The Grant Hart documentary is everything it ought to be
Whatever you think you know about Grant Hart, it's not everything. A new documentary detailing his career, Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart, tackles the obvious plot points of any Behind the Music episode, but it also scrapes around for more behind the cardboard cutout of the former Hüsker Dü drummer.
Premiering locally as part of the 2013 Sound Unseen Festival on Wednesday, November 13, this film fleshes out a bounty of stories that'll never be summed up in a Wikipedia entry. Here, there's the space to highlight the 52-year-old Hart's sense of humor, his compassion, and his brilliant mind still at work.
Interviewing a musician well is extremely difficult. An interviewer wants a good story, and the musician wants to get out of the thing with his dignity intact. Often, well-meaning and well-researched interviewers get too obsessed with a preconceived angle -- or their own personal history with the artist -- to see the story unfolding right in front of them. A compelling interview figures out how to let Kanye West be Kanye West while still arriving at something coherent.
Given the nature of cameras, editing, lighting, permits, and endless logistics, making a worthwhile documentary about a musician is even tougher. This film shows that director Gorman Bechard, who met Hart while creating 2011's Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements, earned the trust of his subject and could tell this story with its warts intact.
"Filmmakers dream about getting a subject as witty and eloquent as Grant," Bechard told City Pages last year, in a story about the film. "My only problem will probably be, how to cut down all the amazing hours of talk to 90 minutes!"
And the same story points out that Hart wanted to tell his side of the Hüsker breakup that Bob Mould outlined in his own book. Even with the biases for its lone interview subject, it's a relief that this film doesn't come off as just a "he-said, he-said" account of old gossip. It also shows a level of creative enthusiasm on the part of both Hart and Bechard to play to the visual medium and create a natural story arc. A documentary with only one guy talking is an especially dangerous proposition, but letting Grant Hart just be Grant Hart for 93 minutes works on several levels.
First, the locations where Every Everything was filmed help tell the story immensely. There's the site of the old Cheapo Records where Hart met Mould, the 7th St. Entry where they played too many times to count, and the studios where they recorded. Less obvious touchstones like Midway Book Store on University in St. Paul show Hart digging for old magazines. Then, his artistic eye and flair for graphic design -- displayed on the cover of every Hüsker release and also the Replacements' Hootenanny -- is put to the test in front of our eyes as he creates a collage.
And the film plays out like one collage expert's appreciation of another -- from Grant Hart and the Hartbeats in 1973, Hüsker Dü, Nova Mob, and solo work up until this year's The Argument. Old performance clips, including Yanamamos playing First Avenue with a fire burning onstage, a vintage video of Grant telling an interviewer "There is going to be a reunion for Hüsker Dü -- it will be in federal court," and an animated recreation of their storied "blue paint" gig break up the talking-head feel of the proceedings.
But whenever Hart talks, he does know how turn a phrase. A few examples:
"It's a bit off-putting, a white piano. I prefer black ones. They're a lot easier to play."
"All I know is people say I'm influential."
"Art education and toilet training is [sic] the exact same thing in the United States."
You'll have to watch to figure out where those fit into the narrative.
Early in the film, Hart has planted his vibrant red shoes in an empty lot and is describing and pointing to objects that obviously aren't there. His thick mop of hair is shorter than it was in his Hüsker Dü days, but still bears that trademark part down the middle. As things progress, it is slowly revealed that this is the site of his parents' house in South St. Paul, which burned down in early 2011.
In spite of the myriad challenges of his personal and professional life -- the fire, the death of family members, his band's epic dissolution, drug addiction, and coming to terms with his sexual orientation -- Hart comes off as a wiser man for all of it. Hearing the way he describes his close emotional friendship with William S. Burroughs is worth the price of admission on its own. Sure, there are numerous bits about Mr. Mould and Mr. Norton too, and they're mostly told with fondness for the fruit before it became poisoned.
Hart's slow and deliberate retellings of his past convey an inner strength that hints at why Bechard wanted to spend so much time with him. Capping the tale with the beginnings of Hart's epic interpretation of John Milton's Paradise Lost, The Argument -- Chris Strouth has a lot more to say about the album here -- the story rests itself in the near-present at a high point in Hart's storied career. Not every stone was turned over in this tale, but they all at least got a firm jostling.
Every Everything: The Music, Life, & Times of Grant Hart. 21+, Doors: 6 p.m. Show: 7 p.m., $20-$25, Wednesday, November 13, at Landmark Center. Tickets here. See the entire Sound Unseen schedule here.
Sound Unseen opening night party featuring Grant Hart live performance. With Greycoats. 21+, 9 p.m., $10-$12, Wednesday, November 13, at Amsterdam Bar & Hall. Info here.
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