Most movies you see because they happen to be playing, and why not? The films you seek out are the ones you remember, though. Same with music: It's the good stuff that you plan your life around.
Well, Sound Unseen is for us planners. A nine-day festival of rare films about music, with concerts to match, it packs so many cool events into one week that I might as well direct you right now to www.soundunseen.com for a complete schedule. (Some cinematic highlights are reviewed below.)
The best part of Sound Unseen may be the live musical accompaniment to movies, at least judging from the festival's previous three years. On Friday, for instance, Seattle DJs Plastiq Phantom and Scientific American rework the soundtrack to the 1982 cheeseball sci-fi classic, Tron. (The computer theme continues that evening, at the opening-night party, with live drum 'n' bass musicians Poor Line Condition at the Historic Thorpe Building, 1618/1620 Central Avenue NE in Minneapolis.) The following Friday, avant-garde pianist Matthew Shipp and his jazz trio appear at the Walker Art Center to provide live accompaniment to the premiere of Combinations, a film by Patrick Gaucher that explores the improvisatory parallels between jazz and boxing. Between these events, the week is jammed with showcases in local clubs.
As for the films themselves, Sound Unseen is more international than ever. On my schedule, I've already circled a documentary about South Asians in the U.K. music scene, a 1976 Nina Simone concert film shot in Paris, a doc about the life of Ravi Shankar (from Hollywood to George Harrison), an animation retrospective by London's Shynola collective (known for their Radiohead video), a collection of Asian music videos, and a 1972 concert film by the German avant-garde funk band Can.
Closer to home, Sound Unseen includes a history of break-dancing, a portrait of Steve Earle, a three-projector film by Jem Cohen about urban landscapes (with a score by Montreal's Godspeed You! Black Emperor), plus a local premiere of the uncut version of Sun Ra's sci-fi musical, Space Is the Place. And those are just the films we didn't have space to review! (Personally, I'm planning my life around seeing The M-80 Project twice.)
So between September 26 and October 4, pull out your calendars, make a few plans, and resist the temptation to see Seabiscuit again. Sound Unseen is the week's real underdog, anyway. --Peter S. Scholtes
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 9:30 p.m. Monday, September 29
The missing link between James Brown and the Velvet Underground, Germany's Can created the hypnotic, psychedelic funk that came to define "Krautrock" in the 1970s. But even as their influence pulsed through bands like Talking Heads and Sonic Youth, Can themselves remained obscure. Hence this disjointed 1999 doc will be, for many, an entertaining first glimpse of the group, with the accompanying revelation that this famously German band had Japanese and African American members. Who (besides fans) knew that these students of socialism and 20th century classical music had a disco hit? Or that their trippy live show would sound so contemporary today? The doc will be followed by a 52-minute 1972 Can concert film from Cologne. --Peter S. Scholtes
Closer than That
Oak Street Cinema, 9:45 p.m. Saturday, October 4
For fans of the great Duluth band Low, this unconventional 2002 doc offers the following: John Waters praising the somber-sounding trio as "witty in a really good way"; singers Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk serenading their toddler with "Surfer Girl"; Sparhawk candidly discussing his thoughts on God and music; Zak Sally smiling as Sparhawk bullshits an interviewer. But getting to these moments requires sitting through an oppressive amount of dead time on camera, including static live shots from behind the band's heads, and way too much stage patter. If "experimental" means no narrative at all, give me Behind the Music. --Peter S. Scholtes
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 10:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27
Tijuana: It's not just for blowjobs and coke deals anymore. That seedy border city's tourist board may crave a better campaign, but they'd be hard pressed to best the vision of the city being forged by cultural pioneers the Nortec Collective. Drawing from TJ's outlaw iconography and Norteño music, these hyperarticulate musicians and artists have adapted their own symphony for a city. Hans Fjellestad's hypnotically shot doc roams the dusty streets with drag-racing clubs and flows through the aqueducts with a waterworks director. Yes, Tijuana is coursing with filth, the film's subjects say, and from this comes something wholly original. It's not a nice place to visit, but you'd be amazed to live there. --Michael Tortorello
Hey Is Dee Dee Home
Oak Street Cinema, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 28
For fans of New York '70s punk rock---the real stuff before Interpol and the Strokes---this intimate 1992 interview with legendary drug-rat rocker Dee Dee Ramone will be wholly riveting. Filmed by punk doc vet Lech Kowlaski, this DIY Storytellers episode--released now, after the deaths of Dee Dee and Joey--finds the late icon talking candidly (did he ever not?) about his life and his addictions. Along the way, he also gets into his relationships with the likes of Richard Hell and Johnny Thunders, using his tattoos and the story behind the drug-copping chuffer "Chinese Rocks" as touchstones. With a 7:00 p.m. set by DJ Danny Sigelman. --Laura Sinagra