Tuesday, May 26, 2015

SIFF 2015 Documentaries Take on Music Stores, Drum Machines, Dueling Pundits, and More!

This post was supposed to go up on The Stranger's Slog 
last week, but fell through the cracks, so it lives here now.

Gravitas Ventures

It may sound like a cliché to say that the Seattle International Film Festival offers a documentary to suit every taste, but with 70+ non-fiction films on offer, it's just plain true. That said, I'll always be more interested in documentaries about music, medicine, and politics than those about sports, food, and the environment. Lest it sound as if I'm limiting myself, in my off-hours, I review hundreds of documentaries a year. I try not to go overboard during SIFF, since I'll end up catching some via PBS's documentary series Independent Lens and P.O.V. and others via DVD, so I prioritize the ones that look most interesting, especially if the director or subject will be in attendance (this week's non-SIFF assignments include Mujeres con Pelotas, a film about women's soccer in Argentina).

No Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer, aka 808, no "Sexual Healing."

Of this year's slate, so far I've seen Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock & Roll, The Glamour and the Squalor, For Grace, and Best of Enemies. The first two haven't finished playing yet, while there are no more screenings of Best of Enemies and For Grace (read Angela Garbes's interview with co-director and former local Kevin Pang here).

All are worthwhile, but I wanted to call out two that I haven't seen yet. First up: Colin Hanks's All Things Must Pass. Granted, it's the actor's first feature, but as a former record store clerk, I can't resist a film about a global record store chain—it doesn't hurt that the documentary has been winning fans wherever it goes. Even back in the late-1980s and early-1990s, when I was working at Cellophane Square on the Ave., I would drop by Tower Records from time to time. They carried memoirs, magazines, and other music-related items that our cramped space didn't (I would also drop by Peaches, but I guess that's a story for another day). Back then, it never would have occurred to me that the monolithic Tower Records wouldn't be around forever.

May 30 at the Harvard Exit and May 31 at the Uptown. Hanks and producer Sean Stuart are scheduled to attend both screenings.
Thats what Im talking about.
"Roland TR-808 drum machine" by Eriq at Dutch Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Next up: 808, a film about the Roland TR-808 Rhythm Composer drum machine. Without it, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" and Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" wouldn't exist—or they'd exist in forms that wouldn't have gone on to inspire so many other R&B, hip-hop, and electronic artists to take a walk on the wildly synthetic side. The Japanese trio Yellow Magic Orchestra (featuring future Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto) built their entire sound around it, Manchester duo 808 State took their name from it, and Kanye West squeezed an album title and a guiding aesthetic out of it (2008's 808s & Heartbreak). I love a good history-of-an-instrument documentary, so here's hoping this one's at least half as compelling as Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey, which is pretty much the master of the form.  

Due to a snafu, this post didn't go up last week as planned, and there are no more screenings of 808, which played twice, but if you happen to be in England on June 7, it plays Sheffield Doc/Fest on that date.

As far as word of mouth goes—I rely on it heavily during SIFF—friends had good things to say about Tab Hunter Confidential, which screened with the actor, matinee idol, and John Waters favorite in attendance. I was unable to track down release dates for For Grace and Tab Hunter, but I'm sure these films will return to Seattle in some way, i.e. if not a theatrical run, then via streaming services.

As for Best of Enemies, which revisits the televised 1968 debates between liberal author Gore Vidal and conservative editor William F. Buckley, Jr., it's a production of ITVS, the engine that powers Independent Lens, so expect a PBS broadcast sometime after the theatrical release on July 31 (Seattle venue TBA). Co-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville (Oscar winner for 20 Feet from Stardom) do a great job at staying out of the way of their famously well spoken subjects, making for one of my favorite films of the fest so far.

Find more films, reviews, synopses, and other fest info in SIFF Notes.


  1. Speaking of Peaches, and documentaries, I enjoyed seeing Peaches cameo in MONTAGE OF HECK, even though it was called Beehive at the time.

  2. I still need to catch up with that documentary (the Seattle run was too short). I miss Peaches, and I miss their great logo. I still have record and CD crates with that retro fruit label illustration.