Categories
Screen Reviews

Dennis and Lois

Dennis and Lois

directed by Chris Cassidy

starring Dennis Anderson, Lois Kahlert

Siren’s Call

Hundreds of music documentaries are produced each year, giving Henry Rollins, Dave Grohl, and Questlove valuable opportunities to express their opinions. Most of these documentaries are devoted to performers, record labels or producers, with very few focusing on actual music fans. Maybe because music nerds don’t want to spend an hour and a half watching themselves on screen, maybe it’s because fans aren’t as interesting as musicians.

But occasionally the fans can be as interesting as the performers, as with Dennis and Lois, a new documentary focusing on a 60 plus couple who have seen over 100,000 concerts and still keep going.

Dennis and Lois’ second date was watching the Ramones at CBGBs. They quickly fell in love with each other and the band and became rabid fans, doing things like driving 9 hours to Pennsylvania to watch a 20 minute set. Soon they were hanging with the band and selling merch at concerts.

Their openness and hospitality led them to open their home to touring bands, and they befriended a ton of bands – the Damned, Nick Cave, New Order, the Undertones – just about everyone you might have put on a mix tape back in the ’80s or ’90s. Getting a song titled after them by Happy Mondays put them in the strange position of being more famous as fans than some of the bands they went to see.

Dennis and Lois are a charismatic, fascinating couple, and viewers are sucked into their obsessive world. Never married, the couples’ apartment is jammed with memorabilia, collections, and artifacts, giving a great compliment to the couples’ stories. You want to know these people and find out what makes them tick – why do they continue their rabid fandom when many dedicated music fans slow down in their 30s or 40s?

The answer lies in Dennis’ opening quote “That half hour that they’re on stage every night, there’s energy then..it’s just so uplifting…what kind of person made this music?”

This love of music shine through the documentary, and it serves as an inspiration to fans – keep your obsessions, nourish your interests. If Dennis and Lois can do it, so can you.

www.dennisandlois.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker

Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker

directed by Tim Irwin, Keith Schieron, Chris Bauermeister

starring Blake Schwarzenbach, Adam Pfahler,

Rocket Fuel Films

With tough-guy hardcore and metal crossover dominating the era, the late ’80s wasn’t the greatest time to start a literate punk band inspired sonically by Husker Du, Naked Raygun, and the Smiths.

To the members of Jawbreaker, that meant it was the perfect time. “When I really realized punk was dead, then I realized it was a good time to be a part of it,” states guitarist/vocalist Blake Schwarzenbach early on in the 2017 documentary Don’t Break Down: A Film About Jawbreaker

Like director/producers Tim Irwin and Keith Schieron’s documentary We Jam Econo: The Story of the Minutemen, Don’t Break Down is primarily a story about friendship. Schwarzenbach and bassist Chris Bauermeister met in Santa Monica’s Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences and used a stolen school guitar to launch a band. After relocating to NYU, they met drummer Adam Pfahler and eventually formed Jawbreaker, whose five plus year existence would test their friendship, inspire countless bands, and weather the storms of the major label punk signing frenzy of the mid ’90s.

Jawbreaker’s literate lyrics and ability to treat women as actual people in their songs (a rarity in pop-punk) attracted a large following in the American indie underground. These fans’ personal connection to the band led to them feelings of betrayal when Jawbreaker opened for Nirvana and signed with a major label for their final album, adding to an already tense situation in the band.

Don’t Break Down visits the band in 2007 as they meet for the first time in 11 years to listen to remasters of their albums and engage in awkward, tense interviews. It is clear that Schwarzenbach isn’t interested in a reunion, and doesn’t even feel like talking about the songs. Band archivist Pfahler seems to really want something more, and it’s apparent that while tensions have ebbed since the break-up, there are still differences and conflicts that were never resolved.

Interspersed between the interviews and archival footage we see the band take a leap of faith by quitting their jobs and leaving their apartments to tour Europe, measure the size of their van against the fleet of Nirvana tour busses, and watch an interview with Steve Albini mistaking them for Jawbox. Spoiler alert, the film ends with the band playing at Riot Fest 2017, and will be headlining Gainesville’s Fest later this year.

