Everything’s Happy Underground

Nathan Hall

Hollywood schlockmeister Michael Bay would never make a movie about DIY-till-they-die hardcore band Fugazi, and Fugazi would never let him. With that rationale in mind, the third annual Sound Unseen Film and Music Festival rolls into town next week dedicated to the proposition of keeping indies strictly for the indies. In all fairness, there is a decent amount of corporate sponsorship of the event but, then again, beggars can’t be choosers.

Like all underground galas of this sort, it’s a mixed bag, and a few skunks showed up for the party. But, again, I don’t raise a fuss if my gumbo gets a little lumpy every once in awhile, provided the cook’s heart is in the right place. Knowing full well that the alternative is dreck like Swimfan or Nelly, to avoid these delightful festivities borders on the criminal. The greatest concentration of media ownership in the history of our country is now upon us. It is your patriotic duty to vacation away from our cultural gulags whenever a respite becomes possible.

Arguably the most important film being shown here is The Harder They Come, director Perry Henzell’s guns-‘n-ganja epic that propelled reggae artist Jimmy Cliff into fleeting world-wide stardom way back in 1973. Screenings of the movie originally caused bloody riots in Kingston, Jamaica, and although nothing of that magnitude will likely happen in our fair metropolis, the pulsing soundtrack and gritty blaxploitation violence still retains an unmistakable ability to provoke an audience. Another film of note is 1001 Voices, a fascinating documentary about the music of Islam. Despite the revolutionary decree that outlawed Western music, “intoxicating music” and Sufi religious music in Iran, Sufi mystics continue to rebel by singing as a courageous way of fighting fundamentalist dogma.

Film festivals in the Twin Cities are historically exhausting, peppered with confusing scheduling and fraught with technical difficulties. However, from out of this dysfunctional chaos will be created an almost magical land where risqué music videos, Biz Markie, copyright infringers, radio pirates, and a Guided By Voices cover band will all peacefully co-exist for a week.

A Skin Too Few – Nick Drake committed suicide at age 26 after writing a grand total of 30 songs, but his brief body of work stands as some of the most hauntingly beautiful music ever recorded. With a troubled life that mirrored his bleak and morose lyrics, the film employs a gorgeous fuzzy lens technique to achieve a bizarre, dreamlike feel.

something Out Of Nothing – Bryant Lake Bowl semi-regulars Soul Asylum constantly seem to be recording the same CD over and over, but then again, Monet did nothing but paint lily pads all day and look where that got him. Something Out Of Nothing was originally supposed to serve as a glorified infomercial for the album And The Horse They Rode In On but was tragically scrapped by their label.

the Daddy Of Rock And Roll – Wesley Willis is inarguably the first 300 pound black schizophrenic rock star, so it was admittedly inevitable that eventually someone, in this case David Bitton, would want to make a movie about him. His first documentary, Bitton essentially hung out in his apartment for a few weeks and eventually became convinced that he is the only hope for the future of rock music.

what’s Going On? – Femi Kuti is the son of Fela Kuti, the controversial inventor of the Afro-Beat genre. Raised in the corrupt and bankrupt country of Nigeria, Femi more than adequately carries on the rich tradition his father started by mixing contemporary reggae and hip-hop to form vibrant new urban African protest music. If nothing else, this film is also topical state-side as Afro-beat has been cited repeatedly as of late by several U.S. rappers as the latest sampling goldmine.

the Ralph Stanley Story – As the title suggests, Herb Smith’s documentary concerns the man perhaps most well known for his work on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Having recorded and performing classic bluegrass for well over 50 years, Stanley is considered a national treasure and oft-cited as a primary influence by modern day country artists like Dwight Yoakam and Patty Loveless.

lifetime Guarantee: Phranc’s Adventures in Plastic – Who would have thought that Tupperware would provide salvation for outspoken Jewish lesbian folksinger Phranc? A huge presence during the ’80’s underground lesbian punk scene, Phranc has since devoted herself to becoming one the of the country’s top Tupperware sellers. Lifetime Guarantee provides a hilarious look into how someone that never seemed to fit in anywhere is now (almost) universally accepted.

silver Rockets/Kool Things – Celebrating over 20 years of truly iconoclastic work with a new documentary, Sonic Youth remains one of the most innovative rock bands ever. Although perhaps a bit too much attention is lavished on overly tedious improvisational projects, this film is by far the most in-depth look at a highly elusive and vastly misunderstood group of musicians.

if I Should Fall From Grace – Always barely coherent and perpetually drunk as a skunk, former Pogues frontman Shane McGowan is nonetheless always mesmerizing. Irish director Sarah Share talks here with Nick Cave and Sinead O’ Connor as well as friends and family for an incredibly candid look at an astonishingly gifted songwriter who unfortunately also happens to be a raging alcoholic.