Josh Olson's Day 7 at SXSW: Richard Garriot: Man On A Mission, Ain't In It For My Health, THE RUNAWAYS, Weird World of Blowfly!
Harry’s already raved about RICHARD GARRIOT: MAN ON A MISSION, and the only thing I can really add to it is this - if you think Harry might be compromised by being too close to the subject (as he discusses in his review), you’re wrong. It really is that good. The film’s a wonderful reminder of how important space travel is, and what an incredible dream it is. The film gave me a smidgen of genuine hope for the future of humanity, and if you knew me, you’d know that’s a big deal.
Next up - AIN’T IN IT FOR MY HEALTH: A FILM ABOUT LEVON HELM. This movie shouldn’t work. It’s a documentary that spends most of its time just hanging around with the legendary drummer of The Band during a period of time when he released his first album in 25 years, and gets nominated for a Grammy. The majority of the film just hangs out with Helm while he goes to the doctor, works on a song, smokes pot, and welcomes the birth of his grandchild.
But it DOES work. Jacob Hatley directs one of the most interesting and compelling portraits of a musician I’ve seen in a long time. By the time it’s over, you don’t just have a stronger sense of Helm and his importance to rock music, you have a stronger sense of what it’s like to live the sort of life this legend has. His place in music history was something I’ve been aware of for a long time, but just how important he was to The Band and to Robbie Robertson’s writing was something of a revelation, as was the nature of the split between the two men. The movie doesn’t flinch from providing the darker side of Helm’s life, but in the end, he’s a riveting character who comes across profoundly committed to music and to life.
Helm contributed a track to an album of unfinished Hank Williams songs a while back, and the scenes of him and his producer working the song out and finishing the lyric are surprisingly involving. Williams had written all the verses and one line of the bridge of the song Helm did. I’m a writer, so maybe it’s just me, but I suspect you’ll find yourself doing what I did, and straining to come up with those lines yourself while you watch them wrestle with it. It’s a couple of pretty simple and small scenes, but I’ve never seen anything like ‘em in a music documentary before.
There’s also some great performances, including a mesmerizing cover of Bruce Springsteen’s very great Atlantic City. Helm’s bluegrass version kills.
I’d heard less than salutory things about THE RUNAWAYS, and I went off to see it last night because I figured the one place it might be fun to see it would be here. I was very pleasantly surprised. It’s not a revolutionary piece of filmmaking, but it’s solid and entertaining, and has some terrific performances.
Dakota Fanning’s terrific as Cherie Curry, but it made me a little sad to realize what a short childhood she’s had. Kristen Stewart is spectacular as Joan Jett, though. She really captures Jett’s physicality and presence. Michael Shannon’s been around for quite a while. I’d seen him before, but the performance that first killed me, just blew me away, was the one he gave in the woefully ignored Bug, William Friedkin’s film of the Tracy Letts play. His performance as producer Kim Fowley in this flick is what you’d expect - just magnificent.
Lastly, THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLOWFLY. I’d forgotten Blowfly. I grew up in Philadelphia in the seventies and eighties, and I remember some of the kids I went to school with had Blowfly albums. Their grimy pictures of this bizarre costumed character surrounded by naked women were intriguing, and once in a while, we’d actually get to hear a track or two, when my friends’ parents were away. Blowfly was the original dirty rapper, and claims - probably legitimately - to be the first rapper period. It’s pretty clear he beat Rudy Ray Moore to the punch.
But I haven’t thought of him in ages, or come across any of his music, and I never knew that Blowfly was really Clarence Reid, the Miami songwriter who penned countless R&B hits, including Betty Wright’s Clean Up Woman. Director Jonathan Furmanski caught up with Reid recently, and filmed him on tour with his current band. It’s a pretty fun documentary that will introduce (or re-introduce) you to this legendary character, and take you deep inside his life. Furmanski seems to have gotten pretty total access, and there are some pretty intimate scenes. Reid making himself breakfast in bed is weirdly memorable, and the scenes of Red and his manager/drummer/number one fan/best friend Tom Bowker fighting are hilariously touching. We’re watching two men who spend way too much time with each other, know each other way too well, and love each other bicker like an old married couple, and there’s something kinda powerful about their relationship. Some nice testimonials from the great Ice T and Chuck D help put Blowfly’s work in historical perspective. This one’s definitely worth catching.