Classic Film Review: The Devil and Daniel Johnston

Full Title: The Devil and Daniel Johnston
Director: Jeff Feuerzeig
Year: 2005
Comments:
Before I go any further, I must warn you if you are planning on watching this documentary, then you will be possessed by the Devil… Did you hear me?! I said the DEVIL. SAYTUNNN!!! Now, if you think I should be locked up in the looney bin before I harm others and myself, then you are probably right, but this is not about me (The Devil and Chris DeCarlo will hit theaters in years to come) this is about the one and only Daniel Johnston. In this gentle, affectionate, film we see how Dan is an enthusiastic, earnest, artist, in spite or because of his various mental and/or social problems. Initially, he is simply a slacker, eshewing work and school for his art, much to the chagrin of his family; his parents in particular are objects of his animostity. Alas, as he grows older his mental capacity deteriates (hence his obsession with the Devil) and he is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder causing him to be in and out of mental institutions and a serious threat to himself and those around him. I’ll stop here before I give away anything else, unless of course you know Dan’s bio… What I really like about this documentary is the fact that it stays personal via old home movies, tape recorded interviews, animation (coming straight outta Dan’s drawings, literally!), and of course interviews with his family, friends, and collaborators. The doc never strays off into a Michael Moore performance art sorta thang or a hidden agenda drenched picture. The agenda is clear: Daniel Johnston, love him or hate him, was and still is an incredible, gifted man with more passion in his art than most other artists one cares to name. Overall, this is a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from sad, humorous, fascinating, disturbing, entertaining, and ultimately touching- fans and non-fans unlike should see one of the finest documentaries of the last ten years.

P.S. excuse the “rollercoaster of emotions” cliche, but since Dan worked at an amusement park, I think it fits.

Grade: A-

Classic Film Review: Shield Around the K

Full Title: The Shield Around the K
Director: Heather Rose Dominic
Year: 2000
Comments:

The title says it all. The metaphorical shield truly represented K’s mythical way of battling the corporate ogre in a unique and highly confrontational manner. For those sad souls out there that are unfamiliar with K, here’s a brief breakdown. K was and still is a defiantly and charismatically independent label; one of the greatest models for how an indepedent label can successfully operate. Calvin Johnson (K founder and Beat Happening frontman) challenged his audience and contemporaries by creating and documenting music that was unabashedly simple, coy, and as far away as possible from the mainstream. These kids challenged the mold of expecation of what a Punk band should look, sound, or act like. By making poppy, “twee,” love rock (as some call it), artists like Beat Happening distanced themselves from not only the corporate world, but also the oft-macho hardcore scene, which was dominating underground music at the time. All in all, this doc does a great job of articulating this important aspect of K Records as well as offering some great archive footage, interviews, and music videos and ultimately a detailed, informative backgound of said topic. One thing I (sorta) didn’t like was the fact that the film focused too much on Beat Happening; after all it was supposed to be about the K label and not about Beat Happening solely. Then again, they and their history are obviously vital to the K tale and since they are one of my all time favorite bands, I don’t mind seeing them on screen. Lastly, this doc features various key figures including, Ian Mackaye, Gerad Cosloy, Slim Moon, John Foster, amongst others. So, if you dig cutting edge (well, then cutting edge) Punk Rock or want to learn more about seminal, underground music then grab some black candy and check it out.

Grade
: B+

Classic Film Review: Small Town Ecstasy

Full Title: Small Town Ecstasy
Year: 2002
Director: Jay Blumenfield
Comments: Small Town Ecstasy is a documentary that offers us an up close and personal look at the perils of a modern suburban family: divorce and the resulting custody issues, generation gaps between kids and their parents, oh and a father that attends raves and does ecstasy with his children and other young people. Whattttttttt?! you must be thinking. But, it’s true. This man is cuckoo for E and we watch as it tears him apart from his beloved ones. His son, an experienced drug user, questions why his father is acting the way he is and why he does not feel the need to intefere with the well being of his children (i.e. them experimenting with E and other drugs). Despite what you have just read (and yes it is nauseating and uncomfortably laughable) this man in many ways is a good father and clearly loves his children, but because of his increasing drug use and resulting loss of custody, he sees them less and less. That’s one thing I dig about this doc, the fact that he has redeeming qualities; in most of such videos, the parent steals their little babies’ lemonade money and buys crack with it on their birthday or slaps them senseless in the midst of a vicious meth binge… Here, instead we see a different kind of dysfunctional family. Overall, this is a good doc, highly entertaining and fascinating, but at the same time, I always asked myself, “where is this going?” It didn’t move that much, but it was a nice slice of life, which is exactly what this kind of documentary should do. A spin on the mid-life crisis hoopla! If you want to find out what happens to the man and his family, then see the film, part one can be seen below.

