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Until The End of the World: the Directors’ Cut

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In 1991, Wim Wenders released the film “Until the End of the World”. I am not a movie person by any stretch of the imagination, but I am a music person, and in 1991, I was a label manager for Warner Bros. Records. Warner Brothers released the soundtrack, and an advance cassette of the soundtrack landed on my desk, introducing me to art that would make an indelible impression on me.

The album’s contributors read like a who’s who of 1990’s rock and roll: Lou Reed, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, Nick Cave, U2, R.E.M., Patti Smith. All of the artists contributed original material, but these weren’t cast-offs or random studio outtakes. The album is brilliantly sequenced and perfectly paced. R.E.M.’s achingly vibrating “Fretless” remains one of their best songs ever; Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ (I’ll Love You) Till The End of the World” is equal parts hilarious, and epic; Patti and Fred Smith contributed the dirge-like “It Takes Time,” the first new work from her since 1988’s Dream of Life. And, of course, the title track. “Until The End of the World” was a riff on a discarded U2 demo until Wenders met with the band about contributing to the soundtrack. They pulled out the demo and turned it into the title track as well as a pivotal cut on Achtung Baby. There isn’t a dud in the entire collection, from Jane Siberry to T-bone Burnett.

This hugely ambitious project, Wenders’ ‘ultimate road movie,’ filmed in 7 countries with a budget of 23 million dollars (unheard of for a non-mainstream production) was reduced to 2 1/2 hours (158 minutes, to be precise) and released commercially. The soundtrack was tremendously successful; the film was not. But there was something about the film that spoke to me deeply. I was never a fan of science fiction, but the sci fi in this movie felt realistic to me. There was something in the bleak futurism combined with Claire’s chase around the world that matched where I was at the time, living halfway around the world in a country where I bought dollars on the black market, was befuddled by the operation of pay phones (they required a token and I could never ever get one to work for me), and found myself in the improbable position of sleeping in a bomb shelter and carrying a gas mask in a cardboard box slung over my shoulder like a purse as though it was nothing during the first Gulf War. My entire world was turned upside down, so it’s no wonder that I could grok Wenders’ futurist vibe so strongly.

Until The End of the World remained one of my totems; I would make potential boyfriends watch it as a kind of litmus test. In the DVD era, I naturally began looking for a release, only to learn about the film’s trials and tribulations. This was when I became aware of the four and a half hour directors’ cut, which was shown at the University of Washington in 1996. By the time I found out about the screening, tickets were long gone, and it remains one of the few events in my life I could not get myself into, despite waiting outside for hours. I would chase the Directors’ Cut for 25 years, until this past weekend, when it was shown at the Museum of Modern Art as part of a Wenders retrospective. I planed my ticket purchasing with the same discipline I apply to get tickets to a highly popular concert, and with good reason; the screening sold out immediately.

On line to get into the theater, I noticed that most people were there alone, or with a friend; most people readily confessed their obsession with the film and how they’d been trying to see this version for decades. Everyone seemed to be a writer or an artist or photographer or film maker or pursued some kind of creativity. We all talked knowingly about the difficulty of finding out about screenings, people who missed the one at the Museum of the Moving Image; me, feeling grateful that 2015 was the year that I decided to pay for a MOMA membership, without which I would not have ever found out about the screening. People spoke knowing about the Italian and the German DVD’s (both of which I never bought because I would have to also get a multi-system DVD player and that seemed somewhat excessive just to watch one movie). When the doors opened, people dashed into the theater with very deliberate purpose; there were those who ran for the front rows, others who took sides, and aisles, and random single handicapped seats. Many confessed that they’d deliberately stalked out the theater at previous screenings to determine the optimal seat in which to sit to watch a 4 1/2 hour screening. (I opted for an aisle seat in the second row that didn’t have another seat in front of it.)

Wenders spoke before the start of the film, confessing to the goal of creating the ultimate road movie, that it was the work he was the most proud of. And then there it was, restored in 2014 from the original negative. It was shocking to me how vividly I still remembered the movie; the last time I saw it was at least 10 years ago, around the time we all stopped using VHS on a day to day basis. Watching the story unfold again was like visiting an old friend; the cinematography did not disappoint, and it was amazing to hear the music in context again, and unlike the shorter version, you got the full songs and not 10 seconds here and there, and there were two additional songs from Peter Gabriel and Robbie Robertson that were not on the soundtrack. By the time “Until The End of the World” rolled over the end credits, I had tears in my eyes, not just for finally seeing a thing so pivotal to me that I had chased for so very long, but from the very physical act of being so immersed in a piece of art for such an extended period of time. (There was one 10-minute intermission; people ran out to the rest rooms as soon as the word appeared on the screen, and then everyone stood around and snacked surreptitiously until the lights went down again.)

