Set on the Isle of Man, where a former TV star returns after many unsuccessful years in Hollywood because a murder suspect is obsessed with his character. Not as funny as even the opening credits of Alan Partridge, but it’ll do. The Boosh’s Julian Barratt plays the washed-up Mindhorn, Alan PaSteve Coogan as his hated ex-costar who became hugely successful by sticking with the show and not fucking off to Hollywood, Richard McCabe (of a couple Greenaway pictures) as his terrible PR guy, Babadook star Essie Davis as his ex, and Simon Farnaby (who played the Howard Moon imposter in Mighty Boosh) as her new husband. Cowriters Farnaby (acting with a Scandinavian accent) and Barrett are lots of fun, as is lead cop David Schofield. I don’t think anything is learned at the end, but the killers (the town mayor, and corrupt cop Andrea Riseborough) are stopped, at least.

What came first, the movie or the Robyn Hitchcock song? Searches reveals a guitar magazine article claiming the song is a nod to the film, but also an interview with cowriter Farnaby claiming he got the movie title from the song. IMDB says Mindhorn is an old Boosh reference, and other sites claim Barratt and Hitchcock are friends, so maybe it’s a mutual influence thing.

“If things could talkā€¦”

Our hero Lily Rabe, doing something quirky:
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Mona (Lily Rabe, a little Drew Barrymorish) is on the run from her mom, dealing with mysterious strangers and memories of her deceased father who used to play a Calvinball version of tic tac toe with her on the beach. A boy finds her wallet, uses her cash to take piano lessons from teacher Kevin Corrigan (Jerry Rubin in Steal This Movie). Five animated commentators (including the voice of David Cross) play a game involving the plot and props of the movie.

D. London on guitar:
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Mona likes elevator operator Daniel London (the guy who isn’t Bonny Bill Oldham in Old Joy) but they have a falling-out when Jane Lynch (of A Mighty Wind, possibly my favorite performer here) spills beer on Mona. The cartoon characters intervene, causing the woman who hired Mona (to sort through and retype mysterious papers) to have a seizure in order to reunite Mona with the elevator man and reconcile her with her mother. Possibly.

Cartoon gramma torture:
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A quirky indie drama, not realistic in the slightest, but the animation and the digital tomfoolery let us know that’s intentional. Playful and childish and full of cameos (John Sayles is Mona’s landlord, Eugene Mirman is the night elevator man, Jon Benjamin is a cop, and Jon Glaser is an open-mic performer named Toooot). The first voice we hear is Robyn Hitchcock, appropriately as a train conductor.

Jane Lynch (Role Models, Smiley Face) poses next to Hubley artwork:
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Hubley’s first feature, very good as far as Sundancey indies go.
Yo La Tengo provides a chill soundtrack (and connections to half the guest stars).

Watercolor self-images by Jeff Scher, whose short films I’ve been enjoying:
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Movie took some adjusting. Firstly I’d heard this was a marvelous best-of-year movie, so when I saw the shaky-cam cinematography I thought “seriously?”. Then I’d been selling it to Katy as romantic comedy, and it turned out very dramatic, not so funny or romantic. But once I straightened out that I was watching a shaky-cam unromantic drama I’d say it was a very good one of those.

Kim (Anne Brokeback Hathaway) gets a weekend leave from rehab for the wedding of sister Rachel (Rosemarie Dewitt) and beau Sidney (Tunde Adebimpe). While out, she raises all sorts of hell with her sister, mother (Debra Winger of early-80’s prestige pics) and father (Bill “Mr. Noodle” Irwin). Comes out that Kim killed their little brother in a drug-binge car accident, and now that she’s sober for the first time in a decade, they can talk to her about it. Wedding goes off, party is much fun, Kim returns to rehab.

Acting (especially by Hathaway and Irwin) is very good, and Kim’s character is strong – one of those deep writer/director/actor character-study things like Happy-Go-Lucky, I’d suppose. The family thing is strong overall, but groom Tunde Adebimpe, having just blown me away at a TV On The Radio concert a week earlier, didn’t do hardly anything in this movie. He came to life during what is probably the longest dishwasher-stacking scene in cinema history, but otherwise he was background, and his family existed as a friendly mass of people, not as a bunch of distinguishable individuals. Not a single scrap of racial-relations dialogue. Critics are chalking that up to unrealistic liberalism on Demme’s part, but apparently it’s because the groom was gonna be a white actor so there was no race in the script, heh.

Written by the granddaughter of the good witch in The Wiz. First fiction feature I’ve seen from Demme in 15 years (Philadelphia), wow. Robyn Hitchcock got a song and a half, including some close-up shots, nice, and Tunde sang Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” acapella at the ceremony, also nice.

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?