by Ben Shine
Maybe the Indy Film Fest crew lives for film, but also really loves music, which shows in the this year's selections, as well as their Rock+Reel series. Thanks to the fest, I've seen Gimme Shelter on a big screen, watched two lovebirds play their way to success, watched LCD Soundsystem play their last show (not live, but close enough), and have checked out newer releases that place music at the center of the scenes. You can also see the crew's appreciation of the music-themed films in this year's screening schedule, which runs from July 16 to 25 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Morphine, the band not the drug, was world famous in the '90s for its unique slurring of blues, alternative and experimental sounds, but the band became mythical due to its abrupt ending on stage in 1999. Morphine: Journey of Dreams documents the band's origins to semi-surprising success (surprising not because the music isn't good; it's more that the band's sound is sort of an acquired taste). While it charts the ups and downs of life in a band, it also brings the audience through a time before independent music and major labels divided the world neatly between creativity and profitability.
For a few years post-Nirvana, major labels were picking up every band that got some regional buzz. Morphine came out of the same Boston scene as Pixies, The Lemonheads, Blake Babies and Face to Face, and they did so through a lot of hard work and quick acclaim. It was an exciting, weird time in music, but the film shares how devotion to craft can survive the onslaught of major label whims, but not a faulty heart. It's a beautifully made film that captures the essence of Morphine's music and the tight-knit community that nurtured its creativity, while being honest about the challenges faced by everyone who was left to carry on when it was suddenly over.
While Morphine: Journey of Dreams is a feature-length documentary, Indy Film Fest is never shy about including short movies in the mix. Festival curators have grouped more concise works together by common themes, including a three-film, music-themed block aptly titled, Looking for Treble.
The longest of the three treble-makers is Spent a Year There one Knite. This documentary tells the story of the almost-forgotten One Knite, a 1970s dive bar in Austin, Texas, that gave birth to the white blues sound that made the city famous in the '80s and '90s. Brothers Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan refined their style at the bar before forming Double Trouble and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, among their many projects. Willie Nelson played some of his first shows in Austin at the bar. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Denny Freeman, Paul Ray and even my beloved Thirteenth Floor Elevators took the stage at the club. Mostly, the movie offers a nostalgia trip full of stories from the folks who owned the One Knite ("...it was cheaper for me to buy it back then than it was for me to pay to drink there."); performed on its stages ("This place definitely had an attitude."); worked the tables ("It was raunchy, wild and loud."); and frequented the bar during its heyday ("It was hotter than hell. You had to disrobe immediately."). It's also a fun look into a unique slice of American music, and a chance to get a tiny glimpse into the sweaty, gritty, seedy and rocking world that birthed it.
Looking for Treble also features the German short film Die Stillezwischen den Tönen (Silence Behind the Sound). This fictional half-hour flick chronicles the story of an organ maker who breaks down as he deals with a comatose wife prior to setting out on a journey that ultimately brings him closer to his ailing wife. There's also the three-minute, Devil May Care, which appears to feature a middle-aged, bespectacled, bow-tied rapper (director, Volker Heymann) exploring apocalyptic themes.
Movies about music are a special genre for me. Documentaries, music videos, full-force biopics, concert films -- you name the format, I'll tell you about my favorites in each. And they aren't necessarily the films that include my favorite songs or artists. You don't have to love the music to love the movie.
I'm grateful that Indy Film Fest gives me the chance to see quirky, odd and unusual examples of this little cinematic niche every summer, and then here and there the rest of the year. Want to head to the fest yourself? Tickets are available online, and you have 10 days to attend.
I can't help but think of this great song when I think of movies and music: