The Reel Music Festival gives music fans an excuse to sit quietly in the dark.
For both film fanatics and music nerds, Christmas comes late, in January, when the Northwest Film Center unspools its 19th Reel Music Film Festival. In its month-plus run, everything from bluegrass to avant-garde classical has its moment in the celluloid sun. Here we offer assessments of two of the most enticing films in the festival's first week. For a full festival schedule, see www.nwfilm.org.
The Miles Davis Story
Brit director Mike Dibb's docu-bio of the jazz icon packs about as much journalistic depth as an episode of Behind the Music. But, damn, it looks good.
For Dibb's jangled narrative pace, look no further than the single minute in which Miles goes from struggling New York sideman to toast of Paris to smack casualty. Then, we are told just as suddenly, Davis "somehow" puts together his revolutionary nonette and records Birth of the Cool. In fact, this lazily conventional retelling of Davis' saga leaves a lot of "somehows" dangling.
Fortunately, all you need to make a decent movie about Miles Davis is lots of his music and scads of shots of him looking cool. Dibb comes through, stitching together gorgeous live footage with luminous still photography to create a cinematic aesthetic as compelling as an old Blue Note album cover. Interview outtakes from the '80s show Davis in full-fledged freaky voodoo bird-god mode, bone-thin, gravel-voiced and sprouting bad hair.
Anyone who has a whit of musical feeling will have a good time absorbing these glossy CliffsNotes. As a documentary, The Miles Davis Story tantalizes far more than it satisfies. As a music video, it could hardly have a better subject. Zach Dundas
Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave., 221-1156. 7 pm Friday, Jan. 4, and 2 pm Sunday, Jan. 6. $6.50; $5.50 students, seniors and NW Film Center members.
We Sold Our Souls to Rock 'n' Roll
You may as well subtitle this latest work of director Penelope Spheeris The Decline of Western Civilization IV: The Nü-Metal Years. Spheeris follows the rambunctious denizens of Ozzfest, shifting focus between the crowd--whose monosyllabic insights into why Ozzy rulez provide the best musico-sociological comedy since Heavy Metal Parking Lot--and the stage, with performance clips from System of a Down, Deftones, Slayer, Rob Zombie, Black Sabbath and more. Offstage, the bands often come off as charming and well-spoken, which is more than one can say about their fans, whose sole interests in life seem to be, in order, Ozzy, tits and beer.
For their part, Ozzy Osbourne and his wife/manager/nurse, Sharon, prove to be sweet, humble and, in the singer's case, completely batshit insane. As he wobbles across the stage, the metal godfather looks lost in time, with the mad, misty-eyed stare of a man who rode off the rails on his crazy train years ago. It would be pitiful, except his wild, wizened grin appears genuine enough. And you can take that as a symbol for the film as a whole--mindless, crazy, fun. John Graham
Guild Theatre, 829 SW 9th Ave.., 221-1156. 9:30 pm Friday-Saturday, Jan. 4-5. $6.50; $5.50 students, seniors and NW Film Center members.
Beginning to See the Light
Crack City RockersTwo facts that won't surprise anyone who listens to Joyce Hotel, the debut album by Portland's Crack City Rockers: Lead singer Eric Gregory went to graduate school, and he also fronts a Velvet Under-ground cover band.
As the Rockers (Gregory, bassist Sean Flora, guitarist Dennis Mitchell and drummer Curt Schulz) hammer out a sound that owes much to '70s NYC bands like Television and the New York Dolls, Gregory's voice swoops through tales of drug-addled outsiders and love amid urban decay. He sounds like a younger, more tuneful Lou Reed, and he shares the former VU leader's penchant for consciously literate lyrics.
"It wasn't the authentic teen experience, but I was always jazzed about Lou Reed," Gregory recalls. "Reed wrote songs that were like books. Books always used to fuck with my head, and I wanted songs that would do the same."
