Iggy Pop

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 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


Can--the Documentary
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


Frontier Life
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


Iggy Pop: Live at the Avenue B
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 10:00 p.m. Sunday, September 28

Amid the generic nubility and two-toned dick-grabbing at the most recent Video Music Awards, the most striking impression was made by Iggy Pop. Sporting a long spill of early Brad Pitt hair, his every starved facial sinew stretched taut, Iggy looked as if he had just returned from a long summer session with Keith Richards's monkey-gland doctor. I hoped this appearance of rude good health would translate into some buoyant fun here, but, as Thomas Hardy taught us, "Hope is the bird that lives on a drop and a crumb"--or, in this case, on no real nutrients at all. Indeed, Avenue B finds Iggy's formerly irruptive punk effrontery being machine-pressed into standard-issue cock rock. --Matthew Wilder


Let Me Be Your Band
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 29

Finally, the real reason why people start one-man bands--they can't find any back-up musicians willing to deal with the frontman's neuroses. Perhaps that's what Derek and Heather Emerson were thinking when they decided to profile Hasil Adkins, the Lonesome Organist, Bob Log III, and other innovative musicians who will never have to split their wages with the drummer. While it's interesting to hear the history of those artists who first strapped a tambourine to their feet and a harmonica to their face, the real fascination of this documentary lies in watching the ambidextrous performances. With self-made instruments, self-promoted shows, and a whole lot of self-love, even a banjo-strumming drummer becomes the embodiment of punk rock. With the documentary short "Shooby," about William "Shooby" Taylor, the "Human Horn." --Melissa Maerz


The M-80 Project
Oak Street Cinema, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 1

Sort of The T.A.M.I. Show of new wave, this previously "lost" 1979 concert video captures the first international festival of the alternative scene--and at that naive moment before music videos and hardcore entered the picture. Shot at the University of Minnesota field house, the film features 16 of the 23 bands that played, including DEVO (under their Christian-rock pseudonym, Dove), the Suicide Commandos (doing a breathtaking "Complicated Fun"), the Suburbs ("Cows"), the Monochrome Set (from the U.K.), Tuxedomoon (San Francisco), the Fleshtones (New York), and Minneapolis legend Curtiss A. Anyone who thinks the Rapture have a new idea should note the Contortions' cover of Chic's "Good Times." --Peter S. Scholtes


Screamin' Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me
Oak Street Cinema, 3:00 p.m. Saturday, September 27

This unflattering documentary portrait of the man with the buggy eyes and the skull cane has him joking about Ray Charles in a fish market, thinking he's in a whorehouse--a gag so repellent I wanted to send the screener to Paul Schrader in hopes that he'd make an incriminating bio-pic of this loathsome man. The real interest here is the batch of white hipsters who guiltily bow before the entertainer: Jim Jarmusch pats himself on the back for paying Hawkins to use "I Put a Spell on You" in Stranger than Paradise, while Diamanda Galas suggests that the man should play Carnegie Hall in tux and tails--a more exuberant image than any in the doc's own concert footage. --Matthew Wilder


Sh*t from Shynola
Oak Street Cinema, 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 29

Powerlines tap dance, robots sing, video game heroes sob over mankind--it's all we can do not to sit there like simple fleshpods, immobilized by the sci-fi creations of the artists known as Shynola. In their music videos for bands like Radiohead, Lambchop, Junior Senior, and Stephen Malkmus, this London-based art collective conjures a strange omniverse that's eerily animated in both senses of the word. Their cartoons are a sly joke about art in an age of cold reproduction. Kicking off with the gorgeously melancholy short "The Littlest Robo," Sh*t From Shynola plays with the human side of machines--and ultimately, the mechanistic nature of humanity. With a live music set by Rick McCollum at 7:00 p.m. --Melissa Maerz  


Tom Dowd and the Language of Music
Oak Street Cinema, 9:30 p.m. Saturday, September 27 and 5:00 p.m. Sunday, October 5

Director Mark Moorman's doc is a biography of the late Atlantic Records engineer responsible for some of the most important R&B, rock, and jazz records ever made. A physics wonderboy who worked on the Manhattan Project, Tom Dowd bagged college and the military to become Atlantic's tech wiz. Boyishly exuberant at the time of these interviews, he's still amazed at his DeLillo pinball of a life, drawing scant distinction between his awe at witnessing the Bikini bomb test and the joy of getting his first 8-track machine. The film ends with Dowd sitting at the ivories, reciting Irving Berlin's "I Love a Piano"--a guy still blown away by the simple relationship between man and technology. With a 9:00 p.m. set by DJ Aldric before the Saturday screening. --Jon Dolan


Los Zafiros: Music from the Edge of Time
Oak Street Cinema, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, September 28

Hearing the sublime Cuban doo-wop of Los Zafiros (the Sapphires) for the first time is akin to waking up today from a five-decade slumber to discover Dion, the Platters, or maybe Frankie Valli. This proficient and rigorously apolitical doc recounts the 1960s heyday of these Havana superstars, and features the sentimental peregrinations of the group's two surviving members. Alcohol, as it will, cuts through the nostalgia to provoke some real emotions, but it's the performance footage that you won't forget. The counter-tenor crooning of Ignacio Elejalde at the end of the film is flatly astonishing. And the bossa body-jive of heartthrob El Chino reveals a glimpse of one of the sexiest singers I've ever seen. --Michael Tortorello

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