While maybe not as dramatic as We Jam Econo, Don’t Break Down is a compelling look at the state of the late ’80s/early /90s underground scene, and a fascinating look at the toll performing in a band can take on friendships.

www.dontbreakdown.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Bachman

Bachman

directed by John Barnard

starring Randy Bachman, Neil Young, Peter Frampton, Chris Jericho

Farpoint FIlms

He was the creative driver of the original incarnation of The Guess Who, and the originator of Bachman-Turner Overdrive. For Canadian rock fans, he is an icon, but for American fans, he’s just “oh yeah, that guy.” The Bachman documentary attempts to change that, highlighting the life and creativity of Randy Bachman in 80 minutes.
We get a standard chronological telling of Bachman’s life, from growing up in a tiny house in Winnipeg, to full-fledged rock star. Talking heads range from the expected (Fred Turner, vocalist from BTO; Neil Young and Paul Schaffer, fellow Canadian musicians; one of his brothers and two of his kids), to the odd (Chris Jericho, Winnipeg wrestler/rocker; Bruce Greenwood, Canadian actor/friend).

With the lack of a narrator, they serve to tell the story of a kid who got addicted to playing guitar at a young age, and joined a few cover bands around the city. When he was recruited by Chad Allan to join his band Chad Allan and the Expressions, he found his niche. They started writing their own songs, with Randy taking the lead, and playing larger venues around Canada. Then Randy recruited new singer Burton Cummings, who joined him in the songwriting. Multiple name changes and a few singles led to the name the name that would make them famous – The Guess Who. Eventually, Allan saw that he was being phased out of his own group, and decided to leave the band, right before they broke big in the United States.
Bachman and Cummings developed The Guess Who into a hit making machine for several albums. They had the music part of the equation down. As usual in these cases, creative and personal differences caused a riff, and Randy left the band.

His next attempt actually wasn’t BTO, as you might expect. The tale of his folksy/acoustic group Brave Belt is an interesting digression before he meets up with singer Fred Turner and realizes that his fans really miss hard-driving rock anthems. With that, he is suddenly one of the rare artists who have hit #1 with two separate bands. After BTO splits up, due to more personal and creative differences, Bachman has to deal with the fallout from his divorce as well.

All of this is set to the backdrop of his current band playing at a music festival, and the recording of his new album, a collection of rearranged George Harrison covers. This allows the viewer to see that, no matter the personal issues, music has always been and will always be his main focus. When we hear from Bachman in the interviews, his personal issues are shrugged off, but he truly lights up when discussing the music. This is especially salient when the film crew is taken to an “undisclosed location” where we get a look at the shelves and shelves full of vintage guitars. Some are personally relevant, being used on long tours. Others are gifts from guitar companies or other musicians. Still others, he’s not sure where they came from. The Blu-Ray has a few extras (trailer, extended Neil Young interview, discussions of songwriting), but I wish we could have seen even more from this collection.

While “sex drugs and rock ‘n roll” may have been the mantra for most of his contemporaries, it was always just the “rock ‘n roll” for Randy, and that was still enough to ruin relationships, whether business, personal, or familial. We see that in the documentary not just in what is presented – stories of how he never “partied” and even chided his bandmates for their behavior, and how he converted to Mormonism to marry his first wife because it mostly jibed with his behavior already – but also in what is omitted. It’s not particularly surprising why the mentions of Burton Cummings are treated as almost an afterthought. Two stubborn creative types in a band can commonly lead to lifelong animosity. But when you get to the Bachman-Turner Overdrive era, it’s curious that the only brother who is mentioned is the one who managed the band for a brief time. There is literally no mention of his two brothers who were founding members of the band. In some ways, the documentary leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.