On Joyce Hotel (the album takes its name from a divey downtown residence), the bluesiest tinge of early punk is an obvious inspiration. The typically gorgeous production of Portlander Larry Crane's Jackpot Studios and a distinct energy--reverent, not worshipful--forge something new from a well-worn idiom. The disciplined approach seems far different from the raucous, tarted-up abandon of CCR's two years of live shows.
"Playing live should be an experiment," says Gregory. "Go from one night bleeding all over the place, drunk, extravagant, to the next time when we're tight rock 'n' roll, all about the songs."
Just to be sure the CD release show isn't excessively rigorous, though, shot glasses printed with the band's logo will be for sale behind the bar, with free bourbon included as long as the bottle lasts. Jay Horton
Crack City Rockers play Friday, Jan. 4, at Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. Richard Meltzer, Blue Balls, the Removes and DJ Crucial Andy also appear. 9:30 pm. $5.
TABITHA SOREN, WHERE ARE YOU NOW?
Hiss and Vinegar
RADON STUDIO: LIFE ON THE LAM
Many musicians have wacky tour stories--the time they caught rednecks in Northern California eating roadkill, the time they were menaced by midgets and pinheads in Rockford, Ill.--but very few actually live on the road. Such is the case (pretty much) with the guys behind the experimental record label/film-distribution outfit Radon Studio, who recently took over a downtown Portland storefront for a brief respite from near-constant wandering.
"We've pretty much been doing it as a way of life for a couple of years," says Scott Nydegger of Radon's nomadic business and performance practices. "We carry everything around in boxes, live in RVs--we've gotten pretty good at it, actually."
Nydegger describes Radon as an international collective of left-field musicians, with allies including Italian avant-gardist Daniele Brusaschetto, Czech weirdos Koonda Holaa and the Beetchees and Steve MacKay, one-time sax player for Iggy and the Stooges. ("He's one of those guys you're never going to surprise," says Nydegger of the grizzled and versatile saxman.)
Nydegger and accomplice Paul Smith decided on a brief PDX bivouac after a recent tour ended in Seattle. Nydegger says they'll hang out for a few months before taking off again on a trip that will take their group Sikhara to such exotic locals as Istanbul, Macedonia and Bulgaria. It's a living, we guess. Check out www.radonstudio.com for more info.
ETHOS: HONING IN, SCORING CASH
For about two years, the nonprofit group Ethos Inc. has stepped into Portland's yawning arts-ed gap, offering music education and cheap all-ages shows at two neighboring buildings on North Killingsworth Street. The recent announcement that Ethos is ditching its live venue caused a ripple of alarm in some quarters, with speculation that the project might become yet another victim of the national economic doldrums. Not so. The group says the change is part of an effort to focus, focus, focus!
"This is just some strategic thinking at work," says Ethos executive director Charles Lewis. "The all-ages shows were great, and we were managing to pay the rent at that space. But we figured out that we could raise more money for scholarships, our recording classes and drum classes if we focused on those efforts and did concerts on a more occasional basis, in larger venues."
And, by God, the good news is raining in buckets where Ethos is concerned. The group recently landed a $45,000 Ford Foundation grant; the gimme paid for a Canadian double-decker bus, soon to be converted into a mobile classroom for Portland's music-hungry youth.
BURLINGAME: BEER FROM THE ASHES
Suds fanatics across Portland shed tears into beers when an apparent arson destroyed the Burlingame Grocery in September. While the owners of the gourmet shoppe known for its rapture-inducing selection of imported brews have vowed to rebuild, aficionados got an early refresher course on the store's glory two weeks back. Apparently a stash of premium beers survived the inferno in a basement walk-in fridge. This unexpected cache included Northwest barleywines aplenty: a '97 batch of BridgePort's Old Knucklehead barleywine; Rogue's Old Crustacean ("the cognac of beers") circa '98; and Full Sail's Old Boardhead. Samichlaus, Switzerland's "strongest lager in the world" with its skull-squeezing 14-percent AC, was another oddity saved by the vault. One guesses that hopheads who got the early word have cleaned out the treasure trove, but you can always call 246-0711 to see if any goodies remain.
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