The Color of Noise
directed by Eric Roebel
starring Tom Hazelmyer
Documentary fatigue is a serious problem facing today’s discerning underground music fan. While it was once possible to get excited over a brief mention of the Ramones or Iggy Pop in a History of Rock and Roll documentary, today the market is flooded with full-length documentaries on just about every niche musician imaginable, all trying to trick the gullible consumer into believing that every unknown garage group was much better than any band normal people heard of, all relying on the same talking heads and using the same general framework and structure.
Every once in a while, however, a music documentary is released that makes perfect sense – the interviews are interesting enough, the product is done well enough, and the subject hasn’t been examined over and over ad infinitum.
Such is the case with The Color of Noise, a documentary focusing on Amphetamine Reptile Records and founder Tom Hazelmyer. As a label, Amphetamine Reptile might not have been as well-known as contemporaries Sub Pop or Touch and Go, but was equally groundbreaking and inspired equal amounts of record nerds to buy each new release, knowing that if it was on Am Rep, it was going to be noisy, antisocial, heavy, or at the very least, have a well-designed cover.
Hazelmyer began the label while still in the Marines as a way to document his band Halo of Flies and hopefully get some interest from one of the larger indie labels. Saying he wanted his guitar to “make a sound like a dinosaur,” Hazelmyer soon began releasing records from like-minded bands, such as Tar, Cows, Surgery, Melvins, Hammerhead and Helmet; bands that blended the anger, noise, and excitement of American hardcore with the experimentation of post-punk.
Hazelmyer also used Am Rep to document like-minded Australian bands like X, Lubricated Goat, and Cosmic Psychos. The Australian interviews are among the best in the interview, with members of Cosmic Psychos and Lubricated Goat acting exactly how you’d hope Australian ex-rockers would act.
Director/Producer Eric Roebel was able to interview a majority of the bands on the label, which must have been a Herculean undertaking. Anchored by the affably grumpy Hazelmyer, Roebel also gives time to the artists and designers who were connected with the label, such as Derek Hess, Coop, Kozik, and Shepard Fairey.
Roebel shows a fine editorial hand, interviews last just long enough to be interesting, and the animation is kept to a minimum (One of the reviewer’s pet peeves. If you have to use a lot of animation in your doc, it usually means you don’t have enough faith in your story).
While The Color of Noise is ostensibly the story of a record label, it is more the story of Hazelmyer, and it helps that Hazelmyer is interesting and has a compelling story – after contacting meningitis, he was in a coma for about a month, then walked out of the hospital. Now he produces wood prints, plays in a band, the amazingly named Gay Witch Abortion, and curates gallery shows after the label has died down. Shots of him attending a comic convention or shooting an AK 47 with his kids illustrate what many of the interviews state – that he is a man of conviction and integrity who appreciates the finer things in life – guns, meat and booze. The doc closes with glowing testimonials from band members and friends praising his work ethic and honesty, which honestly runs a bit too long, and your nerd reviewer would have liked to have seen interviews with Tar and Vertigo, but overall The Color of Noise is a welcome entry in the glut of underground music documentaries, and one that should act as a cure for Documentary Fatigue.