I was in Tom Waits Mode for six weeks, re-listening to all his albums in chronological order – a real revelation. I posted writeups of each album on the slack at work, in a thread that nobody read, and figured I’d collect them all here – but they’re not really fun to re-read all together, just me searching for synonyms to express how cool everything sounds. So, not turning the movie blog into a music blog after all, instead here are the mid-career and late-career docs I watched.


Big Time (1988, Chris Blum)

A live album and concert movie, the set including one sincere song from Heartattack & Vine, one reinvented song from Blue Valentine, two new originals, and the bulk of the Swordfish/Rain/Frank’s trilogy. Tom likes to completely rework the songs in concert, resulting in some great versions – the looser version of “Underground” especially destroys the album track. Most importantly though, the movie isn’t just a concert recording, it’s got skits and visuals and stagings that reveal this whole “Tom Waits” musical career as a performance-art piece.


Tales from a Cracked Jukebox (2017, James Maycock)

Interviews with Lucinda Williams, Bones Howe, a Bad Seed, Terry Gilliam… the movie claims to be searching for the Real Tom Waits, which I’m not especially into, but fortunately it doesn’t get very far in its quest. I did learn that his dad’s name was Frank, which is somewhat illuminating re: the above-mentioned trilogy. Heavy use of Big Time in the visuals, of course… so here are some more screenshots from Big Time.

Devil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport (1966, Alan Lomax)

Either these performances were filmed outside of the actual Newport Folk Festival, or the Blues tent at Newport was just a house, capacity roughly 30. A couple songs each by Son House, Skip James, a couple other new-to-me names. The revelation here was Howlin’ Wolf (below, cash in hand) with added sax and drums.


The High Lonesome Sound (1963, John Cohen)

Oh no, a narrator.
Oh no, Southern Baptists.

In a few Kentucky locations. No sync sound, and more exteriors and context than the blues doc. This (to its detriment) is more of a movie, the other one is more a document of a happening.

Banjoist Roscoe Holcomb:


Ratty (2020, John Angus Stewart)

The making of King Gizzard’s Rats’ Nest. VHS aesthetic with poor sound recording, but I know the album well enough that it’s still thrilling to be here.


I’ve watched a ton of fake online concerts, including:

Mountain Goats:

Parquet Courts:

TV roundup for the second half-ish of 2020


On Cinema at the Cinema seasons 1-? (201?)

On Labor Day, since I’d already seen Bisbee ’17 I watched season one of On Cinema on the Adult Swim roku app while repainting the furniture… then I drank some, and watched seasons two and three? Or maybe also season four… or just season two, I don’t know how to figure this out.


Search Party season 3 (2020)

Dory and the gang become absurd anti-celebrities during their murder trial. We know she is found guilty because of the flash-forward intro of the first episode, but this turns out to be a good fakeout – after being declared innocent, she’s kidnapped by a maniac. Not my favorite season – I’ve never loved court dramas, and the final episode is too Seinfeld, but I’m still here for whatever’s next.

Newbies: Dory’s rookie lawyer is Shalita Grant of the series You, and Drew’s lawyer is Louie Anderson. The all-business prosecutor is Groundling Michaela Watkins, lately of Brigsby Bear and Sword of Trust. Wallace Shawn is a shady businessman who gets Chantal arrested by the FBI.


Russian Doll season 1 (2019)

“This is like The Game. I’m Michael Douglas!” Writing this up is a lotta pressure because since finishing this I’ve watched time-loop movies Tenet and I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Bill & Ted Face the Music, and it seems like there are a lotta details in this four-hour existential comedy that I’ve forgotten. Natasha Lyonne keeps dying then waking up back at her birthday party hosted by Greta Lee (Inside Amy Schumer) with “Gotta Get Up” playing, and tries to discover why this is happening, then runs into fellow time-looper Alan (Charlie Barnett of TV’s You). I think it’s possible that everything gets fixed at the end, but maybe not since a second season is rumored.

