|Bad Brains lead singer HR at the SXSW screeni|
The filmmakers don't go out of its way to wallow in negative stories but they're in there in there. Including an infamous incident during a tour many years back when the band came through Austin. I'm not super familiar with the story (though like many I've certainly heard about it) - and while it's not dwelled on it's not as though the band comes out as perfect people in their youth. One could argue if they should have dived deeper, to cover whether that incident was endemic of something larger - my point is more that the directors have put together an honest mostly unvarnished love letter here rather than painting over all possible historical warts. There are a number of memorable gems described in recounting their history as well. My favorite was one about HR finishing the vocal tracks on Sacred Love via prison phone when he had to take a break from recording to serve some time (for marijuana possession I believe). And Henry Rollins as always is a treat to watch onscreen as he joyously recounts the formative role the band played in his life.
For those not super familiar with the band the basics of what made them stand out is covered - and demonstrated through archival footage. Much like the recent Fishbone documentary the fact that this was an African American band within a largely white punk scene certainly can't be ignored. The more notable minority though these guys belonged to was punk musicians who could seriously play their instruments. That sounds like the age old 'zine joke ('What did you guys learn to do this summer? We learned to play our guitars") - but I think even a non-fan of the hardcore genre can immediately recognize that the Bad Brains are a musical cut above. Their style is hypnotically catchy with a hook that your brain can't say no to. It's just that they're playing 10x harder and faster than your a person can fully take in. So it's pretty accurate when their bassist remarks “We were gonna play faster and more technical than The Ramones and be more chaotic that the Damned.” Not to take anything away from either of these bands, The Ramones live were the only other act I've ever seen in my life that brought a show to life the way The Bad Brains did in their prime. But The Bad Brains were the perfect storm of skill and style - and as the film points out the inspiration for a wide swath of music making somebodies.
and as a backdrop for some of the oral history. It's all used to strong effect to map the musical and lyrical focus of the band from positive attitude hardcore, to their adoption of Rastafarian principles, and their musical shift to include a reggae sound. The early DC hardcore scene is traced as well, along with their migration to NYC in response to truly being banned from the limited number of DC venues available at the time. There's tons of details in this film about what they did, what they're doing, and a few choice quotes from Dr. Know's mom. I am resisting the urge to walk through every one.
All in all it's a complicated story and directors Mandy Stein and Ben Logan have created a digestible package out of it all. If I could change one thing I might trim the time spent focusing on HR's odd behavior in favor of some more time on their history, lyrics, or anything else. Something's a bit off there and if it could be gotten to the bottom too it'd be fascinating. But that situation is a bit indecipherable and as such I'd have rather learned a bit more about the other band members. Learning that Dr. Know manages an organic market outside Woodstock for example is a lot more interesting than trying to armchair diagnosis what's going on with their lead singer. That's covered, but if I could change one thing it might be to poke around more in the other band member's lives.
It's definitely more than worth watching - and a long time coming in terms of their story committed to film. Even if it wasn't about an important band it's still an interesting story about a group of guys who have known each other their whole lives, share some common values, and at the same time manage to exhaust each other. Especially that HR guy - he truly seems like he would be beyond exhausting to work with. I am not kidding. Watch the film when you can - you'll get what I mean. You can keep up to date on what's going on in terms of a release, promotion etc. via the film's twitter account.
Wait! What?!? you're not familiar with their music? Get yourself over to your favorite music purchasing location and grab a copy of any of their earlier work. Their self titled album, Rock for Light, I Against I, Black Dots all great choices - really just grab something.
I saw this film at SXSW in the Vimeo Theater within the Austin Convention Center. Basically a theater carved out of a far more giant room it's not entirely an ideal movie going experience. I'd heard other screenings were really packed - which was good. I was a little sad that it wasn't harder to get in the day I attended. On a plus side though it's possible less people were then annoyed by a certain person with the film who was texting a few seats away from me. To be as fair as possible they were attempting to be discrete, and the brightness was turned down. But seriously - I don't quite no why this needs to be repeated. FILMMAKER'S AND CREW - IF YOU WANT TO TEXT DURING YOUR MOVIE THEN PLEASE STEP THE FUCK OUTSIDE. I get it, you've seen it. But almost nothing shows less respect for your audience than doing the most distracting thing possible during the film. I mean you could have been talking too - but in this case other people (who may not have been with the film) were doing that around me too. I give this feedback out of love - really I do. Just because it's not in a "How Not to Be Lame at SXSW" bumper doesn't mean you can do it.
|The film's two directors Mandy Stein (center) and Ben Logan (right) appeared for a Q&A post screening. After answering some questions the band's lead singer, and occasionally mystifying film subject HR wandered in to ask his own questions.|
|Once HR was at the question microphone the filmmaker's gamely fielded his "questions." Though it wasn't long before HR was taking questions and somewhat (albeit entertainingly) hijacking the proceedings.|
|HR was very generous with his time, answering questions - and certainly not missing a chance to plug a performance he was doing (sans Bad Brains) later in the week.|