MUSIC DOCUMENTARIES have become more common than ever before, and the Northwest Film Center has a heaping crop of new and old ones for their 29th Reel Music festival, which this year lands in October (instead of January, as in years past). While there's far too much to see, there are some pronounced highlights.
The festival opens on Friday with Martin Scorsese's nearly four-hour-long HBO documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World, an in-depth look at the most introspective Beatle that's presumably cut from the same cloth as Scorsese's 2005 Bob Dylan doc No Direction Home. I haven't seen it—a copy wasn't provided to the Mercury for review—but I'm sure it's well crafted, somewhat revelatory, and much too long. Saturday night you can see The Swell Season, a shockingly intimate look at Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, the stars of the 2006 movie Once and winners of the Academy Award for Best Song. They became an actual couple in the wake of Once's success, but constant touring and a substantial age difference took their toll on the couple, whose relationship unravels right in front of the camera. At times, you almost can't believe what you're seeing is real—The Swell Season is unflinching, raw, and almost unbearably sad.
The best thing you're going to see at Reel Music, though, is the Monday night screening of The Ballad of Mott the Hoople, a stunning new documentary about one of the most underappreciated bands of all time. Filmmakers Chris Hall and Mike Kerry take you every step of the way, from the British group's early days of obscurity to their 1972 breakup (it didn't stick) to their glam heyday and their 1974 run on Broadway. Mott was a band full of contradictions, with a thunderous catalog of unbelievably good rock 'n' roll—and one which sounds even better once you know the story behind it.