The slimy-Cagney-lookin guy she goes home with is Yul Vazquez… her psychiatrist is Elizabeth Ashley of Treme… her drug dealer is Waris Ahluwalia (The Life Aquatic)… Tinfoil Kevin is a regular at the bodega run by Ritesh Rajan (Mowgli’s dad in the latest Jungle Book), and her mom in flashback is Chloe Sevigny. Co-created by Amy Poehler, directors include Leslye Headland (Terriers) and Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader).


The Tick season “two” (2019)

“Destiny is on the phone. It’s a party line and we’re all invited!”

Such good writing – even if I saw some of the season-long story endings coming, each episode is full of pleasures. Dot discovers she has powers, can see the near future, and their father-in-law Walter has been an agent under deep cover. Tick’s new nemesis/partner is a bank-robbing lobster. Aegis Commander Ty Rathbone, who has a black-hole heart, recruits Arthur and Tick and Lint to the Flag Five, which is sabotaged by Dr. John Hodgman. Superion spends a few episodes depressed on the moon deciding whether to spin the earth backwards to reverse time. Lint’s sidekick is a computers/weapons whiz named Edgelord.

Writers include original Tick comics creator Ben Edlund, two Detective Pikachu writers, two writers of teen comedy On My Block, and Kit Boss (King of the Hill). Directors include a DP of Dexter and True Blood, a Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Black-ish director with over a hundred other credits, the script supervisor of Mallrats and Dogma, the editor of Roger & Me, and an AD on Buffalo Soldiers. Flexon is on the new Snowpiercer series, the Aegis paperwork twins are in The Assistant.


Documentary Now! season 2 (2016)

The Bunker is a War Room parody, Hader doing a southern accent.

Juan Likes Rice and Chicken is a celebrity-chef doc about a difficult little restaurant that makes a basic dish but with impossibly high standards.

Location Is Everything is a Spalding Gray parody! Lennon Parham (personal advisor to Veep) plays his girl Ramona, who is onstage refuting all his stories.

Globesman is of course Salesman, which I’ve still never seen, but I doubt the original involves a rival atlas salesman who stalks and torments our protagonists.

Final Transmission is a really specific Stop Making Sense parody with Armisen as Byrne, Hader as Tina, Maya Rudolph and Jon Wurster, I am in heaven. Why did they stick a Tom Waits parody into this?

“As a bald kid with a dead dad, movies became my refuge.” Double episode Mr. Runner Up is doing The Kid Stays in the Picture, which I didn’t realize, about an awards-obsessed movie producer who’s only constitutionally able to create schlock, mostly starring his unfunny Italian comic friend Enzo.


Primal season 1 (2019-2020)

Gruesome and lovely. Caveman and Dinosaur each saw their families eaten by predators, but found each other as friends and protectors. Perfect show, with one heck of a finale – introduction of a woman with metal implements and a spoken language, collapsing even more of history together. I think of Genndy as the Dexter’s Lab/Powerpuff guy, but everyone involved in this also worked on Samurai Jack, which I probably should not have skipped.


Barry season 2 (2019)

Maybe less fun than season one, but deeper, as Barry tries to control his rages and stop killing people, and leads the acting class in experimenting with telling personal truths. In the end, of course, he falls into a massive rage and kills many people, Fuches turns on him tragically and repeatedly, and the people who cop out on personal truth and tell lies are rewarded for it.

Noho Hank’s Chechen bestie Cristobal (Michael Irby of True Detective s2) forms an unstable alliance with Ester, head of a Burmese crime family (a deadpan Patricia Fa’asua). Sally’s abusive ex Sam (Joe Massingill of Die Hard 5) returns to stalk her. Gene tries to reconcile with his estranged son Leo (Andrew Leeds of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist), and is told that Barry killed his girlfriend Janice. Janice’s ex-partner Loach (John Pirruccello, a Twin Peaks s3 deputy) tracks down Barry and gets Fuches to wear a wire. And most wonderfully, the Loach plot ends in the one time Barry and Fuches work together all season, when Loach “hires” Barry to kill the guy sleeping with Loach’s wife, a stoned Tae Kwon Do master (stunt/action regular Daniel Bernhardt) with a feral daughter.


