This weekend sees the kickoff of Reel Music, the Northwest Film Center's 26th annual music film festival. As in previous years, there's something for everyone, and more than a few curveballs among the 30 films, many of which are incredibly difficult to