with the windows open. Man, it’s only 1982… how long can P.Bog keep this up? Did he ever watch the whole thing at once?

VI.
Next album “Long After Dark” (the one with “You Got Lucky”) isn’t as good as it might’ve been. Producer Jimmy Iovine is blamed for his involvement. Next album “Southern Accents” (feat. Eurythmics-penned “Don’t Come Around Here No More”) isn’t as good as it might’ve been. Producer Jimmy Iovine is blamed for his lack of involvement. We get a full pretty-recent concert performance of the song “Southern Accents”, and a brief description of the drug-fueled two year period around the Accents album leading to Tom’s smashing his left hand into a wall. P.Bog uses an innovative cutting style during this segment, and intimate camera work reminiscent of his film “Texasville”. Haaaa I’m just kidding, it’s the same ol’ interview stuff. I turned it off after a black screen announcing the end of part one. I hope part two is on my videotape!

VII.
The album: “Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough)” feat. Bob-Dylan-co-penned “Jammin’ Me”. Here in part two, Petty’s rock cred and history firmly established, we take an immediate P.Bog-style veer towards talking about all Tom’s Famous Friends. Tom and his group back up Dylan (who hadn’t played with a band since The Band), hang out with ex-Beatles and Jeff Lynne and Otis Redding and finally form the Traveling Wilburys, marking the point when Tom went from rebel-rocker to a guy whose records my mom would buy. I haven’t seen The Last Waltz but mentions of The Band got me wondering if this is P.Bog’s answer to that movie, a big rock statement blending his two main talents of reminiscing about the old days and namechecking famous friends. Oh but I shouldn’t be mean to P.Bog, don’t really know much about him.

VIII.
Wilburys record comes out and is a huge hit, then Roy Orbison dies so that doesn’t go any further. Tom alienates the band by making a solo-ish record in “Full Moon Fever,” but it’s the biggest hit of his career and the Heartbreakers play the songs live and they don’t seem so bitter anymore.

IX.
Tom continues to alienate the band, this time with the help of Jeff Lynne, “Into The Great Wide Open” producer who likes to record the band members one at a time instead of all together like they are used to doing. New drummer joins during “Wildflower” sessions and is asked to stay permanently when old drummer finally quits. They hang out with Roger McGuinn, Johnny Depp, Dave Grohl, Faye Dunaway. “Greatest Hits” sells ten million copies after Tom is finished grumbling about it. The band gets a little happier. I’m starting to be thankful that the movie is so long. It’s been nine lunch hours so far I’ve gotten to hang out and listen to Tom Petty stories, and I always feel like playing some Petty albums when I get back to work.

X.
I didn’t think I’d end up criticizing a four-hour doc for its omissions, but when it acts like it’s telling the whole story, those omissions seem serious enough to mention. Firstly, they didn’t mention the Petty/Heartbreakers soundtrack to She’s The One. I can see not wanting to spend a lot of time on it, but they could at least mention it in passing… it’s a great album. More importantly, Tom’s cameo as the mayor of Bridge City in the post-apocalyptic epic The Postman went unmentioned. “I heard of you, man… YOU’RE famous.” On the bright side, the band is back together. On the less bright side, nobody seems totally happy with “Echo”, least of all Tom, who was going through a divorce at the time of recording. Back up with a new wife and a hall of fame induction for “The Last DJ”, currently the Heartbreakers’ most recent album and a very good one. And then back down again as bassist Howie Epstein dies from drugs and is replaced in the band by original bassist Ron Blair. Oh, and the band backed up Johnny Cash on “American Recordings”, something else to be proud of.

XI.
Oh augh, the summary chapter. Would that the VCR chewed up my tape sometime between last time and this one. Tom is proud of “Highway Companion” but has nothing new to say about it. There’s some more concert and video footage, but mostly this is where we throw all the clips of people saying nice things about each other to leave us feeling good about ourselves and Tom and rock ‘n roll. Might work better if you’ve been spacing on the movie for four hours and gone through a couple six packs, but as a standalone episode it’s tedious. So I’ll keep my last words to a minimum: good flick, good tunes.

Wow, can’t believe I almost skipped this. A great movie, worth it just for the songs and the underwater photography. “Come Together”, “Because”, “I Want You”, “Happiness is a Warm Gun” and especially “Strawberry Fields Forever” were visual treats. The choreography is good without being dancey, and the look of the film (for the first half, anyway) is realistic, no digital nonsense flying about.

Jim “Ewan McGregor” Sturgess is Jude, Joe “The Ruins” Anderson is his new buddy Max when he comes to America, and Evan “Rachel” Wood is Lucy, Max’s sister/Jude’s love interest. They room with a Joplinesque singer, a Hendrixish guitarist and the cutest lesbian ever and meet up later with James Urbaniak, Bono and Eddie Izzard.

Fewer big wide-shot dance scenes than uncomfortably close-up solo singing numbers. Pretty straightforward love story that uses the 60’s and the Beatles without aping their career path (the two lovers get together during the rooftop concert rather than breaking up there). Better paced than Taymor’s last two films, entertaining and interesting throughout. Quite an achievement, especially considering what a bad idea a Beatles musical sounds like.

Shot by the cinematographer of the last two Jeunet pictures and the next Harry Potter, and with the art/production people from “Far From Heaven”.

Katy loved it, and would’ve loved it even more if she knew the songs.