At the end, Wenders spoke again and took questions; before I could raise my hand to ask about the soundtrack someone beat me to it. Wenders explained that he had knew he wanted a big rock and roll soundtrack to go with the movie, but that it was important to him that it sound like 1999, the year the film was set in, and not 1991; so made a list of 20 of his favorite artists, and asked them if they would be willing to provide a song that sounded like the future. 16 said “yes,” which Wenders said, never happens – if you’re lucky you get five. (And this was another reason the director’s cut was so important to him, the ability to hear the songs and not just snippets of them.) What’s most striking about the film’s futurism is how much of it Wenders got right; he equally got a great deal of it wrong, but it remains remarkably and unintentionally prescient, and as impactful as it was 25 years ago.

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“Color Me Obsessed” Minneapolis Premiere

It was a cool and sunny day and I was walking around the intersection of N. First Avenue and Seventh Street South, an intersection as historical as 12th Street and Vine and one that looms as large in my legend as does Bowery and Bleecker. I’m standing in downtown Minneapolis, Replacements blasting in my earphones, taking photo after photo of the stars on the wall of the nightclub at that location, that valhalla that launched the careers of every band I have loved from Minneapolis. Purple Rain was filmed here. And the Replacements played around the corner in what locals call “the Entry,” the tiny triangle shaped dark box that reeks of beer and cigarettes (still). I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the downtown, the entire Replacements catalog cycling through my ears, walking around streets I know solely from addresses in rock and roll records and the pages of fanzines: Nicollet Mall. Hennepin Ave.

It could be 1985, but it is 2011. Today I am here to see the Minneapolis premiere of Color Me Obsessed, the Replacements documentary. If I was going to see it anywhere, it would have to be here.

I probably should have made this trip back in the day, and I am not sure why I did not; I made it to other outposts of the revolution, like Chapel Hill and Athens, and honorary corners in Boston and DC. I stopped here once in 2004, when I was driving back home to New York from Seattle, and an overnight stop put us just outside of town. I got up an hour early to make the trip to 2215 S. Bryant, which is otherwise known as the Stinson family house and the roof that the Replacements posed on for the cover of Let It Be. I came back in the summer of 2010 on a trip to see U2 and Target Field but also very much to stand in front of the stars on First Avenue (which were being painted at the time – I almost ran a red light at the intersection when I realized they were all blank), have a beer at the CC Club, and sit for a few minutes on Bob’s Bench and listen to a recording of “Little GTO” recorded at CBGB’s years ago. You will either find this awesome or pathetic. The difference between coming here now as opposed to 1985 is that I would have been too self-conscious to do the kind of blatant fangirling I am completely reveling in now. I would not have had nearly as much fun.

Onto the movie. Color Me Obsessed has evolved dramatically since I saw an early screening back in the fall of 2010. Back then, it was a complex, meandering thicket that would have given up its secrets to the truly dedicated. I was fine with that, because the Replacements were not for the casual fan, not for the “well convince me why they are so good” fan, not for the fairweather fan. It wasn’t worth going if you weren’t invested, because something would annoy you or piss you off or infuriate you. I won’t tell you that there would always be something brilliant because that simply wasn’t true. But most of us went back, time and again.

Color Me Obsessed in its current, final incarnation is brilliant in the way that The Kids Are Alright is brilliant. TKAA didn’t pander, didn’t explain, didn’t put things in context like a Ken Burns documentary – you had to pay attention. You had to follow what was going on. You needed to care, passionately. The first time I saw it, I had no idea what was going on, only that I loved every single second of it and wanted to go home and find out everything I could about the Who (and at the time I thought I knew a fair amount. I knew nothing). I didn’t need subtitles or long explanatory passages or someone setting up who this person was and why they were Important. I also didn’t mind doing my homework, I didn’t mind seeing it again and again and again until all the pieces fell together and I sat there, triumphant.

This movie can do that for you.

The story is constructed, layer upon layer, introducing you to person after person. Some you will know, others you won’t. For some you get an explanation of who they are and why they’re important; others it just doesn’t matter. What matters is what they say and what story they have to tell. This is dense prose; this is intricate construction. If you blink for a minute you will miss something you do not want to miss. I loved when the audience laughed out loud but I also hated it because then I missed what was said next. There was such economy of space, every word that everyone said served a purpose. Space served a purpose. Laughter served a purpose. I loved the 80s era photos of the speakers popping up as they spoke, reminding us of what it was like, once upon a time.

