Failed folk musician goes decades without realizing his records became a bootleg sensation in South Africa, flies there for massive concerts then returns to his humble Detroit life. “It remains too strange to be true.” Archive footage, some of it just vintage mood stuff, bit of rotoscoping, some fun jump cuts. Repetition or rambling in the interviews is preferable to the dodgy dialogue editing we usually get in these things. This won an oscar (vs. three govt/military stories and an AIDS activism doc) and Rodriguez has now played a bunch of live shows, for which he hopefully got paid, since he’s getting nothing from the oscars or those album sales.
Tag: rock doc
Couldn’t You Wait (2013, Seth Pomeroy)
I finally got over my terror of watching this, thinking it would be too sad. Contains some of the stories I’ve long wanted to hear – Albini recording them at no cost, why/how they changed labels. Pomeroy does a great job editing the live and studio material together, and includes a feature-length “Live Worm” compilation of concert songs. I’m only halfway through the other extras – it’s a treasure trove. “If you cant get into Silkworm then God hates you and you’re an asshole.”
The Concert for Bangladesh (1972, Saul Swimmer)
Continuing my post-Get Back solo Beatle explorations (albums played so far: Ringo x1, John x2, Paul x3 and All Things Must Pass). My 2003 AVI file often looks better than the HD Peter Jackson movie, hmmm. George introduces Ravi Shanker, pleading with the crowd to follow along (it’s “a little more serious than our music”), then tears through some “All Things” hits. Billy Preston and Ringo and Leon Russell get vocal turns. “While My Guitar” and “Here Comes the Sun,” a four-song Bob Dylan feature, then a couple closing numbers. Happy to discover it’s another one of the great concert films.
George, Bob, Leon:
Ravi and company:
This Much I Know to Be True (2022, Andrew Dominik)
Dominik repeats his One More Time With Feeling feat of having each song be visually distinct, maybe more impressive here since he’s got a limited toolkit in a single location and keeps showing us the tools (lights, dolly tracks) yet somehow surprising us within the moment. Another difference is that I already loved “Skeleton Tree” before watching the previous movie, while this one revealed the beauty of “Ghosteen” and “Carnage.”
Some notes I took along the way:
Day 2 opens with them looking thru Beatles fan magazines
Michael L-H is kinda an ass
Cutting between 1966+69 on “Rock & Roll Music” at end of day 4 is great
Mal is round-headed guy who plays anvil on Maxwell’s
We know that it’s magic to spend time with the Beatles, but episode two presses its luck, showing us different views of a flowerpot while John and Paul argue near a hidden mic
Peter Sellers shows up after The Magic Christian sets arrive
Reminiscing on their India trip, discussing the footage, which we get to see
Michael and Glyn are credited with the roof idea
Jackson has overbaked everything since Frighteners
Soon before the concert, John simply sings the setlist, wow
During the concert the movie thinks we want to hear everything the teenaged chinstrap-chewing pigs say, but we’d like to hear the music please
Problems with the crowd interviews on the street: British people are boring, and clearly Beatlemania is over
Beatlemania is back on in our house, though.
Aspirational Post-Beatles Media To-Do List
– The Magic Christian (1969)
– Ringo: Beaucoups of Blues (1970)
– George: All Things Must Pass (1970)
– John/Yoko: Plastic Ono Band (1970) + Imagine (1971)
– Paul: McCartney (1970) + Linda/Ram (1971) + Wings/Wild Life (1971)
– The Concert for Bangladesh (1972)
– Concert for George (2003)
– Beatles Anthology (1995)
– Beatles Love (2006)
– Rock and Roll Circus (1968)
– How I Won the War (1967)
– The Last Waltz (1978)
– Jimi Plays Monterey (1967)
– George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2011)
After the Prince movie, I went back to Criterion for more music docs and gave Deep Blues (1992) a shot. Looking for blues guys playing music, but we got the guy from Eurythmics shopping for voodoo stuff in Memphis. Might give it another shot sometime since RL Burnside’s in the cast and Glenn Kenny recommends it, but for now we switched from blues to jazz.
Opening credits over beautiful shots of reflections in wavy water, already a good sign. An outdoor festival, single stage I think. Since it’s mostly in broad daylight, they’re able to shoot audience member antics, which often involve impractical hats, and there’s a boat race happening in the same town in case the editors need a visual shift. Cutaway skits of a portable jazz band traveling around town, in a car, to an amusement park, houses, a rooftop. Just a perfect lesson in how to make a music doc in an engaging way, codirected by fashion photographer Stern and filmmaker Avakian, whose brother George was the fest’s music producer.
The music itself – well, my idea of “jazz” has been warped by last month’s Big Ears fest, so it took some time to get into the 1950’s groove. As with Big Ears, there’s also a non-jazz headliner in Chuck Berry. A toothy, confident scat-singing white woman almost derails it (this was Anita O’Day – apparently John Cameron Mitchell is a fan), but things pick up nicely, culminating with night sets by Louis Armstrong and Summer of Soul fave Mahalia Jackson.
Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.
The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)
Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.
The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)
That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.
I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)
Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
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.