Athens GA Inside/Out (1987)

“Mike Mills can smell ants.” A portrait of a scene and the bands within, the Decline of Western Civilization template in a more chill environment. Pylon was broken up at the time of filming, but were still nice enough to do an interview. Ends with the title “Save the Morton Theater.” They must have saved it – I saw Of Montreal there more than 15 years later.


Two Headed Cow (2006)

After his cameos in Inside/Out, a full Dex doc, full of good stories and quotes. “I’ve found it very hard to join this society on a normal level ever since I became an adult … I became some weird alienated folk artist without even intending to.” Exene (another Decline connection) calls his music “hardcore americana.” Looser than the other movies, more downtime, hanging out on tour. Dex gives the Duo Jets history himself, no alt narrator, and explains why they dissolved (his bandmate disagrees). After the split, archive footage of “who can I count on if I can’t count on you” (harsh), and Dex says he entered a “semi-psychotic spiritual odyssey.” Half the movie is Tony’s own archive – this was his attempted follow-up to Inside/Out, abandoned and then finished 16 years later. Nice tricks: a duet between Dex’s older and younger self, a time-lapse of a full solo show with snippets of each song. Sara’s not in the movie, she replaced Crash on drums in the Dex Duo the year after this came out. I’ve been listening to all their records… RIP…

I don’t sit around wondering about the private/interior lives of musicians, but ever since the classic Of Montreal lineup (roughly from Gay Parade through False Priest) broke up, whenever I hear one of their songs in a mix or they release a new annoyingly-titled record, I think “what is Kevin’s deal anyway?” So I watched this to discover what is his deal. BP Helium sums it up pretty clearly at the start of the movie (“Kevin is a weirdo”) then at the end after firing all his bandmates Kevin reports that he “chose art over human relationships.”

Songs are cut pretty short until the title track, a great montage of fans singing along with his divorce lyrics. The band had been bleeding members as they got big, hiring too many new members at the peak of their popularity (Solange is onstage, Susan Sarandon is a fan), then when he recorded Sylvianbriar he fired anyone who was left. Brother David concurs: they’re here to make art, not to make friends. It’s all pretty promotional-chronological, with zero mention of Kevin’s trans alter ego, even though record reviews made a huge deal of it back then. Great scraps of concert footage anyway, a valuable collection of their antics and costumes.

with Nina Twin:

Great rock doc, maybe the absolute ideal. Songs play all the way through, with good live sound. The movie conveys the experience of a high-energy club show, and she asks direct interview questions behind the scenes. They filmed in 1979 and ’80 and this came out summer 1981… where’d the bands end up?

The Bags broke up before the movie’s release. Alice’s recent solo records are good, her bandmates migrated to Gun Club.

Ron Reyes was a short-lived Black Flag member, their second singer, and by mid-1981 the band was testing out Rollins, their fourth.

Ron:

Circle Jerks are still together, kind of, and their members have been in Redd Kross, Bad Religion, Off!, and Black Flag.

Catholic Discipline was short-lived – their keyboardist became El Vez.

The Germs singer died at the end of 1980 – one band member would later form a group called Celebrity Skin, and another would join Nirvana.

Darby:

Lee Ving of Fear was in the movie Flashdance, and every few years all his band members quit over “his right wing beliefs and his lack of empathy” and he hires new band members.

X would stay together forever, more or less.

Little Richard: I Am Everything (2023, Lisa Cortés)

It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the very idea of Little Richard. As a teen he played gay bars in drag. John Waters stole his mustache. He brought The Beatles to Hamburg when they were nobodies; his keyboardist at the time was Billy Preston.

I watch the rock docs for story and music and personality, and it’s got all that, but the movie tries hard to make itself unlikable along the way. Firstly they made it too late, so all his first-person stories come from talk show appearances. The past is represented with cheesy foleyed-up b/w archive footage, and when Richard’s dad comes up in stories they keep slow-zooming into the only photo they’ve got. The dialogue editor can (roughly) chop pauses out of sentences and make people phrase things the way they want, but nobody can solve the problem of SD interlacing. Present-day musicians portray Richard and others from the time (Valerie June plays Sister Rosetta Tharpe covered in CG sparkles) – they’re trying to make it fun and relevant to present-day, though they also keep saying Richard couldn’t be imitated (and they make excuses for Richard ripping off styles from his predecessors). Feels like an advertisement.