Randy Bachman is not a household name, even among rock enthusiasts. This documentary gives those curious a look into the life and history of an unsung talent in the pantheon of rock guitarists and songwriters. Just go into it with the skeptical eye of someone watching history being told from a certain point of view. And enjoy the classic tunes included.

www.farpointfilms.com/bachman-1

Categories
Screen Reviews

WAX TRAX! Industrial Accident

WAX TRAX! Industrial Accident

directed by Julia Nash

starring Al Jourgensen, Chris Connelly, Richard 23, Throbbing Gristle, Groovy Mann, En Esch, Julia Nash & others

As a first-hand enthusiast and follower of the eighties “alternative”, “new wave”, “electronic”, and ultimately “industrial” scene, I was excited to learn an aptly titled, Wax Trax! Industrial Accident video was forthcoming! This “truth is stranger than fiction” tale of the off-kilter friend/partnership of Trax co-founders, Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher provide perspective on how two guys on the fringe of society, underground culture, and music could become ground-zero for an iconic storefront, label, and musical genre, is nothing short of miraculous! I was pleasantly surprised to find the story a first-hand account as told by those most intimately involved with Jim, Dannie, & the Wax Trax! artists, not from a disconnected documentarian with nary a toe in the pond of industrial sludge!

Speaking of personal, Jim Nashs’, daughter Julia, appropriately serves as producer and archivist. When she found a virtual time capsule of all Wax Trax stock, photos, video, etc. in an Arkansas barn in 2010, she knew the time was ripe to share the story. The Wax Trax! trajectory lends itself to a Behind the Music formula, which entails a chronology of the humble beginnings, rise, and ultimate fall of its subject(s). Yet, it’s the serendipitous journey of all cast members through the eighties and nineties that really makes Industrial Accident so riveting. Rarely would one reflect on how a label’s backstory and artists evolve, but the film gleans insight from shop employees, close friends of Jim and Dannie’s, and the artists who became synonymous with the Wax Trax! brand-Al Jourgensen, Chris Connelly, Richard 23, En Esch, among others to reveal how this “accident” became, and has remained, a beloved cultural icon some forty years later.

Interwoven with video and photos from their first store in Denver, then to the heyday of Chicago, archival footage of Jim and Dannie, live performances, and of course the obligatory mayhem and nonchalant demeanor that whisked these merry-men through the years, I am confident you will find the video engaging. Whether you “wax” nostalgic or simply want to know what the hell was going on in those days, the story is fascinating pure and simple! My intention is to simply share “why” you need to see this incredible story of music history told by those who lived it, not fill a page with a play by play regurgitation of its contents. For the first time, the Wax Trax! story is to be told AND seen. What a beautiful combination indeed!

In addition to the DVD, there is a full-length LP of tracks from Wax Trax artists-Thrill Kill Kult, Ministry, REVCO (unreleased track!), KMFDM, and Front 242, to name a few. There will also be a few live shows in select cities featuring Ministry as headliner! For more info on all the Wax Trax! happenings, head over to: www.waxtrax.com or give ’em a ring at 1-833-wax-trax.

www.waxtraxfilms.com

Categories
Interviews

Talal Derki

Talal Derki

For over two years, Damascus-born Syrian documentary filmmaker, Talal Derki (The Return to Homs), posed as a war photographer in order to gain access and live as a guest in the Northern Syrian home of Abu Osama, a Jihadist fighter and co-founder of al-Nusra. During this time period, Derki closely observed Abu’s relationship with his children, focusing primarily on his two eldest sons, Osama and Ayman (aged 13 and 12 respectively in the film) and their paths toward or away from jihadism. During the relatively short running time of the documentary, Derki occasionally widens his focus away from the familial relationships to bring you out with Abu Osama as he goes on jihadist missions, giving you the opportunity to hear directly from Abu himself on his reasoning for waging war during the seemingly never-ending conflict in his and Derki’s homeland.

With Of Fathers and Sons, which is a nominee for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature this year, Derki gives the audience a rare unfiltered glimpse into the turbulent homelife and motivations of a jihadist as he prepares his son to become a fighter for an Islamist caliphate, and in doing so, he also creates a document that examines the fragile link between a parent and child during conflict. I had prepared questions specifically about the editing decisions that went into Of Fathers and Sons, but before my conversation with Derki at AFI Fest 2018 (where the film was screening last November), I was informed that Abu Osama had been killed not too long before the interview took place, which led the conversation into a different direction than originally intended. I hope that you find will this dialog an interesting companion piece after watching the film.

