Seen Your Video
The most successful local filmmaking duo this side of the Coen Brothers quietly broke up last year after two decades, without acrimony or even a press release. Producer Rick Fuller simply moved out of the Warehouse District office he had shared with director Phil Harder, taking his Grant Hart painting and other items across the hall to Jagged Edge, a postproduction company where he has kept his office ever since. Harder-Fuller made more than 150 music videos and commercials, everything from an iconic Johnny Mathis Gap ad to Cornershop's "Brimful of Asha" video. The two remain friends and keep a joint website, but since 2005 the former partners have pursued separate projects. More and more, Fuller devotes himself to "long-form" documentaries and DVDs, often restoring old footage from the local music scene of the 1980s—where he and Harder got their start in the first place.
Today, Fuller views his latest labor of love, 7 Nights in the Entry, with boyish absorption. The documentary, which premieres Wednesday, August 22, at the Riverview Theater as part of Sound Unseen (see "Younger Than That Now"), is even more bracing than his 2006 rock salvage job, First Avenue Hay Day—which was culled from some 800 videotapes shot at First Avenue between 1985 and 1992 and shelved in the club's basement. 7 Nights began as news-quality video shot in September 1981 on various cameras in the 7th St. Entry and edited on the fly by Twin/Tone Records owner Paul Stark, who manually switched between cameras in a van parked outside the club. Fuller hopes the unknown videographers will attend and get their due credit. "It's going to be cool," he says, "because people will come out of the woodwork."
The footage, which has leaked onto YouTube via the Twin/Tone website, is stunning in its original clarity: Sober, unsmiling Replacements rip through "God Damn Job" like the hardcore band they would be mistaken for, obviously led here by guitarist Bob Stinson. Crazed, already speeding Hüsker Dü in headbands taunt a crowd that hasn't quite figured out how to slamdance yet. A barely recognizable Gary Louris plays his first show, with Rusty Jones and the Generals. And bands from a seemingly lost era—New York No Wave-inspired groups such as Fine Art, Things That Fall Down, and Wilma and the Wilburs—get rude with not a Mohawk in sight.
In a sense, this coproduction is Fuller's return to his roots, though he was attending high school in Hastings at the time, at a remove from 1981 Minneapolis punk. He met Harder four years later, in the nascent scene in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where both attended UW. Fuller, who worked at a production company making commercials and industrial videos by day, bought a cassette tape of Harder's Hüsker-like punk band, Bring Home the Lobsters, and approached the singer at a bar.
"Rick said he wanted to make a music video, and I was like, 'That's for Michael Jackson,'" says Harder. "But he seemed really determined."
After shooting the band, Fuller let Harder into the editing booth—"something I'd never do as a music video maker myself now," says Harder—and they worked on it together.
"He was open to anything," says Harder. "And he was really open to me making suggestions. That's Rick, he works with artists."
Between 1985 and 1986, the pair produced Anarchy in Eau Claire, a local cable-access TV show shot in various basements with punk friends. One episode opened with skinheads shaving a guy's head (he was about to go into the Army in real life), while another opened with smashing a TV. On New Year's Eve 1985, Harder convinced Fuller to drive up to Minneapolis and shoot the "best new bands of the year" show in the 7th St. Entry. They videotaped (and in some cases interviewed) the Magnolias, the Jayhawks, Breaking Circus, and Riflesport, footage Fuller has saved on digital video disc.
"He's the archivist," says Harder. "He keeps every little piece of everything. I guess that's what he was going to do when he met us, just to have a record of it."
Harder-Fuller began shooting music videos for Twin/Tone and made their rep in alternative rock. They joined producer Lawrence Bender's L.A.-based A Band Apart film and video production company in 1998, which brought Gap ads and the celebrity cache of association with Quentin Tarantino. But they were among the first to bolt from that troubled enterprise, which shuttered last year. ("Promises weren't kept," is about as specific as Fuller will get on the topic now. "We left them because we weren't getting the attention we once were.")
Harder still shoots videos, but Fuller lost his taste for the business around the time of Hilary Duff's "Beat of My Heart," a hit on MTV's TRL. "My daughter, who's 12, could not believe that I'd done a Hilary Duff video," says Fuller, shaking his head of wavy, graying hair. "By that time, the videos were great, but they certainly weren't the cool Afghan Whigs or Soul Asylum videos that we had done earlier. They were artists that, in years prior, we would have turned down. I'd rather do music videos for an artist that we would go buy an album from."
Neither Harder nor Fuller ever moved away from town, where they credit a rich film community with sustaining them. Without Harder, Fuller has collected producer or coproducer credits on national documentaries about the New York Dolls, Tim Buckley, and the Flaming Lips, while codirecting 2003's Paul Westerberg: Come Feel Me Tremble, making a series of short Soul Asylum documentaries, and helping to turn footage from a local 1979 concert into the indispensable new-wave doc M80.
Fuller plans to collaborate on another film about rock drummers. "Along with my paying gigs, it's important to do this stuff that I love," he says. "When it comes to saving this rotting old footage, I do it because no one else is going to."
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