As seen with the subject of my previous rock doc multi-feature:


The Little Richard Story (1980, William Klein)

A very different sort of thing, the Casting JonBenet of Little Richard docs from a kaleidoscope of perspectives: managers, family, fans, impersonators, churchmates, crazy people. The crew went to Macon GA for a Little Richard homecoming ceremony, but Richard didn’t show, said God told him not to. The editing mixes stock footage of people who are not Little Richard, cutting back to present-day people who also aren’t Little Richard but are trying to be, most memorably three guys in back of a convertible lip-syncing the “wop bopaloo bop” Tutti Frutti intro on a loop. The city’s event goes on as planned without their guest of honor, where Klein plays around with editing and sound, subverting some of the longer speeches. It’s much grungier than last year’s doc, and leagues better.

Hybrid doc at the start, with Chumba Dunstan angry at home, a washed-up ex-punk. Without any musical outlet, they try reenacting scenes from other movies where people are angry. Then he calls up the rest of Chumba one by one and starts excavating the band’s roots. Mekons’ “Where Were You” represents the advent of British punk as he moved to Leeds. “We wanted to shout like Crass, and then we wanted it to sound like The Beatles,” referencing the band’s blend of anger, cynicism and fun. They re-enact band arguments about signing to a major label. Finally all band members together, or as many as he could find, they watch their notorious Brit Awards performance together, where they changed the lyrics and dumped an ice bucket on a politician. It gets a bit too promotional on Dunstan’s new band Interrobang, but I’ll check them out. Some words of hope from Penny of Crass and Ken Loach, last-minute inclusion of They Might Be Giants’ “Tubthumping” cover, overall not bad.

Did not realize the Leningrad Cowboys (their hair in full glory) would be backed by the massive Russian Red Army Chorus and Dance Ensemble, playing to a crowd of 70 thousand. After the first guitar rock song, the Cowboys stand by patiently while the Russians sing a loud, dull vocal number, then we get a Cowboy/Russian duet on “Happy Together” and a huge version of “Delilah.” It’s an expert combination of the solemn and the silly, and one of the all-time great concert films.

All Dolled Up (2005)

Based around lo-fi backstage and onstage video of the Dolls in their heyday playing grungy NY punk clubs, also a local news report. It’s all archival, with plenty of hanging out – scenes and songs fade out abruptly. Primary source footage of artists is inherently interesting but when the cameraperson follows them on a trip to San Francisco, there are whole minutes of aimless filler.


New York Doll (2005)

This one plays more like a standard rock doc – famous talking heads tell us the Dolls were important, then the filmmakers follow bassist Arthur Kane, now working part-time at a Mormon library, en route to the big reunion shows curated by lifelong fan Morrissey. There’s some tension (moments before going onstage Johansen antagonizes Arthur over the church) but largely plays like an advertisement, feel-good story of a forgotten man getting to re-live his rock & roll youth, with a twist ending (Arthur dies of cancer days after the gig). But the most shocking thing in the movie was learning that the golden key society of hotel concierges from The Grand Budapest Hotel really exists.


Personality Crisis: One Night Only (2022)

Like with his George Harrison doc, Scorsese pulls together the previous sources – we see Morrissey bits from the Arthur Kane movie and stage footage from the archival doc. This is built around a live performance in a small club – David admits that his cabaret show is for his friends, and a wider audience wouldn’t understand it, and I didn’t, but the song “Totalitarian State” was good. Between live songs the movie nicely roams across art-related topics: Harry Smith stories, love of opera, song title inspirations. David says “intelligent ridiculousness” appeals to him, and I can get behind that.

Heuermann’s second of three(?) Zorn movies contains some gems. Zorn credits Carl Stalling’s cartoon scores with teaching him new forms. He explains the rules of Cobra to its participants, which would’ve been useful for me to see a year ago. We sit in on a remaster of the Morricone album, and catch JZ’s enlightening interactions with the musicians during a rehearsal.

But the movie is also tediously about making the movie, about Claudia’s struggles to book an interview with Zorn, and questioning what the movie will be and how to piece it together, including footage of audience screenings of scenes we watched earlier. It returns to re-enactments of the director first hearing the Naked City record and getting into this kind of music, but these meta-elements feel like filler, because all we learn about Claudia is she likes Zorn’s music and is making a doc about him… two things that were pretty easily assumed going in.

Feels like an outtakes shuffle of pre- and early-Beatles stories with long lingers on old photos and scraps of George solo songs, then finds its footing as the Beatles start losing theirs, around the 1hr mark as drugs turn to meditation and Ravi Shankar and the gurus enter the picture. As he uses clips from the Get Back sessions and the Concert for Bangladesh, my Beatles movies are starting to eat each other. Conclusions: George was a beautiful man, and Yoko didn’t break up the Beatles – Eric Clapton did.