BORN TO BOOGIE
Oak Street Cinema, Friday at 8:00 p.m.
Directed by Ringo Starr in the same sense that one directs toddlers to play golf, this 1972 quickie about Marc Bolan's glam-rock heartthrobs is sprinkled with absurdist vignettes of absurd banality and (whew!) dominated by British concert footage of shambolic beauty. Onstage and on drugs, these guys were seriously marginal players, but God do their primitive car-and-sex jams come grooving up slowly and sensually; Lord do their choruses engulf you; Christ does their bozo shaman strut with authority. And Bolan is not even the band's hottest guy: That honor goes to percussionist Mickey Finn. Scream Mr. Finn's name at just the right instant, and I swear he'll gaze right into your eyes. The opening-night screening will be introduced by T. Rex loyalist Mary Lucia and preceded by a set from local rockers Little Man.--Dylan Hicks
ISN'T THIS A TIME! A TRIBUTE CONCERT FOR HAROLD LEVENTHAL
The Bell, Saturday at 2:45 p.m. and Monday at 7:30 p.m.
If you don't know the lyrics to "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"--or if you're of the political persuasion that doesn't care where the flowers went--it's going to be a long 90 minutes. The existence, however, of a sold-out Carnegie Hall for this 2003 concert doc suggests that a lot of people still like to sing along with Pete Seeger, the Weavers, Arlo Guthrie, and, alas, even Peter, Paul and Mary. Director Jim Brown's stage clips and interviews prove that these spirited singers and activists aren't ready to climb into the crypts at the Smithsonian. Seeger, who was born in 1880, still has the legs to run on and off stage! Will, say, Conor Oberst be so spry and impassioned in 2065? --Michael Tortorello
ARVO PÄRT: 24 PRELUDES FOR A FUGUE
The Bell, Saturday at 4:45 p.m. and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
ECM Records founder Manfred Eicher once likened Arvo Pärt's music to "slowly beating wings." Rooted in medieval and renaissance ecclesiastical music, yet unmistakably modern, the Estonian composer's music succeeds at being both calming and challenging--a rare feat. This documentary is sometimes frustratingly underlit, but it's illuminating all the same. It catches its contemplative, serene, and typically reclusive subject in his daily life and at rehearsals, premieres, and seminars, including one at which he reveals his guiding maxim, first told to him by a janitor: "A composer must love every single note." What emerges is a man living a Platonic good life, someone with natural integrity who is never shown being unkind and actually stops to smell the roses. (Well, it's some other plant--but he is seen pausing for a good sniff.)--Dylan Hicks
PUT THE NEEDLE ON THE RECORD
The Bell, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Tuesday at 9:45 p.m.
Miami's annual dance-industry confab, the Winter Music Conference, provides the historical frame around this electronic-music doc, a film that, like the event, hides its insights inside gales of glare. The sound bites from a horde of DJs and producers (Roger Sanchez, Christopher Lawrence, the Crystal Method, Josh Wink, and Jesse Saunders prominently among them) are personable and give the film some character, but they won't uncover much that anyone who has thumbed through a rave history or two didn't already know. And the annoying quick-cut interludes--liberally peppered with images of DJs gurning while they mix, sped-up footage of people loading record cases into vehicles, and gratuitous tit shots--are the documentary equivalent of a glow stick.--Michaelangelo Matos
930 F STREET
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday at 9:30 p.m.; and Bryant-Lake Bowl, Thursday, October 13 at 9:30 p.m.
Much like CBGB, the original 9:30 Club was a distinctively smelly, hole-in-the-wall venue defined by a turning point in rock history. Thanks to the underage kids who ran it, the club gave birth to the D.C. hardcore and straight-edge scenes led by Bad Brains, Clutch, and Minor Threat. Unlike CBGB, the 9:30 chose survival over nostalgia and relocated to a larger space. This doc adequately covers the club's place in history, including current history, but what's missing is a timeline. The filmmakers, perhaps too caught up in Ian MacKaye's sharp commentary on moshing and concert footage of Devo and Rites of Spring, couldn't be bothered with dates. For your cheat sheet: The club opened in 1980 and moved in 1996. --Lindsey Thomas
STRANGER: BERNIE WORRELL ON EARTH
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 5:30 p.m.; and the Bell, Tuesday at 9:15 p.m.