Also sampled quite a few shows:

Star Trek Lower Decks seems bad
Central Park seems good, going to see if Katy wants to watch it (we still haven’t returned to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend)
Black Jesus is good but I dunno if it’s got a whole season in the tank.
Infinity Train looks imaginative, but for kids, not for me.
Los Espookys seems up my alley, would watch more.


And of course I watched a pile of concerts and livestreams and other things, including Nick Cave’s Idiot Prayer, which probably would’ve gone to theaters, had there been theaters.

Waco Brothers:

Robyn & Emma:

Cave:

Pigface:

A fun concert movie of a Byrne show, starring the man himself in fine vocal form, a full barefoot band, and two excited theater kids. Unfortunately it’s impossible to watch this without comparing with Stop Making Sense, the best concert film ever made, especially when they keep performing the same songs, giving me flashbacks to those performances, the staging, the lighting from 35 years earlier. Byrne even does his signature dance moves during “Once in a Lifetime,” which doesn’t work great for me, despite being a crowd pleaser… in fact, I realized during “Burning Down the House” that it’s mirroring SMS‘s decision to not show the audience except in occasional scraps. I made note of some fave songs… “I Zimbra” is very fun, the first song with the entire band, and I need to revisit “Everybody’s Coming to My House” and “Toe Jam.”

Byrne with his understudy and Mary Jo Pehl:

Leading the barefoot band:

The Devil and Daniel Johnston (2005, Jeff Feuerzeig)

RIP Daniel. This was jaw-dropping, I had no idea.

“He spent some time in Bellevue, a day or two, was released through a clerical error, and actually opened for Firehose at CBGB that night.” It all sounds perfectly unbelievable, “print the legend,” larger-than-life biography, but Daniel is real and wonderful, so you follow along from his humble beginnings as the stories get wilder. I kept pausing the movie to tell Katy stories until she asked if I was Forgotten Silvering her. Then Daniel wrestles control of his dad’s plane, cuts the engine and throws the keys out the window, and you’ve entered new ground for a rock doc.


Industrial Accident: The Story of Wax Trax! Records (2018, Julia Nash)

Katy overheard me watching this, said it seems like there’s a lot of talk and not much music, and she’s not wrong. Wax Trax! was started by a gay couple in the 1970’s, and this is very much their story, with the colorful rock & roll stories as decoration. In fact it could’ve used more WT! music – when the label starts taking off with some Ministry singles, we hear “To Hell With Poverty” instead of Ministry. Nice touch: we hear someone say “Nine Inch Nails was a terrible catalyst,” before showing the heretic speaking the words (it’s Reznor). The label was said to be popular in the bible belt (“It almost seemed the more conservative a small town you were in, the more you needed a Revolting Cocks record”), and in fact one of the label cofounders left it all behind and moved to Arkansas in the mid-90’s, right about when I was in Arkansas discovering all this music for the first time. The Amphetamine Reptile movie was 100x better, but this one is more emotional.


MC5: A True Testimonial (2002, David Thomas)

I watched this despite having listened to the group’s “Kick Out The Jams” album this summer and thinking it was just okay… and after watching, it turns out the MC5 is the greatest band in the history of rock & roll. One of the most unconventionally affectionate rock docs I’ve seen, with not a single celebrity testimonial, just the surviving band members and their friends and family, making the band seem smaller than they were, which lets the music (and there’s lots of it!) speak for itself.

MC5 faced down the police, constantly got arrested for obscenity, faced down the US fuckin’ Army, and formed the White Panther movement because they wished they could be as cool as the Black Panthers.

The internet says Wayne Kramer suppressed the movie for 15+ years, boooo.


