Sunday, January 9, 2011

girl on film: i don't hate all rock docs!

I caught a lot of flak last fall when I posted a scathing review of Who Is Harry Nilsson? (And Why Is Everybody Talking About Him).

While I still stand by it, it did sting when people I respected actually questioned my ability to opine on music or film after that post. Harsh.

Rock docs and I took a little break, but on Friday I had the unexpected opportunity to head out to The Times Cinema (new resolution: go there more!) with Larissa and Jason to catch The Agony and The Ecstasy of Phil Spector.

Perhaps it's because I love dark movies (Black Swan is likely my movie of the year (list coming after I catch up this month on 2010 releases)), but THIS was a rock documentary I enjoyed. Why? Well, I can only compare watching Phil Spector narrate his own history to Hannibal Lector chatting with Clarice Starling (and I just realized that their names rhyme...weird).

The narrative structure of film was stripped, providing a stark contrast to the "wall of sound" pieces that provided the soundtrack during disturbing footage of Spector's murder trial. Also, instead of having a bunch of talking heads discuss the cultural and musical impact of his work, the critique was printed in subtitles over the footage.

The filmmakers did a fantastically creepy job of letting the music move the story forward and leave the audience to make their own conclusions about Spector's guilt or innocence (the movie starts off with "He Hit Me (But It Felt Like a Kiss)"). Like Lector, Spector is an intriguing multi-faceted subject. The man's a convicted murderer, but he was bitingly amusing and you get drawn into his tirades and reminiscences. You also get a clear picture of his misanthropy and deep paranoia.

I was also happy to learn that according to music criticism I'm supposed to be unsettled by Tina Turner's "River Deep Mountain High." That song just has never sat right with me.

Overall, the film is a fascinating treatment of a controversial subject that keeps the viewer engaged for its entire run. Even knowing the outcome, I did not find myself bored or with a wandering mind at all.

Spector tunes were an integral part of my childhood, so maybe on some level my subsconscious just enjoyed this more based on the soundtrack. Or maybe I've just got a penchant for evil geniuses.

At any rate, if you're in Milwaukee, it's at the Times all week. The folks over at Radio Milwaukee are presenting a "musically noteworthy" film series this year so I'm excited to see more. Next up is Lemmy, which I missed during the Milwaukee Film Festival, so I'll have to catch it there.

What's your favorite "rock doc"? Will you be checking out this series at The Times?

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