Monday, November 30, 2015

Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church - 2015

"Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church" - 2015
Dir. by John McDermott - 1 hr. 29 min.


by Clayton Hollifield

I always wish there were more music documentaries.  They don't even really have to be insightful; watching top-notch musicians doing their thing is usually enough to hold my interest.  There's a little more to the footage that's presented in "Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church," but really, it's concert footage padded out with an attempt to explain the circumstances of the event presented.  That means, naturally, that you will have to wade through '60s tropes like people wistfully explaining that how things were changing, and how it was a revolution, man, but it's kind of worth it for the concert footage of Hendrix.

There's not much point in going through a plot explanation, so let's do this fast.  Hendrix (playing with bass player Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell) headlined the second (and final) Atlanta International Pop Festival in 1970, only a couple of months prior to Hendrix's untimely death.  The headlining set had been filmed for a documentary, but was left undeveloped in some dude's barn for something like 30 years, until "Electric Church" was released. 

The whole point of this deal is getting to see good footage of Jimi Hendrix playing.  It's not the best I've seen or heard from him, but it was good (and the footage looks good).  The concert, while not shown complete, is shown uninterrupted in the middle of the film, which is pretty ideal.  I don't want to hear people waxing eloquent about Hendrix while he's playing instrumental passages, I just want to see him playing.   And that's what we get, here.  The complete concert is available as an audio recording, under the title "Freedom," so the show is covered from an archival viewpoint.  There's no torching of guitars here, although he does finish a song by playing with his teeth.  It's just a solid show from a legendary musician.

"Stone Free" - The Jimi Hendrix Experience

The attempts at putting the show into context range from helpful to masturbatory.  On the onanistic tip are when baby boomers go glassy-eyed and start talking vaguely about change and all that stuff that you've heard a million times before, frequently put in a better, more interesting way.  But what are you going to do?  If you ask people to reminisce on camera, you're going to get a certain amount of noise.  What was interesting was the explanation that the Atlanta International Pop Festival was not actually in Atlanta (otherwise known as a big city that probably could have handled the influx of hippies without much trouble), but instead a vastly overwhelmed small town of about 2000 people who had no choice but to kick back and hope that nothing too bad would happen, and just watch the freak parade.  And it was a crush of people, estimated at around 500k attendance.


And when they explain late in the film that all of the people who were doing so much barking about the environment left the small town covered (literally) in human waste and debris, there's a sense that it's probably a good thing these festivals went the way of the dodo.  They were poorly planned, poorly organized, and never even came close to providing the kind of resources that a crowd of that size would require.  After a while, the people that descended upon the small town basically knocked down the fences, demanding entry for free, and spent the weekend in 100 degree heat, pooping in the open and scarfing whatever food the local townspeople would bring down to the event to hand out.  Considering that later attempts to put on mammoth shows (like Woodstock '99) ended up in violence and crime, I think that people should just be happy that no one seems to have gotten seriously hurt (or killed) at a show like this one. 

But forget all that.  You can always just fast-forward to the part of the movie where you get like 45 straight minutes of Hendrix being Hendrix.  The rest of the information in the movie is either helpful or benign, and there's an explanation of the "Electric Church" term.  Maybe this kind of music isn't your cup of tea, but it definitely is mine, and you can do a lot worse with your time than watching The Jimi Hendrix Experience kiss the sky.

4 / 5 - TV

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Extraordinary Tales - 2015

"Extraordinary Tales" - 2015
Dir. by Raul Garcia - 1 hr. 13 min.

Official Trailer #1

by Clayton Hollifield

Every once in a blue moon, I'll get to go see a movie without knowing much about it going in.  And that usually vastly improves the viewing experience.  This time, it was Raul Garcia's "Extraordinary Tales," a film that adapts five different Edgar Allan Poe stories into animation, each with a different visual approach.  Honestly, animated Poe is enough to pique my interest; it's like hearing cover versions of well-loved songs - the chance to rediscover material through someone else's sensibilities.

"Extraordinary Tales" adapts five Poe short stories; "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar," "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Masque of the Red Death."  Even more fascinating is the use of found audio sources; "The Tell-Tale Heart" features a scratchy recording of Bela Lugosi (yes, that Bela Lugosi) as the narration.  "Usher" is narrated by Christopher Lee (spectacularly so), and there's even a stray line of dialogue from Roger Corman!

Each of the shorts is visually interpreted in a vastly different style.  "Usher" is a kind of clunky CGI style that you might see in dozen different kids movies, "Heart" gives a shout-out to Alberto Breccia (although it should also give credit to Frank Miller), "Valdemar" layers an illustrative, pen-and-ink style on CGI framework (and resembles golden age newspaper comic strips in the color approach), "Pendulum" is a moody CGI approach, and "Masque" uses an elongated, emaciated, elegant style reminiscent of Egon Schiele's work (Schiele also died young from a sort of plague, the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, which added a bit of resonance to the choice to borrow from his work here).  The interstitials, which feature Poe as a raven in a graveyard, marry computer animation and paper cutout style to elegant effect.

The segments are mostly successful to me, but frequently for different reasons.  Christopher Lee's actorly, booming narration for "Usher" is compelling.  The visual approaches for "Heart" and "Masque" are spell-binding, particularly "Masque."  "Valdemar" is such a curious story that it carries itself (and making one of the characters look like Vincent Price was a bonus).  And Guillermo del Toro's voice work on "Pendulum" is fantastic.  In some regards, I guess you could say the film was uneven, in that I think only "Masque" clicked 100%, but all of the segments had something interesting to recommend them, so there weren't any lulls or dull parts.

So, "Extraordinary Tales" is good spooky fun for kids who may not have been exposed to Poe's work yet, and it's good for those of us who are a little more familiar with the material, too.  You'll certainly have your favorite segment, as do I ("Masque"), and this is a worthy, fun animated project I'd love to see more in the vein of.  I had a deja-vu moment with "The Tell-Tale Heart," and it turns out that it had been created nearly a decade ago, and I likely saw that segment at a Spike and Mike's Festival along the way.  I'm glad that Raul Garcia and everyone else involved decided to round this out to a feature-length film.

4 / 5 - Theatre