ONCE AGAIN, the Northwest Film Center unleashes its annual Reel Music series of music-related films upon us, and once again, there is far more than a reasonable human can see—more than 30 films will screen over a period that's just over two weeks. This year's programming boasts some really worthwhile stuff, though, and it's enhanced by the inclusion of nine early Hitchcock films, each given a live soundtrack by local musicians.
Of the stuff I've been able to preview, the best thing showing is Mistaken for Strangers (screens Sat Oct 19, director in attendance), a hilarious and heartwarming documentary from Tom Berninger, younger brother of the National's lead singer Matt Berninger. Tom, an amateur filmmaker who still lives with mom and dad, is enlisted to join the National's tour as a roadie. He brings his camera along, intending to make the definitive backstage tour documentary—but most of what he captures is his own failure to fulfill the simple tasks assigned to him. While the younger Berninger's initial buffoonery is roll-on-the-floor hilarious, watching him mature on film and deal with sibling rivalry turns Mistaken for Strangers into something far better than another rock 'n' roll road doc. The result is a thoughtful, transformative, honest, immensely loveable movie.
The NW Film Center somehow convinced All Classical Portland to sponsor a screening of Ken Russell's Lisztomania (Thurs Oct 17), a bizarre relic from 1975 that's a highly fictionalized biography of classical pianist/composer Franz Liszt. In Russell's version, Liszt (Roger Daltrey) wields a 12-foot penis and flies a spaceship powered by his groupies, while fighting fellow composer Richard Wagner, who transforms into a giant Nazi Frankenstein. The movie's about 1,000 times weirder than Russell's Tommy and should not be missed by anyone with even a slight appetite for camp. (The screening will be preceded by the equally weird and still shocking The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a drug-addled faux documentary about the Sex Pistols that ends with Sid Vicious singing "My Way" and shooting members of the audience from the stage.)
Other highlights are The Punk Singer (Fri Oct 11), an illuminating biography of Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna, and This Ain't No Mouse Music! (Sun Oct 13), a documentary about Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, who hungrily seeks out American roots music at its source—country, blues, zydeco, norteño, and more. It'll make you feel like your entire music collection is inauthentic.
There's also a chance to catch Alexis Gideon's Video Musics III: Floating Oceans (Mon Oct 21), an indescribable stop-motion film/opera based on the writings of Lord Dunsany. Gideon sets the whole thing to music, and it's totally weird and gorgeous—evidence that Gideon is one of Portland's most significant and unique artists.
Babe's and Ricky's Inn (Fri Oct 18) is a loving tribute to a South Central LA blues club, and Born in Chicago (Fri Oct 18) is a survey of the white guys who learned how to ape the blues from the Chicago masters in the 1960s. Both films contain lots of terrible music played on dreadful-sounding Fender Stratocasters, five-string basses, and DW drums. Magical Mystery Tour Revisited (Wed Oct 16) is an interesting look at the 1967 television film that remains the Beatles' sole artistic blunder, with context provided by examining the avant-garde scene the Beatles were ensconced in at the time.
The Hitchcock silent films are rare curios—your best bets are probably 1927's The Lodger (Sun Oct 13) and 1929's The Manxman (Sat Oct 26). The festival is rounded out by Martin Scorsese's magnificent Mean Streets (Tues Oct 22)—an odd pick, until you remember how much great music is on the 1973 film's soundtrack.