Is Bernie Worrell dead? No. But that's what I kept wondering while watching this documentary about the legendary Funkadelic and Talking Heads keyboard player. The use of the past tense by so many of his admirers, coupled with Worrell's unexplained absence from much of the film, provokes such speculation. Some allusions to Worrell's self-destructive personal habits are made, but these are never fully explored. Just about every musical genius of the past 500 years is invoked to explain Worrell's gifts: Hendrix, Beethoven, Ellington, Bach, Miles, Mozart. Unfortunately these comparisons aren't backed up with much more than tantalizing snippets of Worrell's hypnotic, frenetic playing.--Paul Demko
SHAKESPEARE WAS A BIG GEORGE JONES FAN (OR COWBOY JACK CLEMENTS' HOME MOVIES)
The Bell, Sunday at 5:45 p.m.; and Oak Street Cinema, Sunday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m.
This goofy, charming portrait of Nashville legend Cowboy Jack Clement mixes recent footage shot by filmmakers Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville with voluminous archival material collected by the subject himself. Though there are swell performances by the likes of John Prine and Dolly Parton, the juiciest bits are the candid clips of country music royalty. In one segment, Johnny Cash is shown lying against A.P. Carter's grave, puffing on a cigarette, lamenting that he "never got to have a smoke" with his legendary in-law. Clement's upbringing and family life are pretty much ignored: He seems to have just materialized at Sun Studios in the 1950s, wholly formed as a musical jester.--Paul Demko
RAMEAU'S NEPHEW BY DIDEROT (THANX TO DENNIS YOUNG) BY WILMA SCHOEN
Walker Art Center, Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
Far be it from me to understand a 30-year-old, four-and-a-half-hour experimental epic whose maker's bio claims that it has yet to be understood (at least not "widely"). What I do know is that Michael Snow's gently inscrutable meditation on the cinematic relationship between sound and image hardly ever screens, so adventuresome moviegoers will want to devote a third of the day to it no matter what. Dedicated (facetiously?) to Alexander Graham Bell, the film comes in 24 parts (one for each frame per second?), the most accessible of which--e.g., the long scene of a drummer drawing bongo-like sounds from a kitchen sink--make the point that we can never trust a movie's use of sound. (Mel Brooks plunked a similar note the same year in Blazing Saddles.) Still, Snow's film works best at its most abstract, hypnotizing (or lulling?) the viewer with good old-fashioned avant-garde psychedelia. Come wired or exhausted: Rare is the opportunity to space out for this long. --Rob Nelson
AS SMART AS THEY ARE: THE AUTHOR PROJECT
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 7:30 p.m.; and the Bell, Monday at 9:30 p.m.
Quirky and precious, One Ring Zero are exactly the sort of house band you'd expect at McSweeney's knickknack shop in New York. Using only an accordion and claviola (imagine a melodica crossed with a pan flute), the brainy duo began supplying klezmerish incidental music for readings by literary darlings such as Dave Eggers and Jonathan Ames, and eventually asked writers to provide them with lyrics. Frankly, the two come across as a wannabe They Might Be Giants (who, incidentally, provided musical accompaniment for McSweeney's national tour in 2002). For all its talk about how difficult it is for novelists to pen lyrics, the film offers little conclusion while burying its performance footage under ever more commentary.--Lindsey Thomas
TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF QUEENSBRIDGE
Oak Street Cinema, Sunday at 9:00 p.m. and Friday, October 14 at 10:00 p.m.
While New York's Percy Chapman was in the womb, his father was murdered. When he was a boy, his mother (now deceased) became a heroin addict. Just as Chapman was getting noticed for his rapping turns on producer Marley Marl's classic 1988 album In Control, he was sent to Rikers Island for armed robbery. In other words, Chapman has earned the stage name Tragedy. (You may also know him as Intelligent Hoodlum, under which handle he made a politically conscious album in 1990.) Like Marl, MC Shan, Nas, Mobb Deep, and other hip-hop heavies, Tragedy is from Queensbridge, the world's largest housing project. At its best, which is mainly when the self-aware Tragedy is being interviewed, Tragedy depicts a city within a city that's both a war zone and a tight-knit artistic hotbed.--Dylan Hicks
RADIOHEAD TELEVISION: THE MOST GIGANTIC LYING MOUTH OF ALL TIME
The Bell, Sunday at 9:15 p.m.
