My February 2010 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 321.
The opening scene of (Untitled) is of a group of people facing the camera presumably looking at a piece of art as if they were in a museum. Then a bell rings and the elevator door opens. Almost all of the people standing there get on the elevator. The one remaining person is actually looking at the art. He begins talking with the artist who proclaims that more people will see his painting than if it was at the MOMA. Possibly true, but will anyone pay attention to it.
That first scene is a great introduction to (Untitled) which is mainly set in the New York art world, but also includes the avant garde music scene. The film pokes fun at each character's viewpoints and pretensions. It is easy to do. But it also supports where each is coming from. You can understand the mindset even if you at times find the sincerity hilarious.
The man looking at the painting is musician Adrian Jacobs. The artist is his brother Josh. It is hard to tell at that moment what their relationship is though if Adrian made the effort to go see Josh's painting in a hotel lobby more than likely they are closer than they would want to admit.
Later at a performance for Adrian's newest composition Josh brings his art dealer Madeleine Gray. While Adrian's parents walk out as the first notes are struck returning when the performance is over, Madeleine really enjoys what Adrian is doing. He on the other hand is annoyed with her because she wears a plastic coat that makes noise whenever she moves. Adrian is obsessed with noises. Everything makes a noise that distracts and/or inspires him. Madeleine decides he should perform his piece at her art gallery for the opening of hot artist Ray Barko latest exhibition.
When Adrian's group performs at the art gallery more of the art world archetypes and hanger-ons are introduced. People stand around discussing the importance of Barko's art, which is made up of taxidermy animals combined with household objects such as a vacuum cleaner and a chandelier. Then when the group begins to play the same people giggle and laugh probably because they haven't yet been told how important Adrian is yet. There is also the Wall Street millionaire who simply wants to find the hottest art to invest in. He doesn't seem to enjoy the exhibition, but desperately wants to purchase something. Madeleine makes him jump through hoops to buy one of Barko's pieces and then she bullies him into commissioning a musical piece by Adrian's group.
Things get more complicated in (Untitled) when Adrian begins an affair with Madeleine. Everything she wears makes noise and it drives him wild. Josh is also interested in Madeleine though she doesn't take him seriously as an artist. The commissions she gets from selling his paintings to hotels pay for the less commercial artists she likes to exhibit. He takes offense at this and demands his own exhibition. The humor becomes more subtle and appealing for those who are more familiar with these scenes. Though I am sure people who don't know anything about either would still get a good laugh at Madeleine's latest discovery Monroe's art installation. Adrian's performance of his commissioned piece at Monroe's opening is also brilliantly done.
(Untitled) doesn't attempt to answer the "what is art" question. The film is too smart to even try. It is obvious that what art is to me is different than what it is to you, et cetera. But that's what I like about it. Everyone in the film has his or her way and no one is judged too harshly for it. (Untitled)
The big joke currently going around my house is when I accidentally said, "I don't like watching bands play live". Now that quote is reiterated to me ad nauseam simply because it was the least true thing I have ever said. Particularly since its utterance occurred after I had just spent fourteen straight days seeing live bands. It's a new record for me, but still. Of course, I like seeing bands live.
Needless to say I heard it again when I was trying to watch the Gonerfest 4 DVD. Gonerfest 4 DVD is a collection of bands shot while performing at the 2007 Gonerfest in Memphis, TN. I have never been to Gonerfest because it always falls on my birthday and I tend to be a brat when it comes to my birthday. It needs to be all about me. After watching this DVD though it seems like it is a really fun time. Everyone always tells me it is. I should listen to people more. Maybe I'll have to go next year.
Appearing at the 2007 Gonerfest Eddy Current Suppression Ring, the Oogas Boogas, Greg Cartwright, Jay Reatard, Lover!, Digger and The Pussycats, Busy Signals, Head, Headache City, Boston Chinks and so many more great bands. There are very few of these bands that I haven't seen, but I am still envious that I wasn't there. The bands are shot very well and the sound is excellent. Interspersed between the bands are random audience comments, some screaming and even some silly arguing over gravity. There's drinking and dancing and too much fun.