Q: Before I ask you any questions, Talal, I just wanted to express my sympathies, as I read that Abu Osama had been killed in October while diffusing a car bomb. I am very sorry, as I know that you spent years with him and saw him in a way that very few did.

A: Thank you, but you must understand that this was his choice. This is what I wanted to show in my film—that these suicide bombers, or even these fighters who work with explosives, make a conscious decision to martyr themselves for their ideology. This mentality is a very complicated thing to express. For example, when Abu Osama lost his foot to the mine while trying to instruct others on how to locate these explosives, the moment that he was able enough to work, he went right back to it. What eventually happened to him was that he was trying to dismantle a car bomb, and something went wrong, and he was killed. I had not been in contact with Abu for over a year and a half, mostly because my life is in jeopardy now because I had to lie to them about my background in order to gain access into their lives. So, at the end of the day, I am indeed quite sad that Abu was killed, and I so wish that this was not the case and that circumstances were different and that he just could have had a normal life. I also wish that his death would have a purpose, in particular, to encourage children to not be jihadists. Please remember that I was only there as a witness, and there was nothing that I could’ve done to change the path of his life or the lives of any of the other people around me. That was never my mission, nor was it my mission to criticize these people with my film. I wanted to let the audience decide as to how they felt about the actions of these people.

Q: I appreciate that you left these judgements to the audience. Given that you lived with Abu Osama’s family for so long and must have had an enormous amount of footage, I am curious about the decisions that you made as a filmmaker as far what you finally chose to show in the final cut of your film. For example, in your film we see that Abu Osama is a leader and is indeed respected and even feared by people in the village, but I only found out after the film that Abu was actually one of the co-founders of al-Nusra.

A: Yes, theoretically he was, but shortly after the founding of the organization, Abu left al-Nusra to follow a group that was even more radical than al-Nusra called The Guardian of Religion, who are directly connected to al-Qaeda, and they also even have people from ISIS who are with them as well, so really he became even more radical than al-Nusra. In terms of this film, what his affiliation was with a certain group isn’t as important because I wanted the focus to be on the uprising of the radicalism movement and Jihadism, and whether you are under the umbrella or not under the umbrella of a group, it is about the power of being part of that movement. So, there are a lot of people who believe in jihad, and who want to participate in jihad even if they live in different countries like America where there are no groups per se, but they are ready to inflict violence in the same way.

Q: In that way, I feel that your film helps people who have not personally been exposed to the conflict in Syria understand how someone (in this case, Abu’s son, Osama) would want to ever become a jihadist, because most of us who have not had the kind of experience you’ve had would rarely be able to comprehend the reasoning behind why someone would want to take up that ideology.

A: The situation in Syria has been a nightmare for a long time, and it effects the psychology of the people who have had to live through it, and because of that, you are seeing this sharp rise in jihadism. In my film, you see how jihadism effects the family directly, which is a way, I think, that most people can understand the situation more than an explanation of the conflict as a whole.

Q: In terms of Abu’s sons, Osama and Ayman, who are only a year apart in age, why do you feel that Osama became the one selected for jihadism, and Ayman the one allowed to pursue further education in school? Do you feel that decision was, in a way, Abu’s belief that there is a non-combative future possible in Syria, or did he simply feel that Ayman was too young or not aggressive enough for combat?

A: Ayman, in my opinion, was more psychologically connected to his mother. When I was with Abu, Ayman spent most of the time in the kitchen with his mother, but you never see Ayman’s interactions with his mother because he was usually where we were not allowed, since we were forbidden to film a woman in the home. You also don’t see Ayman in military camp because, when he had gone there, he did not do well—he was very slow. At the same time, I believe that after Abu lost his foot and life became difficult to manage on his own, he wanted Ayman there in the home to take care of his mother, brothers, and sisters. Lastly, Ayman at first had to go to the school to learn the basic things needed to live, but when he got an education, it turned out that Ayman was the best student in the class. I feel that it was important to show that even in the caliphate there is a school that teaches about love, a place where there are discussions about issues other than jihadism, so there is indeed some hope for the future

Q: I was glad to see those scenes in the classroom, as not only do you see Ayman excelling in his schoolwork, but also you see young women, who are not only allowed to be filmed, but also who are in class, sitting with boys and not wearing hijabs. Was this school in Damascus?

