MUSIC ON CELLULOID AT THE 2008 SEATTLE FILM FESTIVAL

Blurt goes to the movies and lets the sun shine in.

By GILLIAN G. GAAR

 

The Seattle International Film Festival, now in its 34th year (running May 22 through June 15), is the largest such festival in the US,
serving up close to 250 feature films and 170 shorts. This year’s SIFF had the
usual good percentage of music related films on offer, with most due to be
released later. The fest’s “Face The Music” series encompassed eight music
documentaries; a screening of F.W. Murnau’s classic Sunrise had a new original score performed by Sub Pop artists The
Album Leaf; screenings of the Sergei Eisenstein/Dmitri Vasilyev silent Alexander Nevsky featured live
accompaniment by the Seattle Symphony. Some non-music films also featured
musicians; David Bowie appeared in August,
Rickie Lee Jones turned up in Dream Boy,
and Deborah Harry appeared in Elegy,
starring Sir Ben Kingsley, which had its North American Premiere at SIFF.
Elsewhere, Smiths/Pet Shop Boys video director Derek Jarman is profiled in Derek, written, narrated and co-produced
by Tilda Swinton; Billy Strayhorn: Lush
Life
covered the life of the composer of “Take The A-Train” and “Satin
Doll,” and rock ‘n’ roll dreams die hard for the aspiring metal act Anvil! The Story Of Anvil.

 

Most SIFF films don’t have distribution, but they do have
their own websites you can check out for further information. Some films seen
by Blurt:

 

Hair: Let The Sun
Shine In
is an all-too-brief look at the history of “the American tribal
love rock musical,” originally made for TV, which presumably explains its
brevity (just under an hour). It’s a shame, because the musical was an
injection of fresh blood into the Broadway scene in the same way that Rent was. There’s some great footage (a
young Tim Curry, of the London cast, interviewed for French TV), but younger
viewers will be left wondering what all the fuss was about.

 

War Child is the
improbable story of Emmanuel Jal, born in Sudan as civil war broke out, and
later a child soldier himself, who was rescued by a British aid worker and
smuggled to Kenya, where he discovered hip hop and became a musician. Jal’s
story, at times almost too harsh to watch, is a testament to the healing power
music can provide in even the most desperate circumstances.

 

Heavy Metal In Baghdad:
The Beastie Boys might have sung about fighting for your right to party, but
it’s unlikely they ever had to live that creed as much as the Iraqi metalheads
who formed Acrassicauda did. In Saddam’s Iraq simply wearing long hair was an
infraction; since the US occupation, the band has had their practice space
bombed and their instruments destroyed. It’s a look at life in war-torn Iraq
not usually seen.

 

The Wrecking Crew is a love letter from son to father, the father in this case being Tommy
Tedesco, the session guitarist who appeared on seemingly every pop hit recorded
in LA in the ‘60s, along with the likes of drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carole
Kaye, and sax player Plas Johnson (all of whom are interviewed), among others.
Nice to see the gang that didn’t even get albums credits for their work finally
getting their due.

 

Song Sung Blue is
a bittersweet, and sometimes wrenching, look at the only-in-America career of
Mike and Claire Sardina. Mike, as “Lightning,” impersonates Neil Diamond, while
Claire (“Thunder”) provides backup vocals and the occasional Patsy Cline
number. After a little help from Eddie Vedder, their career is seemingly on the
rise — but life has an unfortunate way of interfering. Would-be musicians,
please note; most performer’s lives are like the Sardinas’, not Eddie Vedders’.

 

Gonzo: The Life and
Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson
traces the life of the iconoclastic writer
from the publication of his book Hell’s
Angels
(accompanied by footage of his appearance on the game show To Tell The Truth!) on. And unpopular
war, political hardball, and the perils of fame provide backdrop to Thompson’s
strange, ultimately sad, journey, make the film startlingly resonant for today.
The accompanying soundtrack provides a suitably rich tapestry.

 

Patti Smith: Dream of
Life
is more of an impressionistic memoir than a straightforward
documentary. Footage from Smith’s remarkable career is unearthed (one wishes
for more), intercut with riveting performance footage (featuring plenty of
biting political commentary), and scenes of Smith visiting with family and
friends (at her parents’ home, getting a guitar lesson from playwright Sam
Shepard), and rummaging through her possessions. Smith’s life is her art is her
life.

(Pictured: A scene from Heavy Metal in Baghdad)

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