Apocalypse: A Bill Callahan Tour Film (2012, Hanly Banks)

Between songs, some very short interviews, scraps of wisdom and insight. Grab all you can from the Apocalypse man. A few short years later in 2019, Bill is healthy and happy, wide open, chatty and content, touring on another consecutive masterpiece record. Back in 2012, this was more than we expected, and it was good, each song with its own visual scheme, as in the best concert films.


Also watched some live Malkmus/Jicks

Some reunion-era Ween

Yo La Tengo with Jad Fair

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

and Courtney Barnett

The Punk Singer (2013, Sini Anderson)

Anyone can cut a kickass opening title montage to Rebel Girl and interview a bunch of participants about Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrl movement, so I was curious whether this was going to get any better than your standard talking-heads rock-doc. Fortunately I had no idea that Kathleen Hanna dated and married the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horowitz, her polar opposite in terms of lyrical message, and the stories about their relationship before and after the diagnosis that has mostly kept her from touring, warmed my heart.

Kim Gordon in a van:


Girl Walk: All Day (2011, Jacob Krupnick)

Just a feature-length dance choreography to an entire Girl Talk album, that’s all. I watched this twice, because after the first time I had to show it to Katy.


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: High Grass Dogs (1999)

I put this on the night Petty died, for the first time since buying it. All of his concert releases are essential, and this one, despite its ugly SD appearance, is no exception.

Also rewatched Lemonade with a seriously unimpressed Mystery Mike, and rewatched Junun with a phone-distracted Katy. And the usual bunch of festival sets…

Only watched a couple of these lately, but I’d better write ’em up before they get lost and forgotten…


Baby Snakes (1979, Frank Zappa)

Definitely overlong and indulgent… don’t know why Zappa thought we needed to spend so much time backstage with his band goofing around and improvising with props for the camera – not exactly feature film material. And I detest audience participation at rock shows – it’s super fun for the two fans onstage, less so for the rest of us.

Gripes aside, the bulk of the movie is a terrific rock concert, and the highlight is the claymation work by brilliant, possibly crazed animator Bruce Bickford… complex cityscapes, crowd scenes, closeups, Frank and his bandmates and groupies, all constantly morphing into monsters.

Foreground: clay Frank at the clay film editing table
Background: Frank at the film editing table


Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015, Brett Morgen)

I don’t feel a morbid urge to read the diaries of dead rock stars or watch their home videos, but I heard this was good, an immersive montage edited according to emotion more than narrative, not a traditional rock doc. But whoever wrote that had a pretty strict definition of traditional narrative, because this is a straightforward, chronological doc, trying to get inside Kurt’s head at the different stages of his life and fame. There’s some Scanner Darkly rotoscoping of reenactment footage (a good compromise) and halfway-decent flash animation of his teenage drawings to illustrate his confessional audio tape collection. Interviews with Krist and Courtney and Kurt’s parents and ex, lots of good photos and concert footage, and a terrific mocking impression he does of Chris Cornell (edit: RIP, Chris). I hadn’t really listened to Nirvana since the late 90’s and mostly the movie gave me the urge to do that – discovered that the bonus discs of concert stuff on the album reissues are reeeeally good.


PJ Harvey in France on the Hope Six tour


Chumbawamba in 1996

I’ve already given up on the ratings system I established in the previous entry. Just can’t start giving number ratings to movies on the blog. I have another, less specific idea, that I’ll unveil soon.


The Color of Noise (2015, Eric Robel)

Been listening to Boss Hog and Melvins lately, so here I am checking out another record label doc right after hating the K Records one. This is two hours on Amphetamine Reptile Records and its founder Tom Hazelmyer, which sounded like it’d be punishing, so I planned to watch it in pieces. But it turned out to be everything I’ve been looking for in a rock doc, full of great music and stories, giving valuable info on AmRep bands I’ve never listened to (and making me wish used CD stores still existed so I could go on a shopping spree). And it’s great looking – slickly designed, with a ton of great visual material (oh, those posters!) from the defunct label’s history. Watched on streaming then immediately bought the blu-ray to check out extra features. This is the movie I’ll be recommending as the apex rock doc. Bonus: the director is from Nebraska.

