SIFF 2010: Northwest Connections

The KEXP Blog is naturally drawn to covering the Face The Music series as the immediate attraction to the Seattle International Film Festival; but often other documentaries and fictional movies have obvious elements of interest to our audience as well. Below are some that are part of the Northwest Connections series, with regional and topical qualities that are noteworthy here.

Amplified Seattle
directed by John Jeffcoat
(France, 100 minutes)

Festival Screenings:

May 21, 2010 9:30 PM, Pacific Place Cinema
May 23, 2010 8:00 PM, Admiral Theater
May 25, 2010 4:00 PM, Neptune Theatre

Also part of the FTM series, Amplified Seattle is a compilation of band-focused shorts directed by filmmaker John Jeffcoat, director of Outsourced (2006), to give a little more musical subtext to Lynn Shelton’s $5: Cover: Seattle series for MTV.com

Perambulating around the Seattle music scene at clubs like The Comet, the Tractor Tavern, and The Showbox, the frantic thirteen interview-driven vignettes that stack up “Amplified Seattle” feature a lot of our noteworthy bands in more or less informative mode. But it’s always attractively pell-mell, the content drawn from origin stories to song meanings to astonishing personal background detail, with lots of visual shards of venue rattling and beginnings and ends and middles of songs among the truncated/extrapolated musings.

An omnibus of profiles of punk (Whiskey Tango, The Spits), raw or artful rock (The Tea Cozies, The Lights, Sean Nelson of Harvey Danger and now His Mortal Enemies), electronic (Weekend), roots-indie (The Maldives, Moondoggies), and hip hop (Champagne Champagne), the style is a madcap smattering. If it could be expanded from one hour to two, with some longer interview segments and a full song or two, it would be perfect. (OK, I could use more hip hop like Shabazz Palaces or Mash Hall, and something more freaky and intense like Partman Parthorse, and one or two more overt gay-punk bands as well.) The fact that it leaves you wanting more is a very good sign though.

Highlights include opening profile subject Weekend, the keyboard-driven duo of Ryann Donnelly and Mark Gajadhar; its gleaming, hard-hitting cyber-pop is the former’s wide-eyed observations about emerging cosmopolitan struggle (“Big Black Big City”) and Gajadhar’s punk legacy infusing the ‘clash beats. Donnelly’s mom sets the philosophical tone by reminding her daughter “make sure you’re having a good time, because you work so hard.” A classic Seattle ethic, based on our NW binges of production and leisure. Gajadhar carries into the profile of his group with Thomas Gray and Pearl Dragon, Champagne Champagne, as he is their DJ, but the moral here is that skate punks hanging out downtown around Westlake and cutting hair can end up doing some scandalous art together. “It’s a madman crew that works,” Gray says, obviously enjoying that it is. Pearl Dragon recommends going with a “first take, because that tends to be the right one,” and then it gets fixed up later. Gray brings HIS mother into it, too, as he claims “she is who I get a lot of our song titles from.” Sound bites and all these newspaper articles, “cut into wheat-paste,” a poster-art style that is all “scatter brained pop culture crack-head.” “The Breaks” plays out as Gray says, “We wouldn’t be the same musical cats if we were from anywhere else but here.”

The Maldives nine-piece tribe, including lead singer/songwriter Jason Dodson, Kevin Barrans, Seth Warren, and a few other dudes from what they claim are “completely different backgrounds” but family now. (“We don’t have many siblings here so we’ve become each other’s brothers.”) Hence the song “Blood Relations” (or not). Thee Emergency shows how convinced they are of their own greatness, but that hubris is part of the Detroit-driven soul rock psyche-cabaret.

THEESatisfaction show off their assumption-challenging awesomeness as a timeless proletarian soul duo, bringing to mind the sass of a young Janelle Monae with sparkling, working class live action. With words about Metro that would ease the hearts of many regional musicians I know: “We rehearse on the bus … conduct business on the bus,” they demand that “All the sexy people get to the front!” I could have used an hour of them.

The Tea Cozies are irresistible, fronted by two high school friends (Brady and Jessi) who moved to Seattle and have obviously planned and practiced to the point of delivering pure underground pop bliss. Playing out in the seediest places while still looking radiant and full of joy, they use a razor-sharp wit and a skill for the riff, superbly well-woven (ha) sound based on “seeing cracks in the veneer of awesome.” Bass player Jeff Anderson is even willing to wear a dress to be in the band. (“Cornershop Girls” off their debut, Hot Probs, is the sweetness here.)

There are also some pretty intimate emotional highs and lows expressed in Amplified Seattle. Jeffcoat captures the tragedy and Stoic heroism of The Moondoggies, making me want to investigate the band much further based on the agonizing trials of leader Kevin Murphy, and the transcendent spirit of life-appreciation from them he puts in his songs. And Sean Nelson looks back on the glory days of “Flagpole Sitta” and muses, “We didn’t know we were a one hit wonder at the time, but I think we sort of did.” He further explains, “You cannot but understand that it really has nothing to do with what you think you are as a band. It’s what they think out there (the audience).” He admits that if he’d embraced it “we would have had a better time and made more money.” Currently he collaborates with Jacob Hoffman for His Mortal Enemies, thankful that the musical dialogue they have is a “reminder that I can do it.”