P.S. All seriousness aside for a moment, wouldn’t this premise of your clean cut, forty something, dad suddenly dropping E and attending raves make for one helluva of It’s Always Sunny style sitcom?! It could be called “XTC Dad!” as Glen referred to the leading man. Producers reading, take notice, I think I have something up my sleeves!

Grade: B

Chris

Classic Film Review: Anarchism In America

Full Title: Anarchism In America
Director(s): Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher
Year: 1983
Grade: B
Comments:AIA is a good starting point for those that want to learn about Anarchsim, because (as displayed in the documentary) most people have little to no idea of what it really is. The doc does a good job of explaining to viewers that anarchism is a strong social, political, economic, and spiritual philosophy and/or movement built on individualist principles and the belief that society would be better off without the state. The filmmakers distinguish this from the narrow minded view that anarchists are just about chaos and throwing bombs, which unfortunately most folks believe. The film features various anarchsits including, Emma Goldman, returning to America after having been deported for years in rare video footage, veteran Murray Bookchin, tax resisting, “market” anarchist, Karl Hess, the Dead Kennedys (interview and performance), amongst other famous and unknown anarchists. The film also shows various implicit anarchists including American workers committed to the rugged individual ideals of America and they associate this with anarchism, or at least the filmmakers do as well as a sowing company in which the workers run the show a la Chomsky! Speaking of Noam, he is nowhere to be seen and other prominent anarchists and related groups/organizations like the trailblazing paper, Fifth Estate>. I suppose they can’t document everything, but still they focused too much on the implicit Americanism rather than the explicit characteristics; albeit a nice feature. In addition, we see footage of the Liberatarian Party and how this connects to the anti-government (or anti-state power) stance of anarchism, historical events such as the Spanish Civil War, Russian Revolution, and the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. Lastly, my only other complaint is the fact that they didn’t include any anarchists that used violence or force as a political means, justified or not. Granted, this might reenforce the negative connotations of the philosophy that naive viewers have, but at the same time, it would be nice to provide a balanced picture, considering some anarchists are violent. Overall, it was worth a watch and I would recommend it, not for those who want an in depth history of anarchism, but rather for those who are curious or unaware of it and want to learn about the philosophy/movement, at least the American aspects up to the early 1980s.

The following site has a lot of information on this documentary as well the film itself, which can also be viewed on Youtube as seen below.

http://alexpeak.com/art/films/aia/

Here are some cool quotes from the movie, which also appear on the above site.

“Almost anyone, I suppose, can call himself or herself an anarchist, if he or she believed that the society could be managed without the state. And by the state—I don’t mean the absence of any institutions, the absence of any form of social organisation—the state really refers to a professional apparatus of people who are set aside to manage society, to preempt the control of society from the people. So that would include the military, judges, politicians, representatives who are paid for the express purpose of legislating, and then an executive body that is also set aside from society. So anarchists generally believe that, whether as groups or individuals, people should directly run society,” Murray Bookchin

“My understanding of anarchism has as part of its element a connection between ends and means. To me, if one is an anarchist, then, from my point of view, one also must be nonviolent, and if one is nonviolent, one must be an anarchist—I see the linkages very clear[ly]. A person who believes in nonviolence is a person who believes that the sort of society we want to achieve is a society without violence, without wars, and without injustice; and to use wars, violence, and injustice to achieve that society is to be counterproductive,” Ed Hedaman

“Well, it’s hard to tell on the basis of the Party’s rhetoric, after all they’re running for state office, but my experience is that most people who are in the Libertarian Party have pretty decent anarchist impulses, even if they do not say they are anarchists—most of them will say they are libertarians, at any rate. And one thing that is useful is that they have a fairly well-refined analysis of why they aren’t conservative. It took the New Left to do a proper analysis on American liberals, it seems to me, and I suspect that the libertarians are doing the best analysis of American conservatives. I think that they are quite good people, and that the Party contains within it probably more people of an anarchist tendency than any other organisation in the country,” Karl Hess

Here’s Part I

Chris