What matters is what they say, because you will nod your head – if you were there – because you thought that or saw something like that or remember that. The fans manage to speak for everyone in some fashion, even if everyone’s experience is still unique, even if you were at the same show, you know there can be multiple versions of how it exactly went down. (I am involved in one of those segments, although it turns out – thanks to someone else’s better memory – that two shows are confused as one by even the person who promoted it.) The legends are dissected, the rumors debunked – no, the master tapes from Twin-Tone did not go into the Mississippi River (for example) – but it’s not done in a way that leaves you completely shattered or upset or wishing you still had your original version of the story. If you know this band (and I mean ‘know’ in the way that all fans know a band), you will walk out of the movie wanting to hear the catalog from start to finish again. If you weren’t lucky enough to have been there but love this band, you will feel like you were, after you see this movie. And if you don’t know this band, you will either walk out saying “Seriously?” or want to go buy everything they have ever done and begin at the beginning.

Which is the whole point, after all.

I expected a Minneapolis audience to be hooting and hollering and booing and cheering and yelling things at the screen. Aside from the women behind me who giggled the entire time at absolutely everything (if I hadn’t been resolute that nothing could ruin this for me, I would have killed them. That, and I wasn’t a local), there were few of these revelatory, communal, very local moments. It almost made me sad that this sold-out, packed theater did not have that, but upon later reflection, maybe it is more Minneapolis this way. (I am told that the Boston screening was like a revival meeting. I am not surprised, because that town loved this band.) It was over before I wanted it to be over, and I was sad I could not stay for a second screening the next day (three in total, all sold out).

There is no music in this movie, the band do not appear, the director did not even try. Some people don’t believe him, think he couldn’t afford it or the band said no or he was blacklisted, but I am also in this movie and I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think he was being honest, if I thought he was being disingenuous. So many of us grew up on “Behind The Music” and assume that that is the only way to tell the story of a rock and roll band and think that anyone else is doing it wrong. I could not think of anything more boring than a “Paul Westerberg was born on…” type of movie, which talked to his next door neighbors and his classmates in high school and dutifully played a few live clips and had promo shots of the band fade in and out from left to right. Why would anyone, anywhere, want that for this band? I don’t get it.

When the movie was over, the afterparty was at the Entry, where the locals explained to me how the club was laid out back in the day, and I drank Rolling Rock while Matthew Ryan stood in the middle of the audience and sang ‘Here Comes A Regular’ acoustic while someone held the lyric sheet for him, while another band brought out horns for “Can’t Hardly Wait” (a point on which I wax eloquently in the film), while drunk local after drunk local insisted that they were the one who yelled “FUCK YOU” at the beginning of “Kids Don’t Follow,” while I sat with my back against the wall and sang along to every single song like I did once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away.

p.s. After the movie, I called a cab to take me from the screening to the afterparty.
“What’s at the Entry tonight?” he asked, after I gave him the address like I’d lived there all my life (or so I hoped).
“It’s an afterparty for a documentary – about a local band.”
“Oh, is that the Replacements documentary? I was supposed to be in that. I lit Paul’s cigarette before they played the first song at the first show at the Longhorn.”

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Jesse Malin & “Bastards of Young”

The video above is Jesse Malin onstage at the Stone Pony Saturday night. Yes, that is me, singing along in the background, even though I was taping. I hit record because I was anticipating some kind of hopeful rumination about Paul Westerberg or the Replacements or something similar. Instead I watched a bunch of people stand and stare at the stage.

I continue to remain amazed that in 2011 that “Bastards of Young” is not canon, that it is not mandatory, that everyone in the world does not know the words to it. Or even at least a Jesse Malin audience who presumably bought the covers record for which this was the lynchpin (as per Jesse), that they would know this song. I remain amazed that the Replacements continue to fade from view, that people don’t know and don’t care and don’t care to know. I am like one of those old people who remembers when things were one way and they still think things are that way, because in my day everyone I knew loved the Replacements (or made a conscious decision that they did not) and they were huge and important and hugely important, they were massive, they were the kind of thing you planned your life around, an album, a tour, a show, a television appearance was like a national holiday of some sort.

You argued. You defended. You loved passionately – or, quite possibly, you hated them passionately and would argue and defend your opinion just as vehemently as I would defend my love for them. You cared, one way or the other, you cared. I would have applauded a raised middle finger over standing around looking bored complacency. Back in the day, I saw more than a few raised middle fingers in the middle of Replacements audiences.

(And before you get all “What do you want for a Pony audience on a Saturday when 75% of them were staring at the stage door the entire time, waiting for Springsteen to walk in” [which was, sadly, true] this has happened at Irving Plaza too.)

