Northwest Film Center's Reel Music 20

Jan 3-Feb 8

Guild Theater

Twenty years ago, long before VHS VCRs were invented, much less home recording devices, digital video, or amateur porn, the Northwest Film Center started the Reel Music series. Far more than just a wacky play on words, the ReeMs was a showcase for representing one art form--music--through another--film. This year marks the 20th anniversary of ReeMs and, like always, there's some stuff you'll love, and some stuff you'll hate, and some stuff that will require you to bring toothpicks to the theatre to prop open your eyes and/or use with a slingshot to shoot the projectionist. Regardless, the following is a smattering of what the Mercury's interested in. If you wanted to, you could cut it out and fasten it to your refrigerator with a magnet.


Sat Jan 4, 7 pm

For those who've seen Russ Forster's Tributary, consider this film, which tackles the same subject matter (the world of pro cover bands), a like-minded but infinitely superior investigation of the phenomenon at hand. Examining bands that salute KISS, Queen, Judas Priest, Journey, and, most hilariously, the Monkees, Tribute unearths the devotion, desperation, and delusion that fuel the fires of people who pretend to be other people for a musical living, and who are drop-dead serious about it. The filmmakers extend their inquiry to fans, wannabes, and has-beens, on the way to painting a bleak psychological portrait. It's also hilarious. SEAN NELSON

Last of the Mississippi Jukes

Tues Jan 7, 7 pm

Even those only marginally interested in blues music (i.e. me) will find something to like about Robert Mugge's documentary on the disappearing blues venues. While part of the film comes off like a big ad for the new juke joint opened by Morgan Freeman, there's a lot of great history here. In particular, the segment about the Subway Lounge; a famous, still-running juke housed in the basement of a hotel, various musicians illustrate its history as the only black hotel in Jackson, Miss. during segregation. Also, there's a lot of live blues footage (much of it at the Subway). JS

Miles Davis Story

Wed Jan 8, 7 pm

Miles Davis was really fascinating, as you may know from seeing this film at last year's Reel Music festival. JS

Breath Control: the History of the Human Beat Box

Sat Jan 11, 7 pm

Everyone was so jazzed when the drum machine was invented, but some of the beatboxers (or vocal percussionists) in this film--Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, Rahzel, to name a few--make better drum fills than any electronic rhythm device. An amazing look at beatboxing's roots, its pioneers in hiphop, and the dudes who can make a whole drum kit just with their lips. And, finally, it proves once and for all that the Fat Boys weren't just in the cast of Disorderlies. JS

Los Zafiros Sat Jan 11, 9 pm

Like a VH-1 Behind the Music for a band you've never heard of, Los Zafiros chronicles Cuba's biggest doo-wop band (which existed around the time of the Missile Crisis) and their descent through the decades. JS

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

Jan Wed 15, 7 pm

I fucking love Wilco. Let's get that out of the way before I explain why I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, Sam Jones' documentary about the band, is such a mighty letdown. I am beyond a fan; I'm a foam #1 finger-toting fanatic. If Wilco had team colors, I would paint them on my face and shirtless chest while screaming "woooo!" That said: Unless your idea of a good documentary includes a bunch of ridiculously talented musicians passive-aggressively arguing while perched around a mixing board, then this film is probably not for you. EZRA ACE CARAEFF

Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns

Fri Jan 17, 7 pm

A history of late-'80s "alterna-rock" stalwarts They Might Be Giants, Gigantic meanders like their music, but is nonetheless entertaining. The Johns are charming, as are fans/interviewees Sarah Vowell, Conan O'Brien, even Frank Black. People you'll want to punch in the face: Mark Hoppus, Syd Straw, their totally annoying and pretentious maje-labe A&R ho who pretty much takes credit for their success, the mainstreaming of alternative music, and the creation of the world, all in one nasally, bitchy, snobby voice. Fuck her. This is a pretty good documentary. JS

Freedom Highway

Sat Jan 25, 7 pm

You don't have to be all "Screw the government" to make a good protest song (though it helps). See why Woody Guthrie, Soweto String Quartet, Tom Waits, and Los Lobos all churn a good yarn while using music as a form of political dissent. JS

Plastic People of the Universe

Thurs Jan 30, Fri Jan 31, 7 pm

Plastic People was a Czech band brave enough to play music influenced by Zappa and Beefheart. Not only that, they did it during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. JS

La Tropical

Sat Feb 1, 7 pm

You pretty much can't go wrong with any movie about Cuban music or salsa, because Cubans, unlike Americans, don't have sticks up their asses, and don't suffocate "booty-shaking" with the crusty shellac of religion. JS