The guy from God Bullies, I think:

Boss Hog:

Hazelmyer:


Sabbath In Paradise (1998, Claudia Heuermann)

I guess I’ve given rock docs a bad rap, because this was great also. Another John Zorn-and-gang doc, talking about their unique methods of making Jewish music. Got me thinking about how many of the musicians I love the most – Robbie Fulks, Ted Leo, Yo La Tengo, lately Zorn – are enthusiastic, omnivorous music fans themselves, curating specific music histories through their own performances (and references, collaborators, cover songs), but this thought feels like it requires a book-length exploration, so I’ll stop there.

This guy sits in a movie theater, reading from a holy book as if to narrate the action.


Shield Around The K (2000, Heather Rose Dominic)

Pretty amateur-looking… for a while I pretended that this was on purpose, intended to be charmingly lo-fi-looking to match the spirit of the music, but nah. Not as informative as I’d hoped either, spending the entire first hour discussing the origins and career of flagship band Beat Happening, which I’ve already covered in Our Band Could Be Your Life and the Crashing Through box set.

Halo Benders are seen but not mentioned. Dub Narcotic and the Disco Plate series: not mentioned. Cassette culture is covered, but there’s little about the twee-pop vs. riot-grrl mini-scenes. I look at a list of K artists and wonder who ARE these groups… and there are an interesting few that I’ve heard (The Make-Up, Microphones, Lync, that one Beck album) which seem to have little in common, so I was hoping for some kinda artistic overview of the roster, but maybe that’s not possible in 90 minutes. At least we got significant attention paid to the great Mecca Normal.

Mecca Normal:

Lois:

Musically decent, with some good concert footage and songs (usually music videos) played all the way through.

IMDB says the director played a crackhead in Schrader’s Light Sleeper.


Jammin’ the Blues (1944, Gjon Mili)

“This… is a jam session.”
Beautifully lit, with singer Marie Bryant.
Oscar-nominated, but a comedy short about talking animals took the prize.


JATP (1950, Gjon Mili)

This appears to be the movie called Improvisation on imdb. Lackadaisically spoken cast credits come five minutes in. Overall tinnier, compressed-sounding audio on my copy, and far less slickly produced than the 1944 short. On the other hand, this one I’d actually believe is a documentary of a jam session, simply recorded, gradually adding more players until Ella Fitzgerald caps it off. Not being a jazz follower I’m not getting the chills from seeing all these big names in person – Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Buddy Rich – just a pleasant 15 minutes of music.


Burn to Shine – Atlanta, GA – 7.29.2007

I remember reading in Stomp & Stammer that this was being filmed, and have been waiting the past decade to finally see it. A very nice time capsule of the Atlanta rock scene, from approx. the year I was paying the most attention, taping local bands and buying all their 7″ singles.

The Selmanaires:

Delia Gartrell:

Coathangers:


Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane – Santiago, Chile 2011

I love how sometimes, when Mike smiles, you can tell that he’s the devil.
Had to re-sync the audio a few times, but otherwise this show is the greatest.


Deerhunter at Coachella 2016


Tortoise at Primavera Sound 2016


Wolf Parade at Best Kept Secret Fest 2016


Animal Collective on KCRW 2016

In the early days of DVD I gobbled up documentaries on my favorite bands. But eventually every single band gets a documentary, and most are gonna be blandly depressing handheld tour docs, so I stopped watching them, but after the great Breadcrumb Trail I’ve got more hope for the genre. Rounded up some promising docs, but not willing to devote serious time to these, so the plan is to half-watch ’em on the laptop while working on the other computer – along with all the concert videos I download and never watch (because I only play audio shows at work).

Since the rock docs are usually composed of awful handheld footage and interviews, they need to be rated on different merits than regular movies. I’m looking for information and emotional connection to my favorite artists – and don’t forget to play that music that all the interviewees are raving about.


