My April 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 323.
It is hard to imagine who the documentary Electric Purgatory: The Fate Of The Black Rocker is really aiming to enlighten. If it is an obsessive music fan they don't get deep enough into it. If it is an average person who doesn't really care about music, the filmmakers would never get them watch this. It is a common problem with music documentaries, balancing that elusive line between music fans and casual viewers without alienating either. There is an important point to get across in Electric Purgatory: The Fate Of The Black Rocker. There is a lack of respect and audience for a black man or woman playing rock n roll. I am willing to listen and to explore why this is. But the film never really goes beyond the complaints.
I know rock n roll developed from the blues. I am willing to guess that anyone who knows something about music history is aware of it. It is well-documented. Electric Purgatory: The Fate Of The Black Rocker wisely chooses to briefly mention that history. The film concentrates on the '80s and '90s bands that have talent and small time success yet failed to break out. Why? Electric Purgatory: The Fate Of The Black Rocker argues because African Americans aren't seen as rockers by music fans or by record labels.
The band held up as the essential example in Electric Purgatory: The Fate Of The Black Rocker is Fishbone. I am actually surprised that they weren't successful. But then one of the band's members recalls meeting with the major label executives before releasing their first album. The executives suggest changes to be made to the songs. The band makes the changes and the album bombs. The label gives up on the band instantly. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common story. Most of the bands have similar experiences. A few people mention that the bands need to start their own labels and do their own promotion. Makes sense to me.
It all seems to come down to the major labels not doing their job promoting these bands. To a punk this is old hat. When have the major labels ever done anything right? If a band becomes big it usually seems like an accident. Even then who knows how long that success will last? The music buying audience is a fickle group too. So I am in agreement, but what is to be done? electricpurgatory.com
No one smiles in Loren Cass. There doesn't seem to be much to smile about. The film tells the story (or lack of story) of a group of young people in Florida as their lives progress over a couple of days. They don't ever seem to do anything. In the beginning a car picks up a shaven-headed male and they drive to school. While at the same time a girl leaves a boy in her bed and walks out of her parents' house. She gets into a car and goes to school too. Neither interacts with nor acknowledges the other. Then they leave school.
Characters in Loren Cass walk around in a daze. They fight, get drunk, and have sex, whatever. Nothing seems to change their mood. It is a bleak outlook on life, one that is emphasized by the odd use of voice over narration. The narration doesn't explain what you see on screen, just random thoughts that may or may not belong to the characters. It enhances the dark mood. The one semblance of optimism is the beginning of a potential love story between waitress Nicole and car mechanic Cale. The use of a city bus a symbol for a budding romance is a twisted take on love. It is one that appropriately fits in with the rest of this dreariness.
Loren Cass was made by first time filmmaker Chris Fuller. He does an amazing job technically on what I am sure was a small budget. The film looks very professional. The mostly unknown actors really get into their characters. They are so believable that you just have to hope they are just acting. I wouldn't want anyone to be this morose and depressed. lorencass.com
The Smell is a music venue in Los Angeles. Live At The Smell is a DVD document of performances at the Smell. The DVD starts off with a brief introduction to the club. The camera moves through the front door, down the hall, past the person collecting money, into the main room and right up on stage. It is quick, but you can somewhat get the idea of what it might be like walking into the place.
The remainder of Live At The Smell is one song each from the No Age, HEALTH, Gowns, The Mae Shi, Captain Ahab, High Places, Abe Vigoda, Foot Village, Ponytail and BARR. The bands are diverse ranging from the drum circle of Foot Village to the computer programmed dance music of Captain Ahab to the rock of No Age. If this is an accurate cross section of bands, it appears to be the type of place where experimentation is encouraged and musical ability is not necessary. coldhandsvideo.com
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at email@example.com. I will go see it.