|Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams|
The NW Film Center kicks off its second quarter-century of harmonious documentaries this weekend with Anvil! The Story of Anvil (7 pm Friday, Jan. 9, and 9 pm Saturday, Jan. 10)—which, perhaps unsurprisingly, recounts the legacy of the band Anvil, the nearly-forgotten “demigods of Canadian metal.” From there, the festival offers visits with Bob Marley, Philip Glass, the Flaming Lips, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, Johnny Cash, Sergio Leone and Bach. We’ll be keeping up with these films on wweek.com and in our listings—but first, here’s a look at a few highlights of the coming weeks.
The Night James Brown Saved Boston
James Brown was never a man to hold his tongue. The lively, outspoken singer was hitting his creative peak in 1968, and had no reservations saying he disagreed with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s peaceful approach to the Civil Rights movement. The Night James Brown Saved Boston documents the immediate aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination, when Brown was scheduled to play a show in Boston the day after King’s death. The scene was set for the biggest riot the city had seen since the Boston Tea Party, but it wasn’t the city that went up in flames—it was the Boston Garden. Brown, despite the initial trepidation from mayor Kevin White, played the monumental show of his life, and here we see rarely seen black-and-white footage from the show as well as acute commentary from noted black leaders (Al Sharpton, Cornel West) and various members of Brown’s incredible backing band. The Night James Brown Saved Boston is the perfect type of music documentary, mixing just the right amount of social commentary in with the incredible archival concert footage. He had a brand new bag indeed. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER. 7 pm Monday, Jan. 19.
The Wrecking Crew
Everybody knows the iconic walking bass line in Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made For Walkin.’’’ But do you know who wrote the part? Though they played on hundreds of standards—from the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds to Ricky Nelson’s “Fools Rush In”—the group of Los Angeles musicians, dubbed at some point as “the wrecking crew” by drummer Hal Blaine, has gone unknown to everyone but the odd music curmudgeon for over 40 years. The Wrecking Crew, a lovely little documentary by Denny Tedesco, the son of a prominent crew guitar player, sheds light on the story of the mish-mash gang of musical castoffs that made all of Phil Spector and Brian Wilson’s weird ideas come to fruition. The only downside is the film never attempts to answer the burning question: If these players were so good, how come they never tried to form their own band? Still, with the way the industry is currently tanking, it’s hard to complain about a 90-minute film that features archival footage and new interviews with the creators of some of the greatest music ever put to tape. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER. 7 pm Saturday, Jan. 24.
Agile, Mobile, Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams
Follow the titular outsider musician—a legendary Chicago soul vocalist who penned such left-field hits as “Bacon Fat” and “Jail Bait”—as he struggles with drug and alcohol abuse, tours the world and regales viewers with stories from his truly impressive musical past. He’s a colorful dude, living large at 70 with the wardrobe of a low-key pimp and a mouth that drops “motherfucker” the way most people say hello. And Williams grants his documentarians endless access, allowing them to paint a heartbreaking portrait of a musician blowing on the embers of a career rich in accomplishment but low on monetary reward, and living a befuddlingly long and healthy life (he drinks Bacardi like it’s water). But directors Tricia Todd and Eric Matthies put so much heart into capturing present-day Williams that we barely get an inkling as to why he was so important in his heyday. A handful of poorly presented archival photos and recent interviews with Williams’ contemporaries just aren’t enough to get the point across that this fire-and-ice codger was once a music industry force, and it’s the singer himself who suffers because of that lack of detail. Even if it’s more heart than spine, though, Agile, Mobile, Hostile is a rich psychological study of a film, especially for those of us who have always wondered what having grandparents must be like. CASEY JARMAN. 9 pm Saturday, Jan. 31.
Miles Davis in Copenhagen
It’s 1969, and Miles Davis is going crazy on his trumpet but he hasn’t yet thrown himself behind the prog-funk-rock-jazz that will divide audiences forever. He’s playing “Bitches Brew” (from the legendary genre-shifting double-LP of the same name), but that unmistakable jazz backbeat is never too far away. This concert is filmed in black-and-white and everyone onstage is properly suited up, a throwback in an era where agbadas, kofias and beads are commonplace for jazz artists. Still, this concert is a record of a music ramming its head against the fences of antiquity, ready to burst out into uncharted territory with an explosion of color, but still holding on to enough of the genre’s fundamentals to make traditionalists scratch their heads and wonder what these boys are up to. Visually, it’s a stark and beautiful concert, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter getting as much face time—and taking just as many musical left turns—as Miles, while drummer Jack DeJohnette shoots in 12 directions at once but keeps the rhythm section steady all the while. You just don’t get this stuff by reading a book or even, necessarily, grasp it from hearing a record, but watching a steely, possessed Miles Davis steer his crew toward the edge of the quartet’s limits should give viewers an idea of just how revolutionary his music was. CASEY JARMAN. 4 pm Sunday, Feb. 1.
SEE IT: Reel Music 26 screens at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium.