Junun (2015, P.T. Anderson)

Cool music documentary with emphasis on the music – no narration or explanation, only a few titles and stories. The best story isn’t even related to the album, but a guy who feeds birds from the roof of the fort where they’re recording, and whose family has done so for countless generations.

Shot with a camcorder and a drone. Shye Ben Tzur is a singer, composer and organizer, then there are bunches of great musicians playing great instruments, then there’s Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead sitting engrossed in his guitar/laptop world. Engineer Nigel Godrich comes out regularly to knock noisy pigeons off the sound baffles.

Baffled pigeon:

Drone’s-eye view of bird feeding:

Oddsac (2010, Danny Perez)

Psychedelic imagery with a paint-splatter wash of colors and great music by Animal Collective.

Does it turn into a horror movie at the end, or was it one all along?

Coincidentally the day after I watched this, Perez’s first narrative feature was announced (premiering at Sundance this January). Sign me up.

Romance between a cop and a singer. Pop star Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw of Belle) is following the pop-star routine prescribed by her manager/mother (Minnie Driver), her label, her producers and her mandated rapper boyfriend, then is saved from a suicide attempt by local hero cop Kaz (Nate Parker of Red Hook Summer), who’s got his own problems, what with political aspirations and people shooting at him, but nobody at work seems to mind when he and Noni disappear on a beach getaway where she rediscovers what she liked about singing (via Nina Simone songs).

Mostly it’s a decent-enough positive-message romance flick, but low-budget flicks with mostly black casts don’t play Nebraska often, so it seemed worth rooting for. Four stars from The Dissolve, too: “beneath the shiny surface of music-video imagery and true-loveisms lie some provocative ideas and deep truths about how people relate on a private level vs. a public one.” Writer/director also made Love & Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees. Probably nothing to this, but I just realized Minnie Driver’s character is named Macy Jean, and there are singers named Macy Gray and Jean Grae.

Fred (of early Bunuels – also good roles in major Renoir movies, but I suppose I’ll always think of him as the enraged looney from L’Age d’Or) is would-be rapist who steals pretty Pola’s key to surprise her at home – a foolish plan, since without the key she spends the night with Al instead. He’s Albert Prejean of The Crazy Ray, the French version of Threepenny Opera, S.S. Tenacity and something called The Buttock. Also in the mix: pickpocket Emile and criminal Louis (Edmond Greville, who’d later helm a Hands of Orlac remake).

Will the pretty girl with the cheek curls choose the thief, the lout, the rapist or the cheater? She is Pola Illery, who’d appear in an unknown 1930’s version of The Indian Tomb / The Tiger of Eschnapur as well as a poetic realist Pierre Chenal film from the same year as L’Atalante. Anyway, she ends up with Louis but only because Albert is arrested for a crime Emile committed. We would’ve preferred she end up with nobody, or at least leave town and find some better guys. Anyway it’s quite a pretty movie and more importantly for 1930, uses the title song expressively.

Luc Sante for Criterion:

In that era, the start of the worldwide financial crash, important movies tended to be set in fantasy realms of impossible wealth. Clair’s Paris was, in a way, no less fantastic—every street and square, every tenement, garret, dancehall, and café was designed by the great Lazare Meerson and built in the studio. But its characters, who live on the border between ill-paid labor and petty crime, were both instantly recognizable the world around and imbued with romance by the magic of Paris. In the decade that followed, that setting and those kinds of characters were to constitute the fundament of the French cinematic style called “poetic realism,” a principal architect of which was Marcel Carné, an assistant director on Under the Roofs of Paris.

His Royal Slyness (1920, Hal Roach)

Katy went flipping through the endless scroll of Criterion movies on Hulu, settling on this. Of course we didn’t know it was a short, so 20 minutes later we started Under the Roofs of Paris. This one’s a Harold Lloyd short, where Lloyd and the King of Whatever trade places then he ends up joining the revolution against the monarchy. There’s a princess, and I dunno it was lightly amusing and now I don’t remember it all that well.

Oops, you all forgot to tell me that this is one of the best rock & roll movies ever made. I guess Rosenbaum put it on a couple lists, but the rest of you let me down. Thrilling to see this in theaters, even 17 years late, to see why people at my high school used to mention Ricki Lake so much (she’s very lovable here), to see Divine in a double role right after watching Polyester, to hear all the classic songs and see goofball appearances by new-wave heroes (Deborah Harry as the villain, Ric Ocasek as a cartoonish beatnik painter) and witness the movie’s idealized version of desegregation in Baltimore the same week there were actually riots there.

Ian Mackaye: “It turns out, as I found out later on, people in Louisville are just fucking crazy”

Feat. Steve Albini, David Yow, Matt Sweeney, Corey “Touch & Go” Rusk, Jon and Jason of Rodan, David Grubbs, James Murphy.

So many of my music heroes in one place. This made me rethink my resolve to watch fewer rock docs. Mostly they’re the same old thing, but when they’re good, when they can recontextualize the music, illustrate it in new ways, or give amazing backstory where you see rehearsal footage of Spiderland coming together, listen to Tweez engineer Albini discuss how Spiderland’s straightforward production by Brian Paulson became his ideal, and you think how that’s the style Albini’s mostly known for these days, and the same week you watch the doc the new Shellac album Dude Incredible comes out and you’re listening to it (on vinyl of course) and thinking does it sound this way because of Spiderland? Does everything sound the way it does because of Spiderland? And you go on a drive and play June of 44’s Sharks & Sailors and think it sounds like a sequel to Spiderland, and maybe everything is a sequel to Spiderland. When The For Carnation toured on their self-titled album and were mostly ignored by the ignorant, talky crowd, I guess that was the low point of the post-Slint wave, but with the doc and reunion shows, it seems like it’s coming around again.

