We arrived late and tired on Thursday, skipping our planned first film (Where Are We Headed), instead opting for beer and food at Broadway Brewing, then apples and sausage and coffee at Cafe Berlin the next morning.

Lilas and Shery lead a metal band in Beirut. Formerly a couple, they still rock out together but Lilas (not out to her family) is with a new girl visiting from Syria. Movie looks good, sensitively made. The director says she didn’t set out to make a “rock doc,” but after the band infighting and breakup and makeup and the one gig with sad attendance at a Glastonbury side stage, that’s what she made. Includes footage of the port explosion, which was the focus of another T/F movie (Octopus). Opening band Living Hour played us some mostly-light slowcore.

Opens with Lydia’s kidnapping pervert child abuse story – I appreciate that childhood trauma lasts a couple minutes then we’re straight into NYC punk. But we spend maybe ten minutes on her music career, then follow her around just goofing off. I love how loose it is. I cringed when Richard Kern came up, but he seems kinda normal now. Weird how this movie explains the cycles of sexual abuse better than any scripted film ever has – and unlike those movies, this one’s got Jim Foetus, Donita Sparks, and a cartoon of Lydia pissing in a stairwell.

Speaking of Dance: Meredith Monk (1996 Douglas Rosenberg)

An absolute monologue, MM’s head against black, talking about her personal history and what she’s aiming for in her work. For those of us who don’t know her work and watched this program to find out, it’s boring – but the clips of her actual dance and vocal performance work are neat, aand much more exciting than the couple of CDs I’ve heard.

Meredith invents dabbing:


Max Richter’s Sleep (2019 Natalie Johns)

Los Angeles performance of an all-night composition during which the audience is allowed/encouraged to sleep. Neither composer nor audience speaks very well about what this is or what it means, the filmmaker going for artsy widescreen shots for whatever purpose, making the Meredith Monk doc less pretty but more informative. I slept through the middle section myself, which only seems appropriate. The audience applause after a ten hour performance feels well-earned, and the last 15 minutes is music as underscore while everyone raves about how much they love Max. Apparently the shots with heavy film grain were from previous Sleeps and provided by Richter’s collaborator Yulia Mahr.

The director, in Mubi:

What happens when we begin to dream all together? When we are vulnerable, together? Even as a documentarian of real life, I’d never actually filmed anyone falling asleep in front of the lens before. So one of the biggest challenges of the film would be to make it without disrupting its sleeping audience, who are, in Mahr and Richter’s words, “an extension of the work.”

The Flea of this movie is Jonathan Richman, who attended many VU shows and analyzed their vibrations. A terrifically assembled doc – instead of making me want to listen to the Velvet Underground at all, it made me feel like watching experimental film.

Edgar overusing “funny” stock footage, and it’s all people telling the band’s story chronologically with the music in background. Standard rock doc format, but I knew very little of their background and smiled through the whole thing – wonderful to see their visual history, all the promo stuff and album cover art outtakes.

The only good bit of analysis comes from Flea: “Something that’s always kind of confounded me in popular music is people’s inability to take humor seriously.” Ron says punk felt like an attack on what they were doing. They invented electro dance pop, and entered their current phase with 2002’s Lil Beethoven. The canceled Tati movie is covered, and the Tim Burton, but not the Guy Maddin Bergman – not even a Forbidden Room clip.

Hate-watched this Nightingales documentary on the plane, even though the Sparks doc was right there. Turns out this was made by a popular TV comedian named Stewart Lee, and half the movie (barely) covers the pre-Nightingales band The Prefects, then Nightingales mk I, then the hiatus and singer Robert Lloyd’s solo stuff, then Nightingales mk II. The other half is “hey everyone, it’s me, Stewart Lee, and I’m making this movie, look at me, making a movie.” He also laughs onscreen at his subjects’ quips even more than Scorsese did in Pretend It’s a City. Lee sits in a pub and gets Lloyd to tell a minor incident from his past career, then they repetitively, informally discuss the incident, then cut to someone else who was there at the time saying “oy, that’s not how I remember it,” repeat that formula ten times. Maybe five minutes of good music in the whole movie. Nightingales shared a member with The Fall, were heavily krautrock-inspired, went through a mid-80’s country phase – the band still seems worth checking out, too bad about the movie.

L-R: Pikachu, Lee, Lloyd:

“How do you want to be remembered? The film will leave a record of you.” Lloyd says his songs, which, yeah, are probably gonna outlast the doc. Unconfirmed whether Lee is wearing a GBV shirt in one scene, but I did spot a Waxahatchee poster. It’s perfect that Lee spends the whole movie comparing Lloyd to a King Kong statue that used to stand in the square, then when they track down the statue for an emotional finale, there’s rain on the camera lens. They cover Lloyd’s food writing gig, the fact that he makes more money from horse betting than from the band, and stage a table read of his mid-90’s failed TV pilot – I finally had to skip ahead during this part. When the closing credits hit I was writing down names of people who I’m mad at (turns out both directors have worked with Chris Morris), but the final scene under the credits was nice – a lipsynched music video, the only good scene.

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.

Superbly assembled from the original footage, news stories and present-day interviews. Some songs are allowed to stand on their own, some are used as montage fodder, or backdrops for related stories. Mainly I appreciate a music doc that never lets the music stop playing.

Stevie Wonder gets drum and piano solos. David Ruffin has a very high voice and long legs on “My Girl.” Nina Simone and Sly Stone in top form. I wasn’t expecting the gospel section to be so strong – Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson walked off with the movie.

Abby Sun in Filmmaker:

Politically, the films’ interviews and archival footage holds no bars. The Reverend Jesse Jackson’s sermons are woven throughout … The film is explicitly pro-Black Panthers, pro-Young Lords, pro-interracial and transnational solidarity movements. It is conscious, as its organizers were, of the complex mapping of the formation of Black identity — in style and hair, musical expression and commercial ownership, political position, Afro-Caribbean modalities — and against mainstream media narratives, while putting forward a multi-sensorial view of a festival space, integrating attendees’ memories of the smell and taste of being present.

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: