This week, the 2008 Sundance Film Festival commences in the snow-packed mountains of Park City, Utah. In years past, the festival has rarely lacked for superb music documentaries, only a few of which filter into theatrical or television distribution. Recent noteworthy examples include: I'm Your Man, a tribute concert slash documentary of Leonard Cohen, Neil Young: Heart of Gold, a film concert of the grunge godfather’s Prarie Wind album, directed by Jonathan Demme, and New York Doll, a portrait of former New York Dolls’ bassist Arthur “Killer” Kane who fell on hard times after the glam rock group’s dissolution, eventually finding solace in the Mormon church and in the end reuniting with his estranged bandmates.
This year the festival offers a similarly eclectic mix of genres, styles and sounds. However as Entourage’s Ari Gold once said “I hear every film at Sundance is the greatest film ever made.” You can’t believe the hype. But here’s some advance warning on music docs that may or may not be coming to a screen near you.
1) CSNY: Déjà vu
As the festival’s closing night film, CSNY Déjà vu bills itself as “both a portrait of a band and an examination of the artistic process.” No doubt the epitome of baby-boomer rock will be explored on their most recent tour, with featured music from Neil Young’s “Living With War.” Sounds like a sure bet. But will it add up to simply boomer nostalgia or a hard-eyed look at the contemporary relevance of an aging rock band? Maybe both. At this point, only Robert Redford knows for sure.
2) Patti Smith: Dream of Life.
Truth be told, Patti Smith frightens me. Since she wears a number of hats – painter/poet/singer/musician – this might not qualify as a strict rock doc. In typical Sundance fashion, the description of remains heavily footed in the abstract. The catalog blurb calls it a travel over “mystical interior terrain” of the seminal 70’s punk rock artist, captured across 11 years. Recommended only for hardcore Patti Smith fans. All seven should love it.
Slingshot Hip Hop.
Sundance loves documentaries about Palestinians almost as much it loves those about oppressed hip-hop artists. Sprinkle a Rocky-esqe dream of uplifting rhymes and sold-out concerts and the checkpoints and barbed wire in the way . This doc follows a number of young Palestinian Hip-Hop artists in the occupied West Bank, and enclosed Gaza Strip, as they deal with the usual and not so usual stumbling blocks to a music career and free expression in a political and literal minefield.
Comprised of collected performances from U2’s 2006 South American tour, U2 3-D makes use of “digital 3-D and surround sound technology to plunge us into almost supernatural proximity to the musicians.” In other words, you can almost pluck the fly eyeshades from Bono’s slickened hair. Sounds like a can’t miss doc for U2 fans, who couldn’t afford tickets anywhere but the nosebleed section. Besides it wouldn’t be a Sundance music doc without Bono sticking his Irish mug somewhere.
5)Anvil! The True Story of Anvil!
According to the festival guide, “ingenius filmmaking may first lead you to think this is a mockumentary, but it isn’t.” Instead this is the true-life story of Canadian “metal demigods” Anvil, whose 1982 album Metal on Metal, influenced a generation of bands, but took them on a slow train to Nowheresville. Following the band on a comeback tour of Canadian hockey rinks, this doc sounds like a real-life version of Spinal Tap. I can only hope it eventually makes the rounds of a marginal cable station, late night. God willing.