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:

The Torquays was a successful five-piece band of U.S. soldiers who’d stayed in Germany after their war service, playing nightly shows when two serious German art-school dudes approached them and convinced them to rebrand as The Monks and play a pared-down but forceful new kind of rock music. We spend much time with the band members, leaving no anecdote untold and culminating in a one-off NYC reunion show with celebrities like Jon Spencer in the crowd. Still one of the greatest albums ever made… this two-hour movie has only about 15 minutes of illuminating stories, but it’s nice to spend so much time in a world where the Monks mattered.

“If you do keep drinking, you will die.” Opens with Martin in the hospital, then hangs out as he curates a Chills exhibit from the lifelong collection of mementos and toys in his home, and narrates his own chronological Chills history through his clipping and media archives. A pattern is set: his band makes a record, tours, breaks up, he starts a new band. As always with these things, it assumes the audience cares most about the glory days, not the recent past, so we skip Silver Bullets and go straight into the recording of Snow Bound. Some insight into major label finance: Warner Bros says he owes them $425,000. Very average rock doc, assumes the viewer already believes Martin to be a tormented genius, and doesn’t bother trying to convince newcomers. Some nice vintage concert video, at least.

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

Katy suggested watching some Criterion Channel, and had never seen True Stories, one of my all-time favorite celebrations of special-ness. She liked it! Hard to believe that things like this could get released theatrically by Warner Bros. Looks like it was released around the same time as Under the Cherry Moon, Howard the Duck, The Mission, Deadly Friend and Little Shop of Horrors – an overall weird year for a major studio. Despite its studio backing it was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards, but beaten for cinematography by that $138 million-grossing indie film Platoon, and for best first feature by Spike Lee (fair enough).

IMDB reports that two of the “Hey Now” kids went on to be voice actors, one in Disney movies and video games, the other on tons of dubbed anime including Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Summer Wars.

and in memory of D.A. Pennebaker…

Baby (1954)

One of those 1950’s shorts where people were just discovering that you can take the camera outdoors and make short docs with jazzy editing. Brakhage’s Desistfilm and The Way To Shadow Garden (admittedly both shot indoors) came out the same year. This one stars D.A.’s young daughter wandering through a zoo.

Shake! Otis at Monterey (1967/87)

A Monterey Pop bonus performance film – D.A. and Maysles and Leacock and others filming the hell out of a short, fiery performance by Otis Redding. This was Redding’s big break in June 1967, and he was dead in December. Superb concert footage of a tight 20-minute set, each song with its own visual look/flow, so an appropriate closer to a night begun with a David Byrne movie.

Archer season 6 (2015)

Reboot season, back in their spy agency doing spy stuff. Dealing with Archer and Lana’s baby (and their getting back together towards the end), the return of Barry and Katya and Christian Slater, lotta betrayals and fuckups – the usual. As always I tried to watch an episode a week, then one a day, then six all at once. Enjoyed the attempts to bring back retired catchphrases – this show has the best writing. Cheers to Jared and Mike and Ron and the others.


Review season 2 (2015)

Forrest loses his new girlfriend after blackmailing her, experiences a glory hole, loses his next girlfriend trying to join the mile high club, burns down his dad’s house pretending to be a little person, loses his next girlfriend to a dangerous cult that he started, gets the perfect body, gets shot by his dad “doing a William Tell,” gets lost on a rowboat and buried alive, kills a guy, gets in a violent prison pillow fight, watches his imaginary friend get murdered, continues to get in trouble with his ex-wife, and finally “believes in a conspiracy” that his producer Grant (James Urbaniak) is trying to destroy his life, and rushes him off a bridge to both of their presumed deaths, but we’ll see in season 3. I enjoyed it more than season 1, this time knowing from the start that Forrest is massively deluded about the importance of his show and will sabotage himself and everyone he supposedly cares about for the sake of a review.


Bob’s Burgers season 2 (2012)

Home sick and unable to do much of anything, this made me forget all troubles for a while. Bob is involved in two hostage situations, buys a food truck and gets addicted to video gaming. The kids get lost in an abandoned taffy factory, avoid schoolwork and sabotage Bob’s guest segment on a local talk show. Too many big guests to list, but Megan Mullally stood out as both Linda’s sister and a knockoff Tori Amos.

Looking up the directors on IMDB I discovered a Mike Judge show called The Goode Family, which sounds intriguing, and makes me wonder why I’ve apparently never looked up Mike Judge on IMDB… oh no, he cowrote the new Johnny Knoxville movie.


Dream Corp LLC season 1 (2016)

A dream therapist (Jon Gries, Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite) runs an extremely ramshackle operation, recruits his patient from the first episode (Nick Rutherford, a SNL and Axe Cop writer) to be another “doctor”. There’s a patient-of-the-week and various operational and interpersonal problems and low-rent sci-fi scenarios, with rotoscoped dream sequences, and it’s all pretty wonderful. Also featuring Stephanie Allynne (One Mississippi), Ahmed Bharoocha of Comedy Central show Dead Kevin, Mark Proksch of The Office U.S., and original Office writer Stephen Merchant as the robot. Guests included Mary Lynn Rajskub, June Squibb (Nebraska, About Schmidt), Dan Gill (Creative Control), and the voice of Liam Neeson as itself.


Who Is America? (2018)

“37 percent of lesbians dress like Charlie Chaplin. Why? We don’t know.” Sacha Baron Cohen has a new set of disguises, waves a beeping pervert detector at Roy Moore, makes murder jokes with OJ Simpson, and gets a GA state rep to resign. Essential television.


Mystery Science Theater 3000 season 11 (2017)

Good to have the show back. I watched while falling asleep over about 70 separate nights, so it’s all half-awake fragmented bits, and I was already thinking of rewatching but hey look, season 12 just came out. I don’t find the voices distinctive enough, and someone rightly pointed out that they’re overly chatty and could stand to cut a few jokes. Callbacks to jokes from the classic episodes, nice guest appearances and host segments, with at least one all-timer musical number (“every country has a monster”). Movie highlight was probably the two-part Wizards of the Lost Kingdom.


Apocalypse: a Bill Callahan tour film (2012, Hanly Banks)

Either this is one of the best concert docs I’ve ever seen, or I was just in an extremely Bill Callahan mood. Watched the night he performed at Hanukkah, then again the next day – an Apocalypse-era concert, each song (for the first half?) with a different visual treatment, and short interview or tour-life segments between songs.


Flight of the Conchords: Live in London (2018)

Another fine musical hour – coincidentally, Bill Callahan doc director Hanly Banks worked on the Conchords TV series. I’ve conveniently forgotten most of the songs from the show and albums, so they all seemed new to me.


Documentary Now season 1 (2015)

Such a weird niche idea, I can’t believe it’s allowed to exist. The writers/directors, including lead actors Armisen and Hader, mostly come from SNL.

A Grey Gardens knockoff devolves into found-footage horror. A 1980’s TV doc about the true story of a Nanook-like early doc uncovers some Forgotten Silver-like cinematic inventions. A Vice-like publication keeps sending clueless reporters to their deaths seeking a Mexican drug kingpin. A Thin Blue Line-like investigation into a botched murder trial includes fabulous slow-motion re-enactment footage. An Iceland town holds a quaint Al Capone festival (this was actually filmed in Iceland). Finally their masterpiece, in the vein of A Mighty Wind or the Josh Fenderman story, soft-rock legends The Blue Jean Committee.

Kunuk Uncovered:

The Eye Doesn’t Lie: