Shelved MC5 Doc to Finally See Release

A hands-down crucial film, MC5 – A True Testimonial, having weathered all legal issues and cleared for takeoff, is now waging a Kickstarter campaign to
raise the final, necessary, round of funding.

 

By Fred
Mills

 

My own
“true testimonial”: several years ago, as a staffer for Harp magazine (BLURT’s predecessor, natch) and contributor to the Detroit Metro Times alternative weekly,
I covered the tangled series of events that had unfolded – and were still
unfolding at the time – in the aftermath of the filming of the rock documentary
MC5 – A True Testimonial
, by
Future/Now Films. If you read through the information contained in the press
release below, you’ll quickly see that “tangled” doesn’t even begin to
accurately describe the scenario, which involved filmmakers pitted against
bandmembers, bandmembers pitted against one another, Detroit scenesters taking
sides and squaring off against one another, and at least one courtroom and a
judge.

 

Nearly
lost in the firestorm, but frequently acknowledged by pretty much everyone no
matter what side of the personal and legal divide they found themselves on, was
that the documentary was just fucking killer. That’s something I heard over and over in my on- and off-record
conversations with the principals, and most if not all of them expressed
concern, if not outright pessimism, over the film’s ultimate fate – that it
might never see an official release and thereby pass into the public record as
a chronicle of one of America’s greatest-ever bands.

 

I will
confess that even I – a lifelong MC5 devotee, and a lover of rock docs – came
away with a majorly bad taste in my mouth. This was partly due to the fact that
I attempted, and was able, to see the different points of view held by the
principals, and it won’t come as a surprise to anyone when I suggest that legal
battles tend to bring out the worst in everyone, particularly when the
underlying elements are so drenched in aesthetic/artistic, and therefore
emotional, terms. The other reason is because after a certain point it seemed
like no matter what I reported on the
story, I found myself sucked into its shitstorm: it was almost like each of my
correspondents expected me to take his or her side, and when I refused to
surrender what I thought was genuine objectivity, I would be rewarded with
angry emails and obscenity-laced late night answering machine messages wanting
to rip me for something I’d written online or in print, or even said to
someone. Hell, I’d never even set foot in Detroit, but the experience made me
fearful that I’d get my ass kicked if I ever did.

 

The one
consolation in all of it was that prior to the blowup I was lucky enough to
receive an artwork/silver-disc DVD (not a DVDR) screener of the film, so I
could at least take solace in knowing I could watch it whenever I wanted to,
although the aforementioned bad taste didn’t exactly compel me to do so. Still,
as an MC5 fan and collector I never once felt the urge to flog the DVD on eBay
– unlike, apparently, a number of my industry peers, as the artifact was
eventually spotted at the auction site going for upwards of a couple hundred
bucks, har har har!  (It was also
subsequently bootlegged a couple of times, once as a silver-disc DVD and later
as a knockoff DVDR. No doubt it found its way to file-sharing movie sites, too.)

 

All that
aside, however, here’s hoping that we’ve finally got an opportunity for
everyone to finally wash that bad taste away, because the MC5 documentary has
finally found its way out of the tunnel and is on the verge of finally getting
that official release. As the press release below outlines in great detail, “the
disputes are water under the bridge, and there’s no point in rehashing
them” and a Kickstarter campaign is in place to raise the $27,000 necessary to
secure the appropriate music synchronization licenses for the film.

 

Once that
happens… well, here’s hoping it does. So far nearly $4000 has been raised and
there are 39 days to go until the May 9 deadlines. Go to the film’s Kickstarter
page
for more details.

 

Will I
write about the film this time around? I dunno; on one level, given the crap I
went through a few years ago, smacking my face repeatedly with a brick seems to be a more
appealing prospect. What would YOU do, eh? But then, a lot of people apparently had to weather a lot
of crap in order to make the film happen, so… we’ll see.

 

***

 

 

Read the official press release:

 

 

With all
the lingering legal questions now firmly resolved, the highly regarded but
embattled MC5 – A True Testimonial documentary
film is finally poised for release. Warner/Chappell Music, the MC5’s music
publisher, has agreed to make the much sought-after synchronization
license available to the Chicago
based Future/Now Films. A crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds necessary to
acquire that license is currently underway via the Kickstarter
funding platform and will conclude May 9.

 

Seven
years ago, on March 31, 2004, writer Susan Whitall broke the story of the untimely
derailment of the documentary with a Detroit
News
article titled “MC5 In Turmoil Yet Again”.  At the time, the film
had a full schedule of theatrical screenings in place and was set for
imminent DVD release before a curious decision was made to deny the requisite synchronization
license for the MC5’s music publishing. 

 

That
decision, initiated at the behest of Wayne Kramer, one of the two
guitarists in the legendary but long-defunct band, ignited a
firestorm of controversy, given that Kramer had long supported the film’s
production saying “The filmmakers have done a fabulous job of telling the
story of the MC5… the story is finally getting told and told
right.” The documentary had been poised to make a major splash,
having screened to SRO crowds and widespread critical acclaim at film festivals
around the worldwide. There had been one single ticketed public screening, a
benefit for radio station WDET-FM held at the Detroit Film Theatre before a
sold-out crowd on October 30, 2003.

 

Having
successfully blocked the film’s release, Kramer would later file suit in
federal court in November 2005 over a purported “music producer” position
and alleging a variety of copyright infringement, fraud and breach of contract
claims against director David Thomas, producer Laurel Legler and Future/Now
Films.

 

After
hearing extensive testimony and reviewing the evidence presented during a
week-long trial held October 2006 in Santa Ana, California, United States District
Court Judge Andrew J. Guilford dismissed all charges against the filmmakers,
concluding there was “insufficient factual basis to establish any
claim” against the filmmakers. 

 

In the
decision rendered March 31, 2007, Judge Guilford found “no terms specific
enough to form an enforceable contract were ever agreed upon,” that neither
Thomas or Legler “had made any actionable false representations” to
Kramer, and that the dispute arose only after Future/Now Films
“demonstrated that the film they were crafting could be successful,” adding,
“The MC5 is historically significant and its music and story merit being heard
today. The film had and still has the potential to spread the music and
story of the MC5.” 

 

The
families of the late Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith have been fully
supportive of the film’s release from the beginning; Patti Smith has been
unequivocal, saying, “They were a great band and they should be
remembered. And they should be remembered together. This film is a very
good opportunity to give them recognition.” With authorizations from the
three surviving members now in place, Vincent Cox, attorney for Future/Now
Films, has declared “the disputes are water under the bridge, and
there’s no point in rehashing them.”  

 

With that
in mind, the final objective is acquiring the requisite sync license for this
brilliant film and a campaign to raise the funds necessary to acquire that
license is currently underway via the Kickstarter funding platform.
Spearheaded by Detroit
music producer Freddie Brooks, Fred “Sonic” Smith’s longtime associate and
charge d’affaires, that campaign will conclude May 9, 2011. If
successful, theatrical screenings are expected to begin immediately with a
worldwide DVD release expected to follow shortly thereafter.

 

As USDC
Judge Guilford noted, director David Thomas and producer Laurel Legler were
“first-time filmmakers who spent eight years of their lives trying to
create a documentary film that would be historically truthful, a
documentary that would celebrate the talent and creativity of the MC5 band, a
documentary that would say something about the 60’s, and would say something
about the present.  They succeeded, and the film merits wide distribution
for the enjoyment and edification of the masses.”

 

More details: www.MC5-TrueTestimonial.com

 

 

 

 

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