And you thought Current TV was boring. Just as Al Gore's new network aims to reinvigorate the wishy-washy consumer multiculturalism of the late '90s, Radiohead's online experiment-cum-Hail to the Thief rollout further plugged their vision of that era's techno-abject dark side with predictable how-did-we-get-here? malaise. The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth collects "24 frighteningly bizarre films" (read: expressionist gewgaw music vids), arranged as an anti-variety variety show, occasionally interspersed with in-studio look-ins and an interview with Thom Yorke in which he offers abstracted non-answers to pointed celebrity tell-all questions. One can glean a strange, gentle fix from this slow, sulking mess of urban opaques, separation anxiety cartoons, and market subjectivity spoofs, but, as with so much about this band, the rewards are only sometimes worth the work, no matter how passionate the dedication or deep the bong.--Jon Dolan
DRIVE WELL, SLEEP CAREFULLY: ON THE ROAD WITH DEATH CAB FOR CUTIE
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Monday at 5:00 p.m. and Wednesday, October 12 at 5:00 p.m.
For emo-Americans insulted by your parents' debauched rock docs, here's your tour diary: a portrait of a hardworking group that prides itself on putting the "punk back in punctual." John Mitchell's film chronicles Death Cab's tour in support of 2003's Transatlanticism, a set of earnest, introspective ballads that cast them as poster boys for The O.C.-brand Seth Cohen rock. Milquetoast interview clips reveal nothing shocking, but the live footage, beautifully shot in 16mm, has a certain home-movie sweetness that flatters a band bent on nostalgia. Singer Ben Gibbard smiles shyly in his green blazer, then rocks you gently. Politely. Securely.--Melissa Maerz
Oak Street Cinema, Monday at 7:30 p.m. and Thursday, October 13 at 9:45 p.m.
Favelas are illegal squatter settlements seething with squalor and violence. Rio de Janeiro has about 600 of them and, according to this magnificently harrowing drama, their Bosnia is the favela known as Vigario Geral. That's the residence of Anderson Sa, a Christ-like figure (though he and the filmmakers prefer Shiva) trying to lead his favela through the carnage by means of an ever-expanding song and dance troupe and educational program known as Grupo Afroreggae. Any further plot synopsis would make the film sound like a hokey hybrid of Hotel Rwanda, Gandhi, Fame, and Walking Tall. All I can say is: Come with your staunchest skepticism fully loaded. Because whenever a question lingers too onerously, it's answered and extended into fodder for future plot twists.--Britt Robson
Bryant-Lake Bowl, Tuesday at 10:00 p.m.; and the Bell, Thursday, October 13 at 9:45 p.m.
"We're the TV show that's a party, but might also just be...a political party," exclaimed Glenn O'Brien at the start of each episode of TV Party, the New York hipster's public access show, which ran sporadically from 1978 until 1982. To O'Brien, public access was the last bastion of democracy in the inherently autocratic mass media--as well as an opportunity to host the ultimate starfucker's bacchanal (with music by Blondie and superimposed titles by Basquiat). One minute, O'Brien would be swapping saliva with every female in the studio; another, Chic's Nile Edwards would be doing a marionette act with a miniature Hitler figure, the latter performing "Rapper's Delight" in German. As this doc's copious clips suggest, you can't create a new TV format without threatening the corporate-network hegemony.--Eric Henderson
PUNK ROCK HOLOCAUST
Oak Street Cinema, Friday, October 14 at midnight
For years, pop punk has given off the stench of disposability--and thank God the people behind this movie know it. How else could they get all revved up about the 2003 Vans Warped Tour and then decapitate, electrocute, and zombify dozens of its participants? Rather than argue the meaning of "punk," Holocaust embraces the tour's commercialism--and it works. Characters push YooHoo and joke that the lineup is "as punk as Pee-Wee Herman." No one is safe from derision or death--and, yes, even Atmosphere gets the knife. What the movie loses to muffled audio and sloppy editing is recouped in the slapdash fun had by kids clutching their own protruding intestines. Some mall rats may even find that seeing their favorite band get killed is cooler than seeing them perform. --Lindsey Thomas
LA FABRI-K/THE CUBAN HIP-HOP FACTORY
Oak Street Cinema, Saturday, October 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Reared on cribbed Miami radio signals and hipped to the need for Cuban instrumentation by a godfather/shaman and his magic flame (no kidding), the subjects of this hour-long look at a Cuban hip-hop collective score a rare U.S. tour and arrive earnest and naive into the maw of expat hostility in Florida. Moving up the coast for a climactic engagement at Harlem's Apollo Theatre, they encounter their hero Afrika Bambaataa spouting spacey profundities over dinner and have their preconcert jitters assuaged by the Buddha-like grace of the Roots' ?uestlove. Even more than the rooftop vistas and vintage autos of the rappers' neighborhoods, the sense of Cuba comes through in their alternately perplexed and joyful relationship to American capitalism.--Britt Robson