A: Yes, this is the same school that has existed from before the war in Damascus. It is a state-run school, and the teachers are paid by the government.

Q: Have you been able to keep in touch with Osama and Ayman since filming has been completed? I do understand that in the case of Osama, because he has become a jihadist, that communication with him might difficult or even forbidden?

A: This area is like a black hole because all of the people who had access to this village are now gone, and also I don’t want to put them in danger in any way. I also want it to be understood that I take full responsibility for this film and that these people were totally unaware of the film and how it was going to be put together, so they are not culpable in any way. I really wish that I could speak with them, but before I blocked social networking between myself and Ayman, I asked him about Osama, but there was nothing that he could really tell me about him. Much of this makes me very sad, and I so wish that all of Islam could someday soon be more about peace. This God that we believe in should inspire peace and an understanding that we are all one human race. It is a miracle that we are all together and can appreciate the advancements of this civilization and how technology has improved our time here. All of this world is just too great to be constantly fighting with one another.

Q: That is the remarkable aspect of what your film shows—that Abu Osama, when he is with his sons, can be a very loving man, but he has also seen his country destroyed by civil war, and consequently, he needs to be combative in the world around him.

A: Abu Osama is just reacting to the actions and the reactions of what going on around him. Given what has occurred, it should not be a surprise that someone like Abu Osama would appear.

Q: Thank you so much for your time today Talal, and for your courage in making this documentary.

A: Thank you very much.

Of Fathers and Sons is currently available for viewing on Kanopy.

www.offathersandsons.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Poetic Trilogy: The Gardener

Poetic Trilogy: The Gardener

directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf

MVD / Arrow

I was lucky enough to receive one of the three films in Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Poetic Trilogy. Makhmalbaf is Iranian, and has won multiple awards world-wide, yet is relatively unknown to American audiences. That’s a shame, what I see in this film is a gorgeous and heartwarming films that looks into the heart of Baha’i Faith, a religion that seems to collect enemies without effort. The film is shot in Israel in the sort of blindingly detailed high res, fully saturated color digital process that is only now just getting out to the super hero genera and into the world of art film. Both Makhmalbaf and his son Maysam shoot film; there’s a bit of tension between what dad thinks is important and what his son focuses on cinematically. Both viewpoints have a place and the coupling brings a deeper insight into the film-making process.

We are in a glorious garden somewhere in Israel. Men lovingly tend this plot of land we might call monks, although their relation to the garden is open ended. They gently pull weeds, move stones and revive flowers, and he result is an amazing landscape of color and form, My impression is they do it not for money, but love of their faith, and we are dabbling what those beliefs are. The relation between father and son is gruff but loving, dad realized his boy needs to find his own world, and son recognized dads generous and roots to the past. There are no traces of politics here beyond some simple factual history, and as a documentary, it excels in its artistic vision and cinematography. I’m hoping the other two elements of this trilogy show up in my mail box, or at least some other films form this middle eastern film genius. We may be at odds with Iran, but that shouldn’t blind us to the art they have produced for centuries.

mvdb2b.com/b2b/s/AA033

Categories
Print Reviews

The Weirdest Movie Ever Made

The Weirdest Movie Ever Made

by Phil Hall

Bear Manor Media

In the world of cryptozoology, the 800-pound gorilla is the similar looking “Bigfoot”. And of all the purported unseen creatures, only Bigfoot has any even plausible evidence: the 948 frame long “Patterson/Gimlin” film. This book delves into the story but quickly comes up for breath. The arguments put forth here are plausible, but not so plausible as to convince a majority of those who don’t really care.

