Monday, April 12, 2010

A Tale of Two Bands

Full Frame documentary festival is a much anticipated annual event in the Documentary Community and those that love film. I went to this years festival and thought I would write about the two films that dealt intimately on the nature of relationships within rock bands. "Do It Again" by Geoff Edgers being one, (about The Kinks) and the other "Strange Powers" (about the Magnetic Fields frontman Stephin Merritt) which directors Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara spent 10 years making.

In "Do It Again" we get a mission-within-a-midlife-crisis movie. Geoff Edgers, feeling uniquely unaccomplished at nearly 40 decides to do something momentous, reuinte the feuding Davies brothers and thereby the legendary pop band The Kinks. Geoff's story is intertwined with asking other musicians (Sting, Zoey Deschanel, Robyn Hitchcock, Paul Weller) and music-biz people (Shel Talmy, Clive Davis) about their feeling toward a Kinks reuinion. Those in the know say no way but everyone agrees it would be a lovely thing. The film slowly unwraps the ugly truth around Ray and Dave Davies sibling rivalry. While inevitably connected in so many ways and so necessary to each other to have The Kinks, Ray just does not want anything to do with Dave. We see Dave belittled and beleaguard in archival footage. We see clearly Dave will endure it for a piece of the spotlight which he feels he richly deserves. Geoff can't seem to get to the Davies themselves and takes matters into his own hands and travels to England during a Kinks festival. He's allowed to see Ray perform but he's not allowed to film, greet or otherwise have contact with him. So we, the audience, settle for Geoffs penultimate choice of interviewing Dave. Its a sad interview. But its peppered with the light stuff of the movie (namely Geoff's attempts singing a Kinks song with each interviewee thats a musician). Dave says he'll tell Geoff what it takes to get he and his brother reuinited off camera. And that's when Geoff knows he's gone from an impersonal, improbable quest to a very personal, painful reality for Dave Davies.

"Strange Powers" is another film where the core relationship within a band is more functional than dysfunctional is the relationship between Claudia Gonson and Stephin Merritt. This is more than love as they are certainly not lovers. Claudia and Stephin do all things musical together since middle school. They hang out endless hours and become two sides of the same brain. Stephin the dreamer, writer and Claudia the gifted musician and manager of practical things. They become a force to be reckoned with together. As in "Do it Again" celebs are asked to weigh on the 'Fields (Peter Gabriel, Sarah Silverman, and Neil Gaiman among others), but there is no quest here other than to understand Merritt and what makes him tick. The shortlist: cigarettes, alcohol, writing lyrics, droll irony, love, controlled wrecklessness and somewhere in there would have to be Claudia refining and defining his life. As the movie progresses we see Stephin feeling the need to leave New York, which is a major change for the band and especially for Claudia. We are left to wonder what impact Merrit's move to California might have on the band, his creativity and his creative bond with Claudia. What ever happens we're sure it will be a killer quip in a Magnetic Fields song someday.