Closely paired with the SXSW music festival as it is, seems only fitting that the Film Festival dedicates a swathe of programming to films about music. If writing about music, though, is like dancing about architecture, than making a movie about music is like building a novel. To help you chew over that little pensee, here’s a celluloid mixtape highlighting the ethno-funk of David Byrne, the poison pen of Magnetic Fields, the rock ‘n’ roll riot of Tehran, the continental drift of Broken Social Scene and the prune juice of Levon Helm. Click on the titles for trailers where available.
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Ain’t in It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm
With Robbie Robertson gone Hollywood and both Rick Danko and Robert Manuel plucking harps, it’s up to drummer Helm to shoulder The Band’s cosmic Americana spirit. This EPK highlights the creation and promotion of Helm’s acclaimed 2007 album Dirt Farmer. The irascible coot spices the brew with stories from the frontlines of addiction, pestilence and bankruptcy. Directed by Jacob
Brazil often seems like America’s reflection on the other side of the equator. The two countries have enjoyed an uneasy cultural relationship where we give them Homer Simpson in return for Joao Gilberto. Guto Barra’s tuneful documentary charts the musical exchange, from the early days of Carmen Miranda and her fruit basket titfer to Talking Heads’ promotion of the tropicalia movement led by Caetano Veloso. Formerly known as Beyond Ipanema – America’s Love Affair With Brazilian Music.
With films like A Time for Drunken Horses, Kurdish filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi has established himself as one of cinema’s most individual voices. His improvised docudrama hits the streets of Tehran to sniff out its underground rock scene. Although the musicians are forbidden to perform, they take to the city basements to find fellow travelers, learn a few chords and forge the sound of young Iran.
Who has not been moved by the fervor of gospel music? Well, the victims of the Spanish Inquisition might wish you took your “Oh Happy Day” and shoved it up your thumbscrew, but the rest of us hip non-believers can happily clap along to Don McGlynn’s joyful documentary. Expect a lot of Thomas A. Dorsey and Aretha, maybe not so much from Tonex.
Ride, Rise, Roar
Hot on the heels of the acclaimed 2008 album Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, David Byrne took to the stage for a tour whose songbook and less-is-more staging recalled the heady days of Stop Making Sense. Seems only right, then, for David Hillman Curtis to make a documentary that watches how Byrne, his band and a team of dancers made the thesis happen.
Listening to the Magnetic Fields’ bile-soaked exercises in irony, you just know that songwriter and primary Field Stephin Merritt is someone whose aura must be basked in for an hour and a half. This infomercial provides the perfect opportunity. Fan Peter Gabriel and chuckling head Sarah Silverman provide hosannas while Stephin demonstrates the difficulty of being Stephin.
Don Letts made his bones spinning discs at The Roxy while acts like UK Subs, Johnny Moped and Crabs & the Bears stunk up the stage. He’s clearly more punk than you and your tattooed mother’ll ever be. The onetime Big Audio Dynamite member crosses Clash lines to profile Joe Strummer and the musical charity which gives this documentary its name. Because even Sid Snot needs some uplift from time to time.
“Taqwacore” is the name given to a Muslim subculture that combines faith with surly punk rebellion. To make his documentary, Omar Majeed hitched a ride with Michael Muhammad Knight—the author whose novel gave the movement its name—and a gang of Taqwacore musicians as they look for pockets of resistance from America to Pakistan. Expect to hear the phrase “Rock the Casbah” at least once.
This Movie is Broken
It’s a rock movie with a difference! The Toronto-based Broken Social Scene have become hipster faves through their roiling indie rock. As scripted by Don McKellar, this romantic musical looks at a relationship which forms during a summertime concert and continues well into the following morning. Is it a one night stand with a chance? Or destined to become lyrical fodder for another melancholy BSS song?
Where to start with the legend that is Blowfly? Songwriter Clarence Reid discovered he had more talent for profane parody than penning R&B hits. So through his alter ego Blowfly, he became an under-the-counter phenom with smut like “Rap Dirty.” ‘Fly’s smutty rhyming couplets were an inarguable influence on today’s hip-hoppers. Director Jonathan Furmanski learns that, at 69, he’s as mad as ever.
Johnny Suede director Tom DiCillo heads into the editing suite to compose a portrait of the “Light My Fire” band and the times it soundtracked. With a bit of luck, that means we’ll get a lot of Jim Morrison acting the pie-tasting buffoon and not so much of Ray Manzarek blathering on about ceremonies of the peace frog and all that hippie nonsense.
Tags: Ain’t in It For My Health: A Film About Levon Helm, Bahman Ghobadi, Beyond Ipanema - Brazilian Waves in Global Music, Blowfly, Broken Social Scene, Caetano Veloso, Carmen Miranda, Clarence Reid, David Byrne, David Hillman Curtis, Don Letts, Don McGlynn, Don McKellar, Jacob Hatley, Jim Morrison, Joe Strummer, Jonathan Furmanski, Kasi az horbehaye irani khabar nadareh, Levon Helm, Michael Muhammad Knight, No One Knows About Persian Cats, Omar Majeed, Peter Gabriel, Ray Manzarek, Rejoice and Shout, Ride Rise Roar, Sarah Silverman, Stephin Merritt, Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields, Strummerville, SXSW Film Festival, Talking Heads, Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam, The Band, The Clash, The Magnetic Fields, The Weird World of Blowfly, This Movie is Broken, Thomas A. Dorsey, Tom Dicillo, When You’re Strange – A Film About the Doors