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:


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:


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:


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)

– 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

Appearing on the blog in 2016 but watched last year – I’m about 15 posts behind. Writing this up alongside Actress, now I see why I didn’t appreciate the Robert Greene documentary more. It’s because I’d just watched this one: a semi-doc with an electrifying subject (Nick Cave), big music numbers and great camerawork.

Takes the concept of Lindsay Anderson’s Is That All There Is – a day in the life of an artist, but an obviously staged “day,” written and orchestrated to poetically illuminate the artist’s life more than a verite approach would’ve managed. Instead of letting Cave ramble on to an unseen interviewer, Cave revisits his career by conversing with ghostly visitors and examining his own relics at an archive.

Cave actually does speak to an interviewer at the beginning – his psychiatrist, which should clearly let viewers know (through the framing and TV monitor, if not only the intrusion of cameras in a psychiatric session) that this is not your usual fly-on-the-wall doc.

On the floor with Warren Ellis, singing Animal X:

Squid ink fettucini and severed hand at Warren’s place:

Nick and Warren trade Nina Simone stories. He speaks with Blixa and Kylie and Ray Winstone in his car. Records the song Push the Sky Away. In the studio rehearsing Higgs Boson Blues. Stagger Lee at a small club then Jubilee Street at the Sydney Opera House. Eating pizza with his sons. It’s a retrospective using the songs of his great latest album.

A. Muredda for Cinema Scope:

Forsyth and Pollard do well to emulate the lyrical vein in their subject’s sensibility that more prosaic filmmakers would have remanded to portentious shots of keyboards clacking, which is here sensibly kept to a minimum. In their use of Cave’s slick black car as a neutral, roaming headspace where thoughts about the job percolate in voiceover as Cave flits between the satellite points of his life (home, studio, countryside), the filmmakers’ work takes some odd but ultimately fitting cues from Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. As in that film, Kylie Minogue appears as a backseat passenger and a spectral trace from the hero’s past … [Cave] seems to give his best as a performer when he’s called upon to make utterly false situations that aspire to reality (like concerts, or documentaries) feel intimate and true.

Beautiful Frenzy (2004), a 50-min doc on The Ex, which I put on while writing, hoping it’d be more full songs and concert footage than subtitled interviews in Dutch, but no such luck.

Jesus Lizard Sho(r)t (1996), ten minutes of not-great promo video followed by twenty-five of the good concert footage I’d desired from The Ex movie.

A little-known fact: Pixar reissued four of their recent films to theaters last month. Katy and I rewatched Up, which I’m ready to declare a masterpiece, and Wall-E (at which we were the only two people). I’d been looking forward to seeing that one again, and surely it’s wonderful, but its story and characters suffer in comparison to Up.

Movies watched on Rifftrax lately:

Island of Dr. Moreau: Crazypants, bonkers (“pants-crapping insane”) version of Island of Lost Souls. I was surprised that Brando dies so early, followed by Kilmer than Fairuza Balk. Our hero-by-default David Thewlis gets away.

Batman & Robin: It struck me just how expensive this movie looks. There’s a bit of CG fakery but it’s mostly money on the screen. Not that this excuses Schwartzenegger’s dialogue or Silverstone’s acting.

Jaws: Haven’t seen it since I was a kid, and maybe it’s the Rifftrax talking here, but I don’t think I like this movie one bit. Well, maybe ONE bit – the scene where Dreyfuss pretends to be tough by crushing his plastic cup.

Daredevil: fully deserving of the riff-treatment, a real stinking pile of unintentional humor. Things I can’t believe: that Colin Farrell played the villain, that this movie got a spin-off, and that the director was allowed to make another superhero movie (Ghost Rider).

Battlefield Earth: Barry Pepper can’t be to blame for this. Even though the movie is obviously horrible, he throws enough physical energy into his lead performance to somewhat transcend the muck. I haven’t seen Travolta in anything since, and hope I never do.

More Rifftrax: Terminator 3, Terminator 4, Jurassic Park (with Weird Al), X-Men and Transformers.

Rented Steve Coogan: Live ‘n Lewd (1994), which wasn’t the least bit funny.

Steve Coogan: The Man Who Thinks He’s It (1998) had the same characters, so I skipped a lot, but stopped for the Alan Partridge segment and all the bits with Simon Pegg.

Pegg with Julia Davies:

Rewatching The Wire with Katy. In the middle of season three now, where we’ve been stuck for a couple months.

Also checked out a good video essay by E. Lavik on the show’s style: strict chronological order without flashbacks, unobtrusive camerawork, no non-diegetic music or narration, with documentary-influenced camera moves (the camera shouldn’t know things that we don’t, like moving to the next speaker before they begin speaking). He spends time on subtle camera technique (lines, frames within frames, mirror shots and 180-degree rule: the usual stuff of visual analysis) and puts together a compelling argument that the show’s style is more interesting than it’s given credit for.

Also rewatched The Thick of It first season over a couple of days, to remember the characters before I see the next one.

And we finished Arrested Development season 2. I can hardly believe how good it is. I’m gonna have to watch the series over and over like Jeremy does.