A minor complaint about Gonerfest 4 DVD is that there is only one song from Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Maybe at the time Live From Memphis the videographers didn't know any better so only one was shot. It's really disappointing that there wasn't more of them to at least be able to stick an extra song or two in the bonus video section? That is another weird thing. Why are Top Ten, Thomas Function, The Menthols, Perfect Fits and Hipshakes relegated to this bonus videos section? The performances, sound, video all seem as good as the rest, yet they weren't worthy to make it on the main stage so to speak. Last complaint is the Donny Denim performance at the end is intercut with shots of festival attendees talking and the credits. You don't really get to see or hear him that much. But these nit-pickings are minor in comparison to what you get. Ten or twenty years from now I will be glad to have this collection of all these great bands.
One more fun thing for a Bay Area resident like myself to do while watching the Gonerfest 4 DVD is to count how many people from here are in the audience. It seems like everyone was there. I see Tina, Dulcinea, Floyd, Debbie, Andy, Kelly. It's a new drinking game. Take a shot when you see someone from your town. There is also a CD included with the DVD containing more live performances from the bands. It is a great collection. Goner Records
Thanks to Michael Lucas for recommending that I watch the commentaries on the Another State Of Mind DVD. Word is out. I love these commentaries. Especially the ones were the commentators aren't afraid to dish the dirt. Nothing is held back on Another State Of Mind. There are three of commentaries: Mike Ness with Joe Escalante (of the Vandals), the three Youth Brigade Stern brothers: Shawn, Adam and Mark and filmmakers Adam Small and Peter Stuart. There seems to be some animosity between them that makes it all the more fun.
First up is Mike Ness of Social Distortion. He doesn't seem to know where he is never mind remember much of what was going on in the film. Escalante is there to ask questions and keep the conversation rolling. There are long bouts of silence where you wonder if Ness has nodded off. He keeps the conversation mostly about himself pointing out that he didn't help with get the bus ready for the tour and defending his choice to fly back to LA from DC. The funniest moment is when he is talking about being in San Francisco at the photo shoot for the cover of the Circle Jerks "Wild In The Streets" LP. He is on the cover. He mentions that was the first record cover he was ever on. Then says that maybe he was on the cover of Social Distortion's record. Escalante corrects him telling him that he wasn't, the skeleton was on the cover.
The three Stern brothers' commentary is more interesting. They argue about things and make fun of each other. Someone is chewing gum the whole time. When one claims the opening scene is shot at the Olympic Auditorium, another says, "I think you're wrong. I think this is the Rollerworks in North Ridge." When all the tour participants are introducing themselves in the beginning of the film, the Sterns have anecdotes to tell about each and what they are doing now. When Mike Ness appears on screen there is silence, then a bit of giggling. They point out all the inconsistencies in the filmmaking scenes are shot in one city, but presented as another and comment on how the filmmakers missed so much of what was going on. They are still a bit embarrassed about the pool scene claiming they didn't know about that until the screening as well as the slam dancing demo and the scene at Punx House. "This is complete bullshit", Shawn states.
The directors also have some air to clear. Director Peter Stuart claims during his commentary states that Mike Ness is a "real" punk because he admits in the film to watching TV and drinking beer all day. Yet, Shawn Stern is a poseur because he took things too seriously. He says Mike Ness and Sid Vicious were the real thing. Yet, in my mind Shawn Stern would be closer to a real punk. He played in a band, runs a record label, puts on shows, planned the tour. Ness wastes his days and acts like a rock star. Sid Vicious couldn't even play bass and is famous for doing heroin. "Shawn Stern would never jump on the floor," Stuart mentions. As if that is what it takes to be punk. Then Stuart inexplicably contradicts my opinion of him by stating that the Screamers were the greatest punk band in LA. It's hard to argue with that. The directors also tell a funny story about the first screening of the film in LA. The Sterns were supposed to be doing security, yet when the film has only about eight minutes left someone tackles the projector, destroying it and everyone in the audience asks for their money back.
Another State Of Mind DVD commentaries are a great way to waste your day. Just ask Mike Ness. Time Bomb recordings
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. I will go see it.