These days, no one gives a fuck. And I don’t know how you can listen to music or care about music and not give a fuck about the Replacements, because I guarantee you that the people you are listening to right now would not be doing what they are doing without the Replacements.

This ties in nicely to one of my pet causes these days, Gorman Bechard’s documentary on the Replacements, Color Me Obsessed. [Full disclosure: I was interviewed for, and appear in, this film, and am a supporter via Kickstarter as well.] Conveniently, his most recent blog entry talks about the day they interviewed none other than Mr. Jesse Malin.

Maybe this movie will help. At least it will make me feel better that I have done something to help keep the Replacements alive in people’s minds.

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Color Me Obsessed

It’s not going to be a secret to anyone who’s read my work over the years that I’m a tremendous Replacements fan. I could not be happier that someone is finally telling their story especially when that someone is Gorman Bechard. If you don’t know who he is, he’s the author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told – which I found out about because the Replacements are mentioned repeatedly, and it popped up in some issue of The Skyway (which, if you’re a Mats fan, will be near and dear to you). (It doesn’t hurt that he’s also a tremendous Mets fan.) Anyway, he was raising funds for the film on Kickstarter and I couldn’t donate fast enough.

The film is called Color Me Obsessed. Spread the word.

(I really, really, really need to drag out all of my contact sheets and negatives from the 80s and get them burned to DVD. Tons of great Replacements shots. Yeah, in my copious free time.)

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U23D: the review

Going to see U2 in a theater with a screen roughly the size of the Pop stage doesn’t really seem that incongruous. U2, life-size Bono, South America, seems like a no-brainer – and for the most part it was.

I’ve been loving the coverage of the movie premiere at Sundance: “You mean to tell me that Yellow Submarine has a narrative arc?” (Bono, in response to some trainspotter criticizing the film’s lack of cohesiveness).

1) There’s no doubt that this was the right band to test this technology. Big and bold and loud – but not loud enough. It’s a concert film. TURN IT UP.

2) I found myself fascinated by the oddest things, like – what drink, exactly, does Larry Mullen, Jr. have next to his drum stool, within arm’s reach? Iced tea? Mint Julep?

3) The film needed a pause, and a zoom, mostly so I could see what, exactly, Bono had taped to the stage in front of his mic.

4) Every person in South America owns a tiny digital camera. Or at least so it seemed every time any member of U2 got near the edge of the stage.

5) The setlist is incredibly deficient. Where were some of the no-brainers like “Elevation,” or “City of Blinding Lights”? I mean, “Miss Sarajevo” is compelling and all but it’s not “Even Better Than The Real Thing.” This was a BIG SCREAMING MULTIMEDIA THING and not the place for subtlety.

6) You know those guys at every concert who get up on each other’s shoulders, take their shirts off, and wave them around in a circle above their head? They have them in South America, too. (Former readers will be interested to know that woo girls also exist in S.A.)

7) I realize that any song from “Achtung Baby” is going to present a tempting opportunity to recreate ZooTV in 3D format. However, when “The Fly” gives me the only time to watch all four members of U2 wearing instruments and jamming together at center stage, I do not want to have my view obscured by words and letters at the front of the screen.

8) If you went to this movie to see anything, it would be “Streets,” right? I got goosebumps just thinking about it during the opening notes. South America, 100,000 people, if God was ever going to walk through the room, it would be here, right?

It was so underwhelming it was just sad. “With Or Without You,” a song I hate and despise (HI SHARON), was more compelling than “Streets” in U23D.

9) You will find yourself scanning the crowd, at least I did. You are looking for the people like you, the people like your friends, the people that are like the annoying people you don’t want to be near at any concert. But I liked that. The commonality is refreshing.

10) Cutting between cities/venues in one song was terrible. I felt cheated later. This isn’t a Disney ride.

While it was definitely U2, it didn’t really give you the feeling of seeing them, I don’t think. I think “Streets” in Rattle and Hum, in all its one-dimensional simplicity, gives you that feeling a million times more than U23D did. I am glad I saw it for free, if I had paid for it I would have felt more than a little ripped off.

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shine a light

[trailer removed because it was on a freaking loop with no control buttons. go to www.shinealightmovie.com to see it yerself]

My problem with this remains that the house (well, the orchestra) is fake, and I think history deserved a real fucking audience with real fucking fans, no matter how old, wrinkled and unattractive the fan base might be.

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joe strummer: the future is unwritten

So I’ve been waiting to see this for I don’t know how long, and it HAS been a long time. This was supposed to be it, this was supposed to be THE definitive documentary about Joe. I bought tickets in advance, we got to the theater early and stood in line for half an hour to get a good spot. That kind of obsessive.

