Black Francis to compose/ provide live accompaniment to silent movie for SFIFF ’08

April 2nd, 2008

As part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival.

Black Francis (of the Pixies, aka Frank Black) will be composing and performing live accompaniment to the Golem, a 1920 German silent horror film, as a part of the fest. This will all take place at 9:30pm on Friday, April 25 at the Castro Theater.

The SFIFF does something like this pretty much every year. I saw Jonathan Richman do Phantom Carriage last year and American Music Club do Street Angel a few years back. Those have both been pretty great audio/ visual experiences and I expect The Golem may be as well.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow.

sigur ros day on you tube

March 7th, 2008

All of the youtube front page has been taken over by Sigur Ros. It has all sorts of things, including entrants to their Minn Heima contest (people making videos to Sigur Ros songs), like:

You can, in fact, watch all 97 minutes of Heima right there. I still recommend seeing it on as big a screen as you can, but I loved that film and highly recommend it.

Cash by Johnny Cash

February 25th, 2008

I finished Johnny Cash’s second autobiography, Cash: the Autobiography a couple weeks ago.

You’ve seen Walk the Line (probably) so you know the Johnny Cash story, approximately at least.

But there’s a lot more to this book than the story of his life. In fact, this isn’t so much the story as the stories of his life: vignettes, tales and anecdotes from many different periods of his life.

Some parts are funny. Some are poignant. Some give you a better background to where his music’s coming from and the artists he grew up on. There are even a couple advertisements for things he likes (like the Carter Family Fold he’s totally upfront about these endorsements).

I was most interested in the stories of music on the farm growing up–listening to the radio late at night, singing out in the fields–and also of the story of how the partnership with Rick Rubin came about. There was another interesting snippet about preparing for a mid 90s concert (with an audience of younger people) at the Fillmore.

The style is very fluid, conversational, upfront and personal. There’s a ghost writer, but it honestly feels like he must not have done much because it seems like Cash put down these words himself.

At some point I read someone say something like Cash by Johnny Cash is the best music biography or perhaps the best writing on music. I can’t find who said that or the context now, but I’m leaning toward that sentiment. It’s an engaging and entertaining read and give a good background and context to this great artist’s music.

You can buy it at Amazon.

Sigur Ros’ Heima, mini Hvarf Heim review

December 10th, 2007

Last week I saw Sigur Ros’ Heima (official site; another official site) documentary/ concert film as part of the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival. It’s a spectacular film. I highly recommend seeing it in a theater if you can as it’ll lose some of its magnificence on DVD.

After many tours encompassing the globe, Sigur Ros came home to Iceland (Heima means “at home” or “homeland”) and decided to put on a series of free and often unconventional shows. The took recording equipment and cameras along and produced this movie. You can read more about the tour itself in their tour diary.

In short, what you get is Sigur Ros playing in an abandoned fish factory or in a statue park between two houses sitting in ruins. They play in a social club and at a protest camp (for a dam being built). Sometimes they play to no one and sometimes they play to tens of thousands. There are also section of the band talking about the door, their music and their relationship with Iceland.

If you find Sigur Ros’ music emotional, then I’m sure you’ll find this film emotional as well, possibly more so. I haven’t seen them live and it seems my chance has passed to see them in any sort of space that could possibly be called intimate. But I was trying to explain to a friend that I think this movie might be better than a live performance could be–these are pretty amazing musical and visual settings together, each working each other in a way I don’t think you can get in the live venue.

The sound is good throughout. Whether playing indoor or out, it seems that the sound is pretty consistent and good through, with the possible exception being, I believe, “Vaka” (“Untitled #1″ from () ) in the protest camp scene. Having difficulties with their equipment and realizing the point of the protest camp, the band goes for a no-mic set up, playing only to the camera’s mics which are buffeted by wind. The music, of course, is pretty amazing–it’s Sigur Ros playing in their normal set up or acoustically and playing well throughout. The power of the music is such that I had chills within about five minutes of the beginning of the film during the “Glosoli”.

What sets the movie apart, though, are the visuals. Iceland is beautiful, just absolutely gorgeous. If there’s one drawback of seeing this movie–if you’re not super rich, at least–is that you can’t go to Iceland immediately after seeing it. You’ll probably want to go if you don’t already. The combined visuals and sound first really hit you during the “Heysatan” sequence, in that sculpture area between two houses that sit in ruins and surrounded by dark, lush green mountains with black volcanic rock outcroppings. The band is huddled quite closely together in the cold and “Heysatan” is so fragile and tense that I thought it would burst at any moment.

