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3/26/2009

Film & Video

FFF: Music Films

 

Anvil! The Story of Anvil (3 Stars) Now that VH1 has helpfully desensitized audiences to the heartbreak that is rock has-beens, the sight of (for a brief moment in history) metal gods Anvil working blue-collar jobs and jumping at the chance to play for 100 people in Romania doesn’t pack the wallop it might. Gathering testimonies from legends like Lars Ulrich and Slash helps the case that this Spinal Tap-as-Canadian Jews deserves a second shot at greatness, and it’s refreshing to see a doc explore the irresponsibility and selfishness it takes to leave your family for six weeks to go on a tour that goes horribly wrong and leaves the band penniless, but Anvil never shrugs off the Smell the Glove scent. (It doesn’t help that the drummer’s name is actually Robb Reiner and while overseas they visit Stonehenge.)

Justin Strout

The Archive (3 Stars) Paul Mawhinney owns a vinyl record that came out in the same year Pat Garrett shot Billy the Kid, and a million others to boot; his collection (and storefront, until last year), Record Rama, is the largest vinyl collection in the world. Now that he wants to retire, he has no serious offers for the whole shebang, even though he’s selling it for less than 10 percent of its market value. This short shines a light on Mawhinney but could have squeezed in far more stories about the records themselves in place of the long scenic shots.

Justin Strout

Cracking the Egg: The Untold Story of Nightcrawlers (3 Stars) In the mid-’60s, a pop group out of Daytona Beach called the Nightcrawlers recorded a song, “The Little Black Egg,” that was catchy enough to be Ronnie Van Zant’s favorite song at the time and eventually cracked the Billboard 100. To this day, according to this indulgent yet intriguing documentary short, theories on what the song is talking about vary widely, from possible alien origin to an allegory for interracial dating. (The song was later covered many times by bands including the Lemonheads and the Cars.) It’s a bizarre claim to fame, but it’s these surreal stories that make for good cinema, which this doc approaches.

Justin Strout

Electric Revolution (3 Stars) In the ’80s movie Young Einstein, noted historian Yahoo Serious posited that it was the brilliant physicist who invented the electric guitar. That may be true (what?), but the Wichita, Kan., citizens in this short film lay confident claim to the first documented performance on such an instrument, by townie Gage Brewer. The interviews are friendly and folksy without crossing into reverential territory.

Justin Strout

Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied (5 Stars) How did Neil Young go from being a smiling, swaying Brit-pop interviewee of Dick Clark to composing Harvest in a barn to jamming with Devo and coming up with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)”? By the hard, stubborn and rock-to-the-core route, and this spectacular documentary has footage of all of it. Don’t Be Denied clocks in at one hour, and in that time somehow crams in jaw-dropping grainy footage, intimate interviews with Young’s cohorts and a steady stream of great tunes. It’s everything you could ask for in a rockumentary.

Justin Strout

Pardon Us for Living, the Graveyard Is Full (3 Stars) Geoffray Barbier’s loving portrait of New York’s pre-eminent garage band, the Fleshtones, runs only about an hour, but it manages to pack a lot of information about the band and the world they came from into that hour. From their first shows at CBGB’s, where they opened for the likes of the Ramones and Television, to the IRS Records days as labelmates of R.E.M. and the Go-Gos, to hosting an MTV show, the Fleshtones have had many near-misses with rock & roll fame, but never quite made it to the top. That hasn’t slowed them down any 30 years after forming, and Pardon Us captures the spirit for fans and fans-to-be alike.

— Rob Boylan

The Rock-afire Explosion (3 Stars) Remember ShowBiz Pizza Place, that “fun” spot for kids’ birthday parties that was eventually folded into the other “fun” spot, Chuck E. Cheese? Remember the singing animatronic bears and gorillas? Debut filmmaker Brett Whitcomb believes that bit of ’80s nostalgia is worthy of more coverage than, say, VH1’s I Love the ’80s would probably allow, so he’s made a feature documentary about the robotic musical group (known as the “Rock-afire Explosion”) that traces its origins from Orlando-based inventor Aaron Fechter’s downtown warehouse to a superfan’s (Alabama resident Chris Thrash) quest to reprogram the group to sing modern songs like “Hey There, Delilah” and put them on YouTube. Besides the self-admitted creep factor of Fechter’s decomposing remnants of Billy Bob and the gang, the movie’s brought down by the not-so-self-apparent wigginess of Fechter’s marriage to a much younger, starry-eyed Rock-afire fan, and Thrash’s Mountain Dew-fueled need to entertain his neighbor’s kids with the erstwhile icons. To his credit, Whitcomb avoids what could’ve been an easy condescension toward his subjects, but he’s unable to navigate the deeper (and thinly veiled) emotional issues that accompany has-been talents and stuck-in-the-past man-children.

Justin Strout

Wrecking Crew (4 Stars) “You Send Me,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Good Vibrations”; you probably think of Sam Cooke, Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys, respectively, when you think of those hit songs, but the session musicians behind those and countless others may be the true unsung heroes. Virtually all of the music played on these classic songs was performed by a young Glen Campbell, Hal Blaine and the other Los Angeles session musicians known as the Wrecking Crew. Similar in spirit to Standing in the Shadows of Motown, this straightforward documentary traces the evolution of the tight-knit crew and allows you to follow their emotional ups and downs as if you were there with them. Informative and captivating, the film is an important archive.

Justin Strout

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