Traditionally, the music film genre has been dominated by the well-trod-upon classics: Don’t Look Back, Gimme Shelter, Stop Making Sense, ABBA: The Movie. The evolution of cheap, decent film equipment has meant a proliferation of small, niche-y indies, all begging for an outlet. Hence, XPN’s first Music Film Festival. A collaboration with the Philadelphia Film Society—whose last iteration of the Philadelphia Film Festival had a music film sidebar—this weekend cavalcade introduces the new and potentially not-yet-famous to those interested in the intersection between music and cinema.
The event, programmed by the Society’s Michael Lerman, boasts an impressive diversity. Roger LaMay, general manager at XPN, says that, for its first outing at least, half the slate is “XPN-centric.” That explains the doc on Paul Williams and fest closer Under African Skies, director Joe Berlinger’s (Paradise Lost) doc on Paul Simon’s tumultuous trip back to South Africa to commemorate Graceland. But there are also films outside the XPN bubble, with offerings on soul (Charles Bradley: Soul of America), the Warped Tour (No Room for Rockstars), Girl Talk (Girl Walk: All Day) and Gustav Mahler (Of Love, Death and Beyond).
Here, we preview a few of the films. All screenings at Penn’s Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St. 215.898.6702, unless otherwise noted. Find more info about the fest at xpn.org.
The immensely talented and—when he’s not terrifying—hugely charming Robert Carlyle should have a bigger career than the one he’s had. Hopefully, people will see writer/director Marshall Lewy’s modest drama California Solo, in which Carlyle plays a Britpop star turned farmhand in rural Cali. The immigration and familial crises that crop up are boilerplate, but 10 receives plenty of ballast not only from its effortlessly charismatic star but its brutal revelation of what life does to musicians of faddish bands. It’s as though someone made a film about what happened to that one guy from Menswear. (Fri., 5:20pm and Sun., 3:15pm.)
Girl Walk: All Day
White person party mash-up master Girl Talk’s latest album departs the living room for movie theaters, where you can’t dance. Instead you get to watch others: This feature-length music video starts with a ballerina (Anne Marsen) who, inspired by the shotgun marriage of Ludacris to Sabbath, busts out of her studio to frug about New York City. Director/cinematographer Jacob Krupnick effortlessly bottles up the exuberance of Girl Talk’s juxtapositions, even if his own mash-up of image to sound lacks structure or, usually, reason. At its best Girl Walk is a thrilling city symphony, where a young woman’s moves increasingly enrapture a metropolis of jaded denizens; at its worst it’s a cheesy city symphony, as witnessed in the shopping spree episode. (Fri., 9pm. World Cafe Live)
Of Love, Death and Beyond: Exploring Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony
Gustav Mahler’s second and most popular symphony receives a feature-length annotation, which peppers the composition with constant context. Scholars, academics, philosophers and theologians weigh in on a piece borne out of its composer’s insecurity and fear of death. Plowing through its five movements, Jason Starr’s doc reveals an artist doubling down on his shtick after the hostile reaction to his first symphony, sketching a transporting masterwork that cowers before mortality before embracing what its maker hopes is a transcendent afterlife. (Sun., 5:15pm)
Hi, My Name is Ryan
Outlandish enough to send you to Google to prove its legitimacy, Ryan unleashes Ryan Avery, who, when the doc was filmed over four years ago, was a baby-faced teen dropout who formed schticky bands Best Friends (a cappella), Father’s Day (thrash, plus fake mustaches) and Night Wolf (electronic and drums and some melodies). Their lack of craft enrages a local artist, who proves infinitely oblivious to the obvious hilarity of a grown adult starting a rivalry with kids barely out of puberty. The product of an unhappy, albeit unspectacular, childhood, Avery lives to embody the point where real anger becomes entertaining, although the more the filmmakers delve into his psyche, the more it seems their unsurprising explanations are simply ruining the fun. (Fri., 9:35pm and Sat., 3:05pm.)
Surrogate Valentine/Daylight Savings
Dave Boyle’s Surrogate Valentine—an agreeably shambling indie about a sadsack singer-songwriter (Goh Nakamura, as himself)—is so modest it would never ask for a sequel. It got one anyway. The lone carryover from this fall’s Philadelphia Film Festival, the B&W Valentine finds Nakamura’s thirtysomething troubadour paired with an obnoxious grotesque of a TV actor (Chadd Stoops) for familiar but likable road trip shenanigans, grounded by a casually realistic look at an artist successful enough to just squeak by. Daylight Savings, made just a year later, adds more ambitious cinematography to what’s nearly more of the same, with Nakamura again hitting the road, this time with a disreputable ex-con cousin (Michael Aki) and a newly broken heart. Both twisty narratives benefit from the unfailingly low-key charm of Nakamura, who at one point confesses to a potential conquest, “I don’t know how to talk to girls. I guess if I did, I’d have nothing to write about.” Which, c’mon, is such a line. (Valentine: Sat., 1:10pm. Savings: Sat., 3:10pm.)
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014