I knew I’d seen interviewee Brett Eugene Ralph’s name before – he wrote The Whole of the Law, which Catherine Irwin covers.

Britt (drummer) and Brian are the stars of the show (sorry Pajo, love ya). It’s claimed that Britt does half the vocals on Spiderland, but Brian does Good Morning Captain and Washer, so which parts are we talking about?

Many things are claimed. The Lizard/Albini/Britt house-sitting Mouthbreather story is hilariously repeated. Britt won’t comment on the legendary “anal breathing tapes” and whether they make an appearance on Tweez, but Bangs seems to have one of the tapes.

An expanded Louisville Family Tree is needed. Ned Oldham was in Britt & Brian’s first band Languid & Flaccid. Then Brian formed Maurice (which opened for Glenn Danzig’s Samhain on tour) and Britt drummed for Squirrel Bait (that’s him on the cover art, right?). Pajo joined Maurice (“it’s like Slint but fast”) and recruited his best friend Ethan into Slint when Maurice broke up. Songs were titled for band members’ parents and pets and the band’s first show was during service at a church. That’s Will Oldham in a crash helmet in the Tweez cover car’s driver’s seat.

Todd Brashear joined from hardcore band Solution Unknown after Ethan quit over Albini’s oddball production of Tweez. Britt and Brian went off to Northwestern. In Spring 1989 Albini recorded the Glenn/Rhoda EP, calling the band last-minute with some extra studio time, went unreleased until 1994. Slint played Dreamerz with Matt Sweeney’s high school band. Producer Brian Paulson was picked after Brian watched him recording Bastro’s Sing The Troubled Beast. Spiderland was extensively worked out over a summer between semesters, I think, and Brian quit immediately after the recording. All four members backed Oldham on the early Palace recordings, and Slint reunited for practices in ’92 and ’94 but nothing came of them. Most surprisingly (besides the fact that the band members were about 20 when Slint broke up) it’s claimed that Britt “has everything to do with” the way The Breeders’ Pod and Safari EP sound. He showed up everywhere, including on Sally Timms records, and has a new group called Watter.

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’ve generally avoided band documentaries, firstly because there are too damned many, but secondly because they all start to feel similar (Meeting People Is Easy, part 93). This Bobby Bare Jr. doc was playing as Bobby Bare Jr.’s opening act, and the director was in the room, so that felt special. The movie gives plenty of time to his songs, lets some play all the way through which is nice, but after a while it seemed weird, watching this standard-def version of BBJr projected on a sheet, sitting on a folding chair hearing the songs on tape, an hour before seeing the real BBJr play the same songs sounding 100 times better. Also, damn, BBJr’s family life is a mess, and I didn’t realize before the show/movie that his new album would be a breakup record, so the movie opens with BBJr heading out on tour as his new baby is born, then ends with him returning from a second tour and seeing his baby again, but relationship troubles are afoot, and finally we’ve got the song “My Baby Took My Baby Away”, and there’s Bobby up singing it in our face, making us think about his baby, whom he can’t see on this Atlanta tour date or even back home anymore. Kind of an uncharacteristically melancholy night for a Bobby Bare Jr. show. “Rock & Roll Halloween” was fun, though.

“Do you know Mexico?”
“… Sure.”
“Go there.”

Ridiculous comedy about soviet musicians who head to America to find their fortune. The movie’s deadpan consistency won me over. By the time the “deceased” band member they’ve been carrying frozen atop their car thaws out and joins them mid-song (a development I saw coming an hour earlier but still enjoyed watching), I was happy that there are sequels to look forward to.

Bunch of guys who look like TV’s Frank and wear pointy clown shoes to match their haircuts go on a road trip through America (from NYC to Mexico), playing small clubs along the way. They’re all pretty indistinguishable except for their tyrannical manager, the long-lost cousin they pick up somewhere in Texas, and the idiot Igor who followed them from home attempting to help. A.K. lets the songs play out, making it a sort of concert film.

Kaurismaki was in synch with Jarmusch, shooting in all the same locations as his earlier Down By Law the same year Jim was filming the similarly rockabilly-referencing Mystery Train. He appears as a car dealer in this one. The Idiot is Kari Väänänen (Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business) – he and band manager Matti Pellonpää have been in a bunch of Kaurismaki’s movies.

Igor at a Memphis barber shop:

Thru the Wire (1987)

Criterion/Hulu also had some of A.K.’s short films. This is a noirish clip – Nicky Tesco (cousin/vocalist from the feature) escapes from prison, seeks his woman while being chased by cops.

Rocky VI (1986)

Giant Russian Igor completely destroys wispy American Rocky (and some officials) in the ring. The music track is dark, with layered vocal samples – and yodeling, at one point.

A semi-documentary that eventually focuses on scraps of stories: Paolo, who jumps into the river every year during carnival, and a couple of young lovers (actually cousins). Other pieces of the movie include the filming of the movie itself, camera turned upon its own crew, Gomes tryin to explain why he’s not making the film he was supposed to make, and a series of concerts, letting awful pop songs half play out before abruptly cutting away.

I’m so in favor of the semi-doc, fiction/doc blend, experimental narrative, etc, but couldn’t get into this one, not nearly as much as Tabu. It’s kinda beloved though, and won a prize in Vienna.

M. Peranson:

Organically constructed and impressively humble, Our Beloved Month of August shows the fantastic, mythic elements present in everyday life, and the mundane realities present in filmmaking, presenting the two as links in a neverending chain of dominoes.