This week SF Weekly takes a close look at Noise Pop. The 15-year-old festival is a chance to hear indie acts hot on the heels of their spring releases; it's also an opportunity to catch the premieres of those music-related flicks before all the me-first bloggers get their grimy digits on 'em. In the next couple weeks, fictional dramas based on fallen idols share screen space with documentaries about Midwest and California underdogs. As with any film fest, Noise Pop offers a bunch of must-sees alongside a few must-skips. So after gluing my eyeballs to the TV screening these puppies, I offer the Let's Get Killed guide to getting your Noise Pop rock 'n' roll film fix.
Gritty Los Angeles punks remembered through a shiny Hollywood lens. Darby Crash, frontman for the short-lived but legendary L.A. punk band the Germs, has made a compelling film subject in the past. Penelope Spheeris' cult classic The Decline of Western Civilization offered a quick glimpse of the self-destructive wild card, although he shared the screen in that documentary with his Southern California brethren of the early 1980s. Turning the focus of a feature-length film toward Crash (who died of a heroin overdose in 1980 at 21) is an admirable idea, but What We Do Is Secret is an uncomfortably glamorized version of events. This biopic is terribly overacted (with the exception of Bijou Phillips as bassist Lorna Doom and Rick Gonzalez as guitarist Pat Smear, both of whom offer some depth against the cardboard-cutout punks rounding out the cast), coming off more like a flashy after-school special than a thoughtful interpretation of this iconic act.
Wesley Willis was a headbutter with heart. If What We Do Is Secret is one of the festival's more superficial offerings, Wesley Willis's Joy Rides is one of its most sincere. Willis was a schizophrenic musician who died aged 40 from leukemia in 2003. In the years before Willis' death, director Chris Bagley interviewed the artist and performer as well as his friends and family members. The film is a tearjerker, mainly because Bagley doesn't shy away from showing Willis in all his complexities. He was a gigantic dude who dressed like a homeless man, shouted obscenities in Kinko's, and scared passengers on airplanes. He delivered hard — but affectionate — headbutts to all his friends. He drove away his bandmates by instigating fights at shows, but he also compelled employees of the art store he patronized to become his allies and housemates. Wesley Willis's Joy Rides delves into the mystery of Willis' mind, delivering the story of a man equally gifted as an artist and oddball lyricist as he was crushed by depression, fear, and oppressive paranoia.
When things get really heavy, cement them on film. I'm a huge fan of heavy rock. Droning, psychedelic, stoner, hard, whatever you want to tag it — if a band's reverberations get to the crushing point, I have to hear it. So I was stoked to see a filmmaker pulling together some of the heaviest names in American rock history — from Pentagram to SunnO))) — for the documentary Such Hawks, Such Hounds. Although the film's timeline is confusing (why go from '70s rock to Comets on Fire to '80s rock to Earthless to '90s rock, etc.?), the interviews offer a chance to hear guitar gods like Wino and Matt Pike talk about their craft. Although some journalists are included here, this ain't no chin-scratching academic text; it's raw live footage, with dudes (and Acid King's Lori S.) discussing the riffs, and artists integral to the album covers digging into their craft (Arik Roper is an illustrator as respected as the acts that inspire him). Another exciting angle on Such Hawks is its strong local tie, as most of the bands profiled here reside or lived in California — Comets (now on hiatus), Earthless, High on Fire, Om, Nebula, Fatso Jetson, Sleep (R.I.P.), Mammatus, and Residual Echoes. Unlike the backwards-glancing movies peeking into past music history (such as You Weren't There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, which I wasn't able to screen in timebut from the title alone sounds pretty sweet), Such Hawks also benefits from spotlighting modern times. Watch these acts in a movie theater one month, see (many of them) perform live onstage the next.
The best comedians can laugh at themselves. Jamie Kennedy's documentary, Heckler, begins with a promising premise (why do drunken idiots heckle comedians at live shows? How do comedians deflect and retaliate?). But from there, the film narrows into a vehicle for Kennedy's damaged ego as he delves into a one-sided war with film critics and complaints from the likes of Andrew Dice Clay that provoke little sympathy. Oddly enough, Arsenio Hall offers some of the most subjective analysis on the subjects of his critics, but the irony of Heckler seems lost on Kennedy and other jokesters who can't handle negative reviews. If you earn a living as a comedian making fun of stuff, you should be able to take it when people lob wisecracks back at you. Jamie Kennedy's inability to laugh at himself sinks Heckler in a sea of tedious self-pity.