The peak of the movie is that protest camp scene with “Vaka”. They band members talk of this dam that’s being built before the start of that scene and then they just show the band and their immediate surroundings. In one of many examples of good editing, right with the Big Moment of the song hits, they show the dam itself for the first time: big, monstrous and jarring in the context of the beautiful landscape. That moment hit me hard with emotion and I had to blink my eyes to keep things from getting blurry.

The only negative I can think of is that the interviews sometimes overlap instrumental parts of the music. I’d rather the music just be left alone most of the time. I feel like should temper this review somehow, saying my experience–like those in weight loss commercials on TV–may not be typical, but I really do think this is a pretty amazing film and I’m not going to make excuses for that.

It’s available now from insound.

Unfortunately there aren’t any SF screenings coming up–Amoeba showed it a few weeks ago, but that’s it on the current schedule. You can check here for future screenings–U.S. residents in Cincinnati, Tulsa and Madison get lucky, while the U.K. and other places have more showings. Check them out below the break.

Hvarf-Heim is the double-disc CD version to accompany the movie. The first disc is new, mostly unreleased electric (regular) Sigur Ros recordings. Three are new songs and two are rerecorded versions of older songs. The second disc is six acoustic versions of songs from their four albums as seen in the film.

I was immediately drawn to the second disc more. I like stripped down versions of songs and Sigur Ros’ stripped down versions are pretty spectacular. The one exception on this disc is the version of “Agaetis Byrjun”, the instrumentation of which I felt came across as sort of cheesy.

I like the recordings–the “Heysatan” version here is quite a bit better than the Takk version, for instance–but the overall album isn’t as can’t-miss as the film.

It’s available at insound.

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juno trailer, soundtrack

October 31st, 2007

It’s apparently okay for music blogs to post movie trailers, right? Well, what’s it matter, this movie look great[1].

As partial justification for posting, here’s the soundtrack listing. Lots of Kimya Dawson and also Sonic Youth, Cat Power, and Belle & Sebastian as well as the old favorites Buddy Holly and Velvet Underground.

The song at the end of the trailer, if you were wondering, is All the Young Dudes by Mott the Hoople. Classic!

You can also check out four more clips from the movie.

[1] Hopefully it won’t be a Garden State-like great trailer, great trailer, okay movie situation.

the devil and daniel johnston

August 20th, 2007

I saw The Devil and Daniel Johnston last night. It’s about the life and music of bipolar-diagnosed “outsider musician” Daniel Johnston (official site).

I remember hearing about Daniel Johnston probably somewhere around 1993 or so from my friend John (now a rock star himself in Red Rocket). “There’s this guy. He has this album and he’s in a mental hospital!”

Of course, I’ve heard about him since then and mostly from Discovered Covered I had heard some of his songs and covers of a bunch of them. But overall, I had felt pretty unfamiliar with his actual work and his life.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston to the rescue! There are a lot of different aspects to a documentary. As for portraying information and telling a story, this documentary is really good on both accounts. It gives you a good idea of Daniel’s life and the filmmakers found a lot of interesting and appropriate people to interview and tell various aspects of the story.

Visually, the film is pretty good. There’s always a problem with a film that is taken largely from home audio cassettes (with many old Johnston-taped conversations appearing) and recordings of songs: what do you do with the visual during those audio moments. Well, sometimes the filmmakers succeeded here and sometimes I found it sort of boring.

Johnston’s music is really interesting. Painfully personal and often awkward. His stage performance, at times, was really difficult and awkward to watch, like some of the times he got convinced that everyone was possessed or evil and was proselytizing from the stage mid-performance.

Daniel Johnston plays this week in San Francisco:

8/22 Daniel Johnston @ Bimbo’s 365, 8pm, $18, 18+

Update: Note that it’s entirely a coincidence that Hearya also posted about this movie today. Head over there for a bunch of Daniel Johnston mp3s.

Funny Ha Ha (starring Bishop Allen)

August 13th, 2007

Last night I saw Funny Ha Ha (wikipedia). It’s the second such Andrew Bujalski starring Bishop Allen band members that I’ve seen, after Mutual Appreciation. It got some decent reviews.

It’s the fairly subdued story of a group of friends in their post college years, trying to figure out what to do with their lives. The Bujalski films have a very conversational and lo-fi feel to them. They feel like real life being put on film, which can be really interesting or, to some people, a bit boring.

I liked the film. Overall it was fairly somber but with some witty and interesting turns. I’m sure others have noted that Funny Ha Ha isn’t really “funny ha ha.” I feel like I know a lot of the characters in some way—friends of mine, people I’ve met; I even see myself in some of the characters.

19/ 20 years later: Rattle and Hum

June 24th, 2007

The indie rock community always has an odd relationship with mainstream artists. Some are accepted and expected that you like (everyone loves Bruce Springsteen this year; Beach Boys are another popular indie rock mainstream artist). I don’t know where the indie rock consciousness currently falls with U2 but I don’t care. If I had to limit my record collection’s 80s section to two albums, I’d leave The Queen is Dead. I’d leave Surfa Rosa. I’m taking The Joshua Tree and Graceland.

