Color Me Obsessed film salutes the Replacements

A new documentary revisits the Replacements' heyday
Bonnie Schiffman

The Replacements were never perfect. They were as wriggling and colicky as the beautiful losers absolutely needed them to be, adored for just being themselves, resultantly tattooing a bloody, drunken heart on the sleeve of American unexceptionalism. Their story is one of half-truths, trap doors, and stubbed toes, and one that ended up changing everything. Or maybe just enough.

"They were the worst band I'd ever seen in my life." Gorman Bechard, director of the new documentary Color Me Obsessed, describes his typically anarchic and short-of-revelatory introduction to the 'Mats during a 1983 stop in New Haven, Connecticut, while opening for R.E.M. "They were noisy and obnoxious and drunk. I basically thought, 'What the fuck is this?' Then a few months later Let It Be came out, and at the time I don't think I realized it was the same band I had hated. Then I put two and two together. Everything about it was perfect...and therein began the love story."

That love story eventually led his friend and fellow filmmaker, Handi Oppenheimer, to enlist his help when her project on the Replacements hit a wall during post-production. "Probably three years ago Handi wrote to me and said, 'I lost my editing machine, I lost my edits, I don't know what to do.' I was like, okay, let me think about it. So that night I was lying in bed with my wife, wondering, 'How could I do this where it will be different from every other rock documentary?' I'm not a fan of documentaries made after a band is broken up; they seem like a VH1 Where Are They Now? special. But this was my thought process: 'You never see god in the movies. The Replacements really are one of my gods. Maybe I can present them without ever seeing or hearing them.' That could be interesting."

Unable to shake the idea, Bechard began the project in earnest, scheduling dozens of interviews with some familiar and not-so-familiar names: Peter Jesperson, Grant Hart, George Wendt, Lori Barbero, David Carr, Craig Finn, Robert Voedisch (whose soul-bare, poetic remembrances lovingly describe one typical, if atypically eloquent, misfit's connection to the band), Tommy Ramone, "Tim." As best as the human memory can, through the decades and through the rigors a portrait is painted, independent of the music that colors it or the very people who held the brushes. Through these memories the Replacements are contextualized, beatified, beaten down, and eventually delivered on up to the annals of history by a disproportionately thick-accented group of first-handers and peers. So a surface of truth in a surfeit of myth gets properly scratched, for the first time.

What the film does best may be introducing or bittersweetly summating the Replacements, but below that is an underlying indictment of the way things have shaken out in rock and roll and, through that, us. Every day we try to navigate the glut we currently occupy, sifting through this new ocean of culture to the point where all we can hope to do is keep our heads above water. Color Me Obsessed, in its best moments, reminds us that no one is forcing us to lose ourselves, or That Feeling. We all know the one.

The last great American band? God forbid.

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