More experimental, without a genre music is represented as well, on the musical mystery tramp side by Corespondents, which organically chop up Italian cowboy soundtrack guitar playing, circus rhythms, and woozy ragtime to make perfect night music for absinthe-sipping poets and wiskey-slurping marginals. (Two of the members do shifts on local Hollow Earth Radio.) GOD is a continuation of Whiskey Tango, both profiled in Amplified Seattle, and the former has developed something to say (most of it transgressive) out of the “do something” Monkey Pub brawl of the former.

Amplified Seattle is a fantastic accompaniment to Lynn Shelton’s original vision — if the Internet episodes of $5 Cover: Seattle didn’t get you out to see The Lights, their five minutes of fun here probably will — and Shelton herself is interviewed at the end, giving one of the best quotes regarding her karaoke addiction: “I am obviously a frustrated rock star.” Like the rest of us in Seattle.


Bass Ackwards
directed by Linas Phillips
(USA, 103 minutes)

Festival Screenings:

May 21, 2010 9:00 PM, Harvard Exit
May 23, 2010 4:00 PM, Harvard Exit

This may be a real breakout film for SIFF this year. An emotional exile finds redemption on the road tale, it is written and directed by and starring Linas Phillips, as a character named Linas, and the cinematic touchstones given are “Herzog, Linklater, and Cassavetes.” That might give you some idea of its well-paced mysteries regarding our cares for one another; our random, often roughly realized desires, and our languid motivations in connection. But all those are mere words, and probably part of the problem. The story is about someone having an affair, failing at finding a proper place to love as well as live, not quite making it as a wedding photographer, and experiencing the timeless joys of animals, children, and really weird ass gifts (like the bizarre van he inherits as reward for feeding some alpacas on Vashon) as he sets out to come back home on the other side of the country.

Phillips has been noted by SIFF since graduating from New York University’s Experimental Theater wing, his “Walking To Werner” getting a lot of love in 2006. With a brief but hilarious appearance as an aimless hippie wanderer in the underrated band breaking up sage “True Adolescents” (2009) at SIFF last year, Phillips could be typecast as a bohemian schlub (check out that movie on DVD as soon as possible to see some great playing and acting by Seattle’s garage-soul sharpies The Blakes as well). But the character growth and genuine curiosity for living shown by “Linas” in “Bass Ackwards” is more than avant-garde. In the superb support acting of David-Blue, Jim Fletcher, Paul Lazar, with Phillips and others in this deceptively simple but very rewarding road flick, you will find love for humanity. (Respect and affection to Kelly and Cal in the SIFF publicity department for thrusting this screener in my hand and enthusing about it; it will be one of my best memories of the Seattle International Film Festival this year.)


Some Days Are Better Than Others
directed by Matt McCormick
(USA, 93 minutes)

Festival Screenings:

May 31, 2010 9:00 PM, Pacific Place Cinema
June 1, 2010 4:00 PM, Pacific Place Cinema

Here’s where it gets confusing about the SIFF programming — this is a gorgeous movie set in Beaverton, Oregon, and stars Carrie Brownstein (Sleater-Kinney) and James Mercer (The Shins, Broken Bells), and yet is neither an official part of the NW Connections OR Face The Music programs — but don’t let that trouble you. Some Days Are Better Than Others is just an excellently scripted, beautifully shot, and surprisingly well acted movie about restless maturation that shouldn’t be missed in the 2010 line up.

Written and directed by Matt McCormick (who also creates an excellent score with Matthew Cooper, and leaves out the U2 song of the movie’s title), it is promoted by a cute website that asks, “Why do the good times go by so fast while the difficult times seem so sticky?” The red flags of a sweet-natured, somewhat arch “indie flick” fly up in trying to describe Some Days Are Better Than Others. But the pleasure and satisfaction is found in the way that Brownstein and Mercer unravel their characters’ personal details (her thrift store shopping for bears to eviscerate for crafty fashion; a copy of Al Burian’s punk scribe tome Burn Collector at his spare bedside in a house he shares with one of the lesbians he has a tendency to fall in love with), and abandoned houses and movies about soap bubbles forming and splitting and forgotten urns full of young girls’ ashes are slyly commenting on our brief purposes here.

Special mention should be made that Carrie Brownstein spares us her heartbreakingly beautiful smile for most of the film (thankfully, so we can focus), as her character stalks a partner falling away and she is drawn into the perfect fakery of reality TV desire; while James Mercer pulls off the perfect slacking housemate, who works temp jobs and hangs out with his step-grandfather for conversation and borrows his car when necessary. Both of these people exist in my life in ways that film characters rarely do; and besides a commentary on the Pandora’s box of hacking email and arranging your persona on a social networking site, these struggling human beings have always existed sans compulsive technology and their stories really need to be told more. Thanks to McCormick for adding an excellent film to that slender canon.

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One Comment

  1. Amy Ducote
    Posted May 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    Amplified Seattle was directed by John Jeffcoat.

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