Luna: Tell Me Do You Miss Me (2006)

Learned:
– Dean is not a fan of touring.
– The band members have mild disagreements in the studio.
– They refer to the worst part of any tour as “the Omaha”
– Poignancy of this “final tour” breakup doc is diminished now that they’re back together.

Visually: 3 out of 10
Musically: 7 (lot of good concert footage, and more on the DVD extras)
Information: 3
Emotion: 3 (that’s probably true of their songs, too)
Mood: melancholy

I’ve recently seen Dean in Noah Baumbach movies. Britta voices a couple of stop-motion shows and sang in the 1980’s cartoon Jem. And of course Luna reunited last year. Director Matthew Buzzell has made bunches of short docs, many of them music-related, and a comedy feature with Chris Parnell. Editor Jacob Bricca cut Lost in La Mancha.


Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields (2010)

We see them arranging “In an Operetta” (2004 album) and recording “Distortion” (2008 album), so this took a while to make. Always nice to spent time in Merritt’s company – overall a good portrait.

Visual: 7
Music: 7
Information: 5
Emotion: 3

One producer/director, Kerthy Fix, released a doc on Le Tigre the same year, now works on detestable reality TV shows.


Revenge of the Mekons (2013)

“Every critic loves the mekons, but unfortunately [critics] get free records.”

As a Mekons-fan-come-lately (got into them around 2004’s “Punk Rock”) I had plenty to learn about the group, especially info on pre-2000’s band members, and what happened between the early singles and the move to America. But besides its educational value, this was kinda a great movie, full of so many brilliant photographs, and one of my favorite-ever scenes in a music doc: following the song “Afar & Forlorn” from inspiration to writing to rehearsal to recording to concert performance. A thing of beauty, that.

From any description the Mekons sound like one of the most important bands of our time – contrast this with their utter commercial failure, and the hilarious, self-deprecating remarks of Langford and company. Key quote by Jonathan Franzen: “If you feel like the inheritor of a very embattled critical stance while the rest of the world is going over to the dark side, they’re the band for you. And I say that not because they give you hope of ever winning the battle, but they teach you how to be gracious and amusing losers.”

Not sure if other band docs have post-credits stinger scenes, but I couldn’t cut off “Orpheus”, so made it to this one. “We seem to have lost all our clothes!”

Visual: 8
Music: 6
Information: 8
Emotion: 5

Director Joe Angio also made a Melvin Van Peebles doc. From NY Times: “He had originally planned to profile Yo La Tengo. He courted the band for around 18 months. ‘They never said no, but more importantly, they never said yes.'”


Put Blood in the Music (1989)

The first of many John Zorn programs I’ve found. Sonic Youth’s greenscreen “Addicted to Love” video seems to have inspired the look of this doc. Interviewees have been pasted over scraps of New York footage, turning what’s usually the most visually boring part of a rock doc into its most interesting.

It’s hard to cover John Zorn in a half hour, and the doc wastes precious time with an overlong montage about how New York’s diversity influences its genre-hopping music scene, so we get people talking about Zorn’s different fascinating projects without playing enough music from them. The second part (or third, if we’re counting the NYC montage) covers Sonic Youth, including a nice discussion with John Cale.

Director/editor Charles Atlas recently worked with Antony and the Johnsons, also made docs on artist William Kentridge and fashion designer Leigh Bowery, and worked on a series called Art in the Twenty-First Century. I think that’s him anyway… there’s also a band called Charles Atlas, who did a split single with Alan Sparhawk.

Visual: 9
Music: 4
Information: 5
Emotion: 1

Zorn in shades:

Ranaldo in shades:

Disembodied interviewee:


The Fantomas Melvins Big Band – Kentish Town Forum, London 1st May 2006

Official video (complete with wacky editing and effects) of a tremendous show… Melvins plus Mike Patton and his crew, a grand experiment in tension and release.


The Sadies at Pickathon 2014


Neko Case on Austin City Limits 2013


Parquet Courts at Glastonbury 2014


Perfume Genius at Glastonbury 2015


And most wonderfully, FFS at Glastonbury 2015