12 September 2007


#3--The Fearless Freaks
dir: Bradley Beasley, 2005

Items I discovered about The Flaming Lips after watching The Fearless Freaks:
1. Essentially, The Flaming Lips are hicks who wound up creating an alternate persona for themselves as a means of survival.
2. Ronald Jones, the Lips' bassist, used to have an amazing head of luscious, afro-tastic hair. Then he went bald.
3. Wayne Coyne likes to hear himself talk. A lot.
4. Wayne Coyne's wife looks just as odd as he does.
5. Steven Drozd is missing some teeth.
6. The Flaming Lips faked it all in their early incarnation and, yet, somehow ended up weathering the trials of a young touring band and became better with age.
7. Wayne Coyne likes to curse. A lot.
7. The Flaming Lips genuinely enjoy playing the music they create.

True, I have left off a good many items from this list that will be surprises to first time Lips fans (e.g., Drozd's infamous heroin scene, Coyne giving us the tour of the Long John Silvers where he worked for 11 years as a fry cook). But in actuality, those tidbits don't matter when it comes to the masochistic spectacle that is The Flaming Lips.

I've missed seeing them in concert twice now; once, because I went to see Neko Case instead and another time I almost won backstage passes and tickets to their show (that's another story, though). After watching The Fearless Freaks and having seen the Lips on Austin City Limits (PBS, ya'll), I have no need of seeing them live. To me they peaked at The Soft Bulletin; Yoshimi and Mystics are only mediocre with a serious tilt towards boring. Their live shows are the meat here, as you genuinely experience what they offer. And while I applaud them for remaining childlike in an un-fairy tale-esque world, I can only go with them for a few hours--the exact length of this doc. Any longer and I might grow mutton chops and hang out on Haight and Ashbury playing a Green Day songs on acoustic guitar (well...I really only know one, The Time of Your Life--you know that one they played during the last episode of Seinfeld?).

Is The Fearless Freaks worthwhile? Yes. Will I always admire the Flaming Lips for what they've done and probably buy their albums or DVDs again? Yes. Will I be traveling to Oklahoma soon? No. Have I just convinced myself to give At War with the Mystics another listen? Sure. But not perform I brush up on my Green Day.

09 September 2007

We Rock the Party

dir. Doug Pray, 2002

Forced upon me by a friend while I was rummaging through his DVD collection, Scratch proved to be one of the more invigorating, flat-out-fucking-awesome music documentaries I've seen in some time. Granted, I'm still only fresh into my 100 documentaries gauntlet, but so far this one has stuck with me.

There are plenty of amazing sights and sounds to behold here as amateur and experienced DJs run head-to-head in a a constant progression of who can top who. A few of the more worthwhile scenes come when DJs team up, four at a time to exchange beats and work as a cohesive unit to create a collage of scratches that can, at best, make your jaw drop.

I suppose what distinguished this doc from some of the others I've watched is the ferocity and dedication that many of these players dedicate to their craft--most noticeably exemplified in the hunt for LPs that DJs undertake. A memorable scene is when DJ Shadow is squatting alone in a basement where literally thousands of LPs are stacked 500 high. The store owners, an elderly couple that look perplexed by the filmmaker's presence, note that Shadow comes goes down into their basement at least once a week and spends days searching for the most unique vinyl he can.

DJs Cut Chemist and Mix Master Mike offer the most insight into their craft (watch for Mix Master Mike's portable car-shaped needle stylus near the end of the film--holy shit) and are generally given the most screen time. And unfortunately, there is an utter lack of female DJs, save for one who is incredible, yet is only shown for a brief few minutes. The film also sets itself up from the beginning as a sort-of tribute to the greats who came before: Afrika Bambaattaa, Jazzy Jay, Grand Mixer DXT. Incredible examples of the original notion of scratching, but the moderns have outlasted them in many ways and this is extremely apparent, regardless of the homage the film sets out to present.

At just 90 minutes, Scratch is the perfect length. There is never a moment of lag time or a moment that feels out of place--even when Pray cuts to shots of Herbie Hancock at the Grammy's performing "Rockit." Man, what the hell were we thinking in the '80s?

03 September 2007

Proceed to Rock; Do Not Pass Go

#1-American Hardcore
dir: Paul Rachman, 2006

The first fifteen minutes of this doc make you feel like you're about to watch something special. But because I find most hardcore unlistenable and incredibly repetitive, I am much more intrigued with the contextual socio-political history that surrounded its uprising--which is exactly what the first fifteen minutes of the film address.

We begin with the ushering in of the great Reagan era; an era that slowly and forcefully saw the introduction of conservatism to its highest degree ever in America. In what amounted to a complete rejection of Jimmy Carter's soft, liberal methods, we were brought Reagan's sound byte slogan, "It's Morning in America." Keith Morris from the Circle Jerks makes a bomb sound with his mouth that is meant to represent the explosion of energy and rebeillion that was hardcore. Then, seemingly overnight according to the film, the American underground rose up, fully formed from the depths of oppression and proceeded to rock!

What could have been an incredibly insightful documentary exploring the movement that was hardcore and it's reactionary/visionary focus, instead suffers from the same fate that befell this category of music: an unraveling from lack of attention span.

Hardcore, I suppose, was meant to burn out bright and leave a trail of dust and dead in its wake. But you'd never guess that from this chaotic documentary that barely pauses to develop any sense of a timeline. Viewers are bounced thoughtlessly back and forth from the east coast to the west coast and then dropped off somewhere in the mid-west (with no mention of Husker Du, either) before arriving back in Washington, D.C. for one purpose: to extol the awesomeness of Bad Brains.

Yes, Bad Brains is awesome. Yes, they were a truly original hardcore band. Yes, they were four black guys. And in the meantime probably a thousand other bands had the seed of hardcore in their ears after hearing "Pay to Cum." That still doesn't merit a full fifteen minutes of coverage in a 90 minute doc. The bands that do get focus before and after Bad Brains are lukewarm and mid-level players at best (Cro-Mags? The Necros? come on...).

What thrilled me most about the film was the notion that hardcore imploded in on itself through physical violence done to each other, not outwardly focused on the true origins of their rebellion. Ian Mackye retells an interesting story about when he knew hardcore had died. And it really only last about four years--up until Reagan's re-election.

Guess the fury of music can't really change the tides of the political process. So, how come no one's made a doc that focuses on that aspect of hardcore?