I watched Rattle and Hum again tonight, for the first time in possibly eight years, when I last watched it in my first crazy-about-U2 phase partially initiated by my friend Wally constantly singing along to U2 and eventually showing me Rattle and Hum.

Though it was released in 1988, the bulk of the filming of this documentary happened 20 years ago in 1987. Of course, the clothing and hair styles are bad, hilariously bad, even. No one should wear a leather vest with nothing underneath. Or only suspenders (no shirt) in public.

I don’t listen to U2 daily, or even weekly most of the time, so I was a bit surprised at my reaction to some of the music. I like a lot of the songs, of course. “With or Without You”, “Bad”, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Where the Streets have No Name” are great songs. I was listening and enjoying. However, when they did the version of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with the gospel choir from Harlem, I had goose bumps. My serious visceral reaction to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was even more intense. Multiple times in the song (at the beginning, when the drums first come in, and during the “Fuck the revolution! No more!” part) it felt like the entire skin shell of my body was tensed and bristled. I’m not going to write off a song or band that can cause that sort of reaction.

Bono was the so-full-of-himself-but-can-sort-of-get-away-with-it-because-he-really-is-that-good guy before Kanye came around. For anyone to say that they’d just discovered BB King and wanted to work with him seems absurd, but U2 does it and pulls it off. There of course is some total wankery. The part where Bono takes a flood light and dramatically lights the Edge during a solo is just silly.

The black and white parts of the film are the most artistically interesting from a visual perspective. Some of the color parts (Bono backlit in blue, Bono lit from below with the fog machines on) seem a bit cliched and forced.

There is a bit of a SF connection to the film. The version of “All Along the Watchtower” was performed and filmed live in an outdoor square in SF. In the middle of the song, Bono goes up to a sculpture and spray paints it with “Rock N Roll Stops Traffic.” I think Woody’s got you beat on “musix does [x]” claims there, Bono, but I’d still like to see Chris Martin do that.

once review

June 20th, 2007

Last week I saw one of the best rated movies of the year so far, Once, which is about an Irish street musician and a flower-seller/ musician that he meets. I wanted to see it at the SF International Film Festival, but I missed my chance. Now it’s in limited (but obviously wider) release.

The plot sort of goes like this: busker sings. busker works in dad’s vacuum repair shop. nosy street flower-and-magazine seller asks him questions. nosy girl is a musician (and a girl!). magic!

It’s a subtle and affecting movie. I went in with pretty high expectations, given the great reviews, so there was a little bit of a “oh. that’s it?” feeling at the end, but that’s not to say it’s not good. The plot twists are pretty unexpected.

The music is a big part of the movie. It’s competent and engaging singer-songwriter stuff from lead actor and singer/ guitarist for the Frames, Glen Hansard. It can be a bit sappy at times, but it’s not music I’m going to write off because of that. The way it fits into the film is very organic. People sitting together at a music store or pulling out a guitar on a bus. There’s none of that Broadway musical-bursting-into-song-at-random-times business. (Though, I was a bit bugged by the fact that instrumentation or voices that weren’t playing or singing on camera were heard—people don’t have samplers in regular real life.)

So, basically, it’s a romance without being Hollywood and a musical without being Broadway (or Bollywood).

The soundtrack streams from the official site.

Old Joy review

May 16th, 2007

This is marginally related to music, but it does relate to the indie rock in two ways which I will elaborate further on: 1) Will Oldham plays one of the leads and 2) Yo La Tengo does the soundtrack.

Old Joy (wikipedia, trailer) is a minimalist story of two old friends who go camping for a weekend.

Kurt (Oldham’s character) is a free-floating and free-thinking friend who comes back into town and calls up Mark (Daniel London’s character) asking if he wants to check out some hot springs in the woods outside of town. Mark “asks” his pregnant wife(?)/ girlfriend (?) if he can go and then sets off. Kurt is that unreliable asshole friend that you have, the one that you love but you don’t count on for anything. Kurt gets them lost on the way to hot springs and delays the whole plan.

Friends change; that’s what this movie’s about. Mark is on the verge of fatherhood while Kurt has gone, it seems, from one hot spring and wild forest adventure to another. At the same time, it sort of shows you why those friends are still important even if the two don’t have that much in common.

Yo La Tengo’s soundtrack is great and works really well in the film. I must say, though, it didn’t quite floor me like their soundtrack to Junebug.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie. It might not be for everyone, but if you appreciate well-made minimalist movies, you might like this.

[1] “subtle” in critic-speak means the same thing as boring, but in a positive sense.