Back in 1967, rumors abounded about a large ape-like figure in Northern California. Mr. Patterson and Mr. Gimlin took a 16 mm camera, two rolls of film, and their horses and went up county. They film trees and each other, and then as their film was nearly spent, a large apelike creature appeared, striding along and quickly looking at the men. It then went on its way into the woods apparently undisturbed by their presence.

Is the tape real? Or a clever fake? Are Patterson and Gimlin frauds or just lucky campers? This thorough and neutrally toned book examines all the data available, but never takes a stand much past: “It might be.” By page 52, the author reveals about all that can be known, short of additional footage or a corpse to dissect. The “sighting,” real or contrived as it may be, lead to a boom in Bigfoot cinema that we explore for a chapter or so, then we read a dozen or so opinions by other experts, all of which boil down to “It MIGHT be, I WANT it to be, but the evidence is just too darn thin.” Along the way the chapters are separated with single page “Bigfoot Interludes” that reveal interesting facts or historical points that don’t fit into the main text. I confess I’m a septic, and this book didn’t move me one way or the other, but I appreciated its neutral, matter of the fact tone, and that it collects most of what can be knowing one, nicely indexed and bibliographic place. Well-written and well-researched, it’s a nice little look at the whole business of legendary creatures that just never seem to show up for dinner.

BearManorMedia.com;

Categories
Screen Reviews

Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits

Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits

directed by William E. Badgley

starring Ari Up, Palmolive, Tessa Pollitt

Moviehouse

While it appears just about everyone from the original wave of punk has received the documentary treatment, there have been some notable omissions. Chief among those would be the Slits, the first all-female punk band (and one of a handful of all women rock bands). Here to be Heard: The Story of the Slits a crowdfunded documentary presents the story of the trailblazing band.

Forming when the most of the members were still teenagers, the Slits took the punk creed of ‘anyone can do it’ to heart and stood out from their punk brethren with their enthusiasm for reggae rhythms and a gloriously amateur approach to their music.

Here to be Heard: The Story of the Slits has a plethora of archival material, most of which we view from the scrapbooks of bassist Tessa Pollitt. Band members and film clips recall how reactionary and conservative late ’70s England was and just how revolutionary it was for teenage girls to cause a ruckus on stage.

Not only the story of a band, Here to be Heard: The Story of the Slits is also the story of friendship; a friendship that can sometimes strain and ebb, but is always present. Lead singer Ari Up was a force of nature, as show in performance clips and home video, and her death is heartbreaking to the remaining members, even as she sometimes pushed them away.

Vintage performance clips show how the band matured (in a good way) with their second album, using non-Western song structures and rhythms to their blend of punk and reggae. While interviews reveal how refreshing and vital the band was in their day, as well as their reformation, it would be instructive to have interviews with current musicians to show how they were inspired by the band posthumously. This is a small complaint, however, and Here to be Heard: The Story of the Slits does exactly what it sets out to do, exposes an innovative band to current audiences, and hopefully raises awareness of what a truly revolutionary act the Slits were.

mvd.shop.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago

directed by Peter Pardini

starring Robert Lamm, Lee Loughnane, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Danny Seraphine

Film Rise

The Chicago of my formative years never really grabbed my attention. From the mid-’80s to the early ’90s, Chicago was focused on pop ballads, and every song sounded the same. It wasn’t until I was in college and looking backwards that I discovered the early Chicago, the jazz and blues influenced “rock band with horns” that released almost an album a year during the late-60’s and 70’s. Still, while I came to appreciate the band, I was never a super fan. I was interested enough to want to know more about their history, which led me to Now More Than Ever.

