NXNE: Films, Because They Do Those Too
“I’ll Buy” a ticket to the new Replacements doc! “We’re Coming Out” to see it! It’s going to be a “Hootenanny,” apparently.
NXNE Film 2011
NFB Mediatheque (150 John Street) and Toronto Underground Cinema (186 Spadina Avenue)
In case the compass coordinates in the name didn’t tip you off, it’s pretty much North by Northeast’s singular goal to be as cool, expansive, and awesome as South by Southwest, Austin’s annual commingling of film festivals, interactive conferences, and concerts. (But mostly concerts.) So, because SXSW has a film festival, NXNE has a film festival. And even though it always seems a bit ghettoized, there are some pretty good films popping up in NXNE’s film program this year. Sure, it has a lot of documentaries about bands and musicians, which just serves to confirm that NXNE is a music festival first and foremost, with a film component tacked on. But, hey, who doesn’t like documentaries about bands and musicians? Literally nobody.
At the top of the pile this year is the Canadian premiere of Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz’s Better Than Something ( ), a film about the life and music of the late garage-rock wunderkind Jay Reatard. Born James Lindsey Jr., Reatard was known for releasing a swell of recordings, starting when he was just a teenager, be it as a solo artist or as a member of the Reatards and Lost Sounds. He gained a whole new audience in 2006 when Blood Visions, which was backed by In the Red and Vice Records, saw him playing to larger crowds. This exposure never really tempered his volatility, though, and he was notorious for walking off stage mid-set because of some problem with the venue’s PA (resulting in many fans dubbing him “Jay Reafund”). Reatard died in 2010, at age 29, as a result of cocaine toxicity. Chock full of archival footage of early Reatards and Lost Sounds performances, as well as interviews with Reatard from late 2009, Better Than Something is a fairly comprehensive portrait of the man’s life, music, and attitude, elevating him to more than just another punk-rock causality.
Jay Reatard. Rest in piece. You’re probably up there, dividing the crowds in heaven on whether you’re the last great punk rocker or just an asshole.
Also making its Canadian premiere is Gorman Bechard’s Color Me Obsessed ( ), a film about Minneapolis punk icons the Replacements. To everyone who loves them, the Replacements are the best and only band in the world. Better than the Beatles and Black Sabbath and Black Flag put together. Better than Better Than Ezra, even. Bechard’s film plunges deep into the history of the band, largely through talking-head interviews with the band’s friends, associates, early management, and fans (including Tom Arnold, Dave Foley, and George Wendt, who likes to think that “Here Comes A Regular” was written about Cheers). Grant Hart and Greg Norton, from cross-town St. Paul rivals Hüsker Dü, even sing the band’s praises. The problem with Color Me Obssessed, though, is that it’s just a lot of fan service. Anyone interested in an in-depth history of the band probably already knows all this stuff. And anyone who’s not familiar with the ‘Mats is likely to be turned off by all the talking. There’s nothing in the way of footage of the band playing, meaning we have to take all the accounts of their wonky on-stage antics for granted. And while there’s a lot of gum-flapping about how great Paul Westerberg’s songs or Bob Stinson’s guitar playing were, we never hear them. Still, if you love the Replacements, you’re bound to be taken in by the sheer depth of Bechard’s film.
Also moored firmly in the documentary mode is South Korean filmmaker Kim Sung-Kyun’s Dream Factory ( ) (another Canadian premiere at NXNE). The factory in question here is Seoul-based guitar manufacturer Cort. Besides building their own models, Cort has been contracted by other guitar companies (Ibanez and ESP, just to name a few) to mass produce lower-priced versions of their own instruments. But working at Cort is far from some rock ‘n’ roll fantasy. Dream Factory (which is wildly unfocused, but extremely informative) looks at the labour issues that have plagued Cort’s operations. And it’s not just stuff like wanting wage increases or rotating strikes. It’s stuff like the entire factory being laid off without notice and employees (well, one employee) self-immolating in protest. Kim overloads the film, though, trying eagerly (and, maybe, valiantly) to make Dream Factory a film about guitar manufacturing and a film about rock ‘n’ roll and a film about solidarity. But its revelations are shocking. And they may make you think twice before you bum a ride to Buffalo to score a cheap Cort axe at Guitar Centre during their next big-time mega blowout sale.
But guess what, though: NXNE’s film program isn’t all flicks about bands and guitars and self-immolation. No! There’s fiction features, too, wouldn’t you know it? Like Adam Traynor’s Ivory Tower ( ), a sibling-rivalry picture centered around—wait for it—chess. While, yes, it’s tacky to make a chess movie because it’s such a desperate move to seem smart (see: Joe Mantegna), and, yes, Ivory Tower does lumber into this snare (“Jazz chess”!), its neediness is checked by a good deal of inventiveness. Traynor (who’s a member of the German puppet-based hip-hop crew Puppetmastaz, which you may know if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t have to Wikipedia stuff like that) zips up all the chess-playing and Greek tragedy, pulling off a nice balance between cliché and empty style. Call it stylistic cliché. We just did! Also: Gonzales and Peaches star in it. And Feist pops in, too. So it’s not altogether un-musical.
Stills courtesy Flip Publicity.