The films of Basque director Julio Medem derive much of their power from their constant proximity to the melodramatic, the grandiose, and even, at times, the ridiculous. As with Leos Carax or Harmony Korine, the dead-serious notion of cinema as a kind of visual alchemy pervades everything Medem does, which means that when he fails — as he does often, and with naked abandon — he provokes unintentional titters. When Medem succeeds, though, his films feel like a head rush.
I have seen Woodstock and I have seen The Last Waltz. I have seen Don’t Look Back, Eat the Document, and No Direction Home. I have seen the Maysles Brothers’ documentary about the Rolling Stones, as well as Jean-Luc Godard’s semi-documentary about the Rolling Stones and Robert Frank’s notoriously unreleased documentary about the Rolling Stones, which legend has it you’re only legally allowed to watch in the presence of both Jagger and Richards. I have seen The Great Rock and Roll Swindle as well as The Filth and the Fury, Julien Temple’s two different documentaries about the Sex Pistols. I have seen that double-DVD Tom Petty documentary. I have seen the special features. I have seen the movie where Chris Holmes from W.A.S.P. slowly drinks himself nearly to death in a darkened swimming pool enclosure and Ozzy pours the orange juice all over the counter. To varying degrees, I enjoyed all these films, but if you asked me to tell you my very-favorite-ever cinematic document of a rock and roll band, I would have to break down and admit that it’s a 10-dollar import DVD of Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show doing a live-for-German-TV performance sometime in 1974. I have seen it at least 30 times. No other cinematic musical document has so consistently reminded me what playing rock and roll onstage should, at its very highest point, feel like.
When Kinji Fukasaku was 15, the war his Japan had been waging suddenly ended in the detonation of an atomic bomb. The young Fukasaku, who had been working at an armaments factory – his time mostly spent cleaning up the corpses of his co-workers killed every day in Allied bombings – watched as his proud country collapsed into chaos and economic ruin. Years later, Fukasaku would translate those firsthand childhood experiences of Japan’s disintegration into a catalog of vibrant and blisteringly angry films that would make him that country’s most successful director.
My father studied film at the Film School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and he launched into grownup life with the goal of being a filmmaker, starting out with usually-silent short films in a more experimental style influenced by the European auteurist directors of the 1960s and 70s. But after a long and frustrating string of disappointments, rejections and setbacks, he set filmmaking aside and pursue another goal he had, to become a teacher. He and my mother moved to Meriden, New Hampshire and joined the faculty at Kimball Union Academy, a college preparatory boarding school.
I was sitting in a chair, snapping my fingers in time to the music, and a naked man was spitting a giant mouthful of warm beer into my face. I was proud of myself, because I had had no idea the naked man was going to spit beer into my face but when he did it I successfully registered no emotion and just kept snapping my fingers in time to the music, which was the Rolling Stones. My mouth was hanging open, just kind of a zoned-out gape, and a good deal of the beer the naked man spat went in there. Still, I didn’t register any emotion. It was my proudest moment as an actor.
The greatest height the pop career of Townes Van Zandt ever reached was in 1982. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard were working on a duet album together and they needed one more tune; at the last minute they decided to cover Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” and were so pleased with their recording they titled their album after it and made it the leading track. The song became a smash hit, resulting in something like financial security for the man who wrote it, America’s best-loved utterly unknown songwriter.
Be Here to Love Me, Margaret Brown’s haunting documentary on Van Zandt, includes some footage from the television program “Nashville Now” in which interviewer asks Van Zandt about Nelson and Haggard’s cover. Instead of expressing his gratitude towards the two country legends, Van Zandt mocks them.