The documentary, originally aired on CNN and now available on DVD, attempts to tell the tale of a band that has been going nonstop since 1968 in just over two hours. Interspersing current interviews with archival footage and interviews, we get a rough chronology of the band. As you can imagine, a lot of the story is glossed over. While we learn quickly that the original lineup of musicians from various bands wanted to stop playing cover songs and start playing originals, we never hear about their influences or why creating a rock band with a strong horn section was important to them. We are told of the awesome number of albums produced on a yearly basis, many double-length, but we only get to hear the stories behind a few of the classic songs that were produced. There is a mention of student fan base, but few details about any political activism. We get to hear about the conflict with vocalist/bassist Peter Cetera and his departure from the band at the height of their commercial success, but that is one of the few conflicts that appear in the film. Several people associated with the band declined to be interviewed, most notably Cetera.

Some of these shortcomings have been blamed on the filmmakers. Chicago is listed as a producer in the credits. The director, Peter Pardini, is the nephew of Lou Pardini, a member of the band since 2010. Certainly, this allowed for better access to the band. However, it has opened the film up to criticism that it is nothing more than an infomercial for a group that had just been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was heading out on a new tour.

While there are complaints and concerns, overall the documentary served its purpose for me. It got me interested in Chicago, beyond occasionally listening to “25 or 6 to 4” on the classic rock station. More than anything, it has opened my eyes to the talent of original guitarist Terry Kath. Described by several as the soul of the original lineup, Kath was a songwriter, arranger, and vocalist in addition to being an amazingly underrated guitarist. The tale of his rise and untimely death by self-inflicted gun-shot is the most moving part of the film. Hearing his band mates talk about Kath is enough for me to recommend anyone who is curious about Chicago to check this documentary out. If you are a super fan, most of this will be old news to you. If you do not care about Chicago at all, feel free to skip this disc. Otherwise, give it a look.

Categories
Screen Reviews

Dawson City : Frozen Time

Dawson City : Frozen Time

directed by Bill Morrison

starring Kathy Jones-Gates, Michael Gates, Sam Kula

Hypnotic Pictures, Picture Palace Pictures

All art is ephemeral, it just takes longer to destroy some forms than others. Early film is particularly problematic: it’s nitrate stock was not only unstable, but it tended to spontaneously combust and it killed a few thousand people over the years. Some of these nitrate films were copied to acetate and then digital, but there’s a long shopping list of “Missing Films” only known from advertising or reviews. Amazingly, a large cache (over 500 reels) of nitrate films survived after burial in a permafrost landfill in beautiful Dawson, NWT. If you’ve ever seen the gold rush footage of lines of men climbing near vertical mountains to achieve riches, its Dawson’s gold strike that drew them. This film talks more about how these films arrived in this no man’s land than what important finds came from this mine. But we do see a good part of the restored film, or at least small clips of century old lust, romance, and crime, all presented without sound or much context.

More a doc about a small town than about cinema history, this film is well constructed but leaves more questions unanswered that answered. No question film historians are eager to peer back into the earlies days of the art forms, but did this cache yields anything truly significant like Annette Kellermans Neptune’s Daughter or Hitchcock’s The Mountain Eagle? This question is left open, and its not even clear if any entire films were retrieved. Having said this, it WAS a hypnotic experience watching slivers of the past slide by, often damaged and incomplete. Images of the Lumiere Brothers appear with their early cameras. In another segment, a man shakes a disembodied hand protruding from the destroyed film stock. Thomas Edison invents something, and archival footage from more established and well-preserved film intermixes with these old bones. These people on screen could have been my grandparents, maybe even their parents, and its just a bit weird to see them as active, attractive people doing the things regular people do.

I must recommend this film if you are a film buff, but I warn its parsimonious with backing info on the treasures reconstructed. We meet the people who discovered this material and worked to preserve it, and they deserve our praise. With little audio narration, we see a stylized version of how the silents worked: exposition through action punctuated with title cards providing critical details. Their story is both mundane and daring, particularly regarding the business of moving a ton of explosive film stock from the back side of nowhere to the relative safety of Toronto where real restoration could occur. This film may be hard to find, The Enzian in Maitland FL only just barely got it for a single screening on a Sunday afternoon. It may or may not end up digitally available but it is exactly the sort of cinema project that might disappear come the digital apocalypse. But that could never happen, could it? I didn’t think so…

www.picturepalacepictures.com/DAWSON_CITY__FROZEN_TIME.html