Sound Unseen 12: From Sid & Nancy to Sigur Ros
Between October 12 and 16, Sound Unseen 12 will screen 11 films on music at the Ritz Theater (a new location for this festival, in northeast Minneapolis) and the Trylon Microcinema (in south Minneapolis). Sound Unseen also features live music performances in conjunction with films—this year, veteran punk rockers the Magnolias will perform before a documentary about rock dads, The Other F Word, while Pink Mink will play a set of Hole covers live before Hit So Hard, a profile of ex-Hole drummer Patty Schemel.
Jim Brunzell III brings a passion and tenacity to Sound Unseen as programming director. He attends two to three film festivals a year, including Sundance, seeking films on all genres and topics of music, from jazz to classical to rock 'n' roll to hip hop to country.
Brunzell says there is a lot to look forward to at this year's Sound Unseen. "I'm really excited to see Sid and Nancy finally on the big screen," he says, referring to the classic film about Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. "It's one of my favorite music films of all time. Whether other people enjoy the Sex Pistols or Sid Vicious or Alex Cox or Gary Oldman is up to them."
Another highlight of this year's festival is the U.S. premiere of the Sigor Ros film INNI. "We screened the Sigur Ros film Heima three or four years ago and it was a huge film for us," Brunzell says. "People really enjoyed it, and I think they'll enjoy this film as well."
Having drummer Patty Schemel coming in for the October 14 Ritz Theater screening of Hit So Hard will be a high point of this year's festivities, as well—especially given Schemel's place in the annals of rock history and her love for the Twin Cities.
The Patty Schemel Story
"How many famous women drummers do you know?" Hit So Hard: The Life and Near-Death of Patty Schemel is a no-punches-pulled portrait of the life and times of hard-hitting drummer Patty Schemel. The film tells a raw, intimate story about openly gay Schemel, and provides an up-close look at her struggles with being different, addiction, the deaths of her close friends, her near-devastating descent into drugs after a major betrayal, and ultimately her journey back to a new, clean life.
Schemel tells her harrowing story with unflinching honesty and humor. While initially she had moments of "I don't wanna share that!" she trusted her wife's friend, director/writer/editor P. David Ebersole. "I liked that [Ebersole] was doing it, because he didn't have preconceived ideas of what was going on in that time period, only that it was the time of grunge rock," Schemel says, speaking from her home in Silver City, California.
Schemel says she first met Kurt Cobain at a Melvins show, where he was working as a roadie. Initially, Cobain wanted Schemel to be Nirvana's drummer, before Dave Grohl auditioned. In 1992, Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, seeking a new Hole drummer, hired Schemel. One of Cobain's few close friends, Schemel lived with Cobain and Love in their elaborate treehouse.
Hi8 home videos Schemel took of Cobain are poignantly intimate. In Hit So Hard, she talks candidly about their friendship and her favorite memories of Cobain, from his sense of humor to him placing a painting in front of her overnight. Schemel included these personal videos because, "I wanted to show a private view of what I saw. I miss playing music with him. He really liked to play drums, more than guitar, with me. I'd play whatever was lying around. It didn't matter if I couldn't play guitar, we were playing music together."
Schemel battled addiction, going in and out of rehab while drumming for Hole. Then tragedies struck. Cobain died in April 1994, and Schemel's friend, Hole bassist Kristen Pfaff, followed him in death within a couple of months. Both were 27. People close to Cobain, including Schemel, dealt with despair around his death by drinking and using drugs. She initially faced Pfaff's death sober, "but not for very long," she says. "I look back and I miss her still."
Hole was scheduled for a world tour shortly after Pfaff's death. "It was a difficult time, jumping back into the music right away. It felt crass to be doing that, like we needed to breathe. But at the same time I loved to play," noted Schemel.
Schemel persevered and got clean, only to experience betrayal during the Celebrity Skin recording. She wrote songs and worked out her drum parts, but was replaced by a "Johnny One-Take" brought in by their new producer Michael Beinhorn, who convinced Love to replace Schemel. They left Schemel's name on the record, and used her photos for the record and promo. Devastated, she left the band, descended into drugs and alcohol, and wound up living on the street. "Getting to that next hit, shot, or drink was the goal," she said, when asked how she survived. "One day there was nothing, I felt nothing. Then I made a call and got into rehab."
Significantly, Hit So Hard has no footage by Schemel of that time, just the cold, hard story. Making Hit So Hard has helped her reconcile the past. "I wanted to talk about what happened around Celebrity Skin. That's still sifting around," she explains.
So how did she have the strength to live, to make it through? "It's a tough question. I just kept going," she says. "I don't know why I was spared, why I kept going to recovery and others didn't. I kept saying, 'I'll give sobriety one more chance.' I realized there was more to me than being a drummer in a rock band. Now, having a passion for dogs, getting married, having a baby.... I'm finding things I enjoy helped with getting clean and enjoying these things."
Now seven years sober, Schemel has a wife, a one-year-old baby, Beatrice, and her own dog daycare business. She performs in various bands, teaches, and mentors for girls' rock 'n' roll camps. Coming full circle, Schemel is currently in a band, Green Eyes—named after a Hüsker Dü song from Flip Your Wig—with her brother Larry. She also plays drums for Psychic Friend, who have a song at the end of Hit So Hard.
Schemel will be present for the Sound Unseen screening on October 14 and a post-film Q&A. She says she's excited to return to Minneapolis. "My favorite album of all time is the Replacements' Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. All the bands on the Twin/Tone record label were amazing and very important in my life. I loved playing First Avenue and the Entry. Both of those were huge. And seeing Babes in Toyland—I loved them."
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