On the one hand I loved the unconventional approach taken, not yet another boring documentary with hours of headshots and voiceover gravely intoning the details of the subject’s childhood. And I knew who the players were, so it was fine for me. But all I could think was, what about the people who haven’t read every word written about John Mellor and the Clash? We’re documenting Joe’s legacy and we can’t be bothered with a small unobtrusive caption identifying who the person was? I mean, ya know, I *think* that was Bobby Gillespie, but I wasn’t sure, and would it have not been punk rock to let people in on the secret?

And maybe that was it, but the whole “punk is a secret world only for the insiders” ended a long time ago, especially for Joe. The whole point of the campfires was inclusion, and Joe was INCLUSIVE. Wouldn’t it have been meaningful for people to know that Mick Jones was doing the interview from the same counsel block (if not the same apartment) that his grandmother lived in, with its view of the Westway, the ledge he purportedly wrote “London Calling” on? Why deprive someone of that if they don’t know it? People weren’t born knowing punk rock legends, they learn them. Why not teach a whole new generation and the generations after this one?

Even if the film wasn’t meant as definitive, but more of an oral history, I’ll point out that none of the major players are getting any younger. It’s hard to get them all in one place and it may never happen again. Just the most basic of conventional documentary standards would have served Joe’s legacy well, without choking on conventionality.

The campfires. They became so important to Joe, but we don’t learn this until the end of the movie, which is filmed from the vantage point of someone looking into the campfire, not as a member of the campfire, another thing that seemed exclusionary and foreign and, well, not Strummer, ya know? I felt excluded, and I consider myself a distant member of the tribe, the girl who skipped her senior prom to see the Clash at Bond’s Casino. The boyfriend, who values Joe’s place in the rock pantheon, felt that even more strongly: “Okay, I get it, we’re not invited.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it but for two different people approaching the movie from the two places people are likely to approach this work, it seemed a valid sample size.

I don’t know why Simonon wasn’t part of it. If it was his ego, get the fuck over it already. If it was the ego of the filmmakers, I don’t even know what to say. Even Mick showed up and was, I felt, reasonably honest about things. Not, of course, that I pretend to really know what went on – only the men involved will ever truly know – but I felt like he stood up and honored his friend and their band and their work with his honesty.

Finally, a touch of brilliance to overlay Joe’s BBC broadcasts. It was like he was there, and had never left.

It just could have been so much more.

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the petty documentary

I have to say that when I heard about a 4-hour documentary about Tom Petty, even if it was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, the last thing I wanted to do any night was sit down and watch it. But it was taking up 4 hours on the DVR and it was either watch it or not, so I agreed to watch an hour.

And watched all four. Avidly.

It will probably sound ignorant in the extreme when I offer that on one level it amazes me that there was a significant enough story to comfortably fill four hours without feeling thin. It’s not so much ignorant as myopic, I think; I was never an *enormous* fan and kind of stopped following his career around Wildflowers. And probably ignored some of the commercial releases after Damn The Torpedos, because, well, it was everywhere and you didn’t have to work for it or look for it.

But I liked Petty, even if he struck me sometimes as an absolute bastard. He was definitely one of the good guys.

The documentary is priceless for many things (including the fact that someone around Petty had a video camera since the band’s VERY FIRST TRIP TO CALIFORNIA, not to mention every single other moment after that), but the winning footage to me is the evolution of the Wilburys. What luck to have such great interview footage with George. What serendipity that the camera was there the whole time. How sad that they never got to tour. The footage of him working with Johnny Cash – even more breathtaking than Petty and Orbison.

I sat there the entire time going, “Oh, yeah, *that*, I forgot about that.” The tour with Dylan. The fight over the $9.98 album price. Filing for banktruptcy, which at the time I didn’t even begin to understand. How good the videos were, and how many of them were so iconic and still hold up today. The unsung talents of people like Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.

I also felt that the coverage was fair but not fawning. Howie Epstein’s death, Stan Lynch’s departure – these were the things that were not ignored, not glossed over.

Even if you think you don’t care about Petty, if you are at all interested in the history of rock and roll, this is worth the investment of your time. And for Petty, it’s a dignified representation of his legacy; there’s no other word for it. Would that other artists of his stature use this as a model. (Hint, hint.)

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dammit keef

this is fucking awesome:

Keith’s scene in the new Pirates movie.

[via undercover, via rocks off]

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THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN.

JOE STRUMMER – THE FUTURE IS UNWRITTEN: trailer online NOW.

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