In the last few days I’ve seen a couple of music films that I’d like to remark on.
Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2008) was something. Documentarians catch up with a somewhat influential (in metal circles) early 80s hair metal band from Toronto that never achieved success but also never quit trying to achieve success. The film opens with scenes from the band’s peak in 1984 playing a metal festival in Japan, followed by scenes of the present day (2006 or so) of the lead singer/guitarist (“Lips”) going to his low-wage day job in Toronto, and then scenes of the band playing their local pub to 100 or so devoted fans.
At this point I had some conflicting reactions.
It was heartening to see how good they are. And shocking — had they cut from the 80s concert scene directly to the ’06 concert scene the only difference would be thinning hair and wrinkles. They never stopped playing. Lips and drummer Robb are the original members, in their 50s at this point, still great players (instrumentally at least) and as energetic and present as they were in the 80s. It was also nice to see what kind of support they have in their hometown after 30 years of playing, that 100 people would come out to see them. So what more could you want?
Sadly, they have a dream, and even thought he object of their dream (80’s hair metal world stardom) no longer exists, the film follows their one last attempt at realizing it. It gets depressing. Quixotic? That’s the word. It’s worth seeing though, you can stream it on Netflix.
Last night I heard D. A. Pennebaker on public radio’s American Routes discussing Dont Look Back, his 1967 film of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of England. The modern age being as awesome as it is, I promptly rented it online.
I’m on a weird 60s kick right now and Dont Look Back fits into that nicely, and is quite a different music documentary than Anvil. I don’t have a lot to say on it other than the film itself has a great pacing and feel to it, and captures the power of Dylan’s solo performances perfectly. I haven’t spent time with and/or don’t understand later Dylan enough to appreciate the wheezing unintelligible figure he turned into (his MTV Unplugged album was one of the worst things I ever bought), but watching him here is just magic. It’s an honest portrayal (or as honest as something as contrived as an authorized documentary can be), showing an impatient churlish side to the man, in his interactions with the press, etc. Plus, everybody’s smoking! Constantly. The whole thing reminded me a lot of the 1998 Radiohead documentary Meeting People is Easy, which I also really like, and my guess is it isn’t an accident (on Radiohead/Grant Gee’s part, obviously).
Speaking of TV, the episode of 30 Rock, whose exterior shots allowed me coincidentally to see Tina Fey and Jane Krakowski last month in New York, aired this last Thursday. So it did happen. My photos didn’t turn out that great but you can see people wearing the yellow and blue that forms one of the episode’s very silly plot points. Not their best work, but it’ll do.
Here’s a photo I found on CNN.com of this scene (on the left), and a photo I took of more or less the same scene (on the right). The whole thing happened very quickly, I don’t think the crowd was there more than 5 minutes. The actors kept appearing and disappearing, and the stage hands kept telling the tourist crowd to stop using flash cameras, and then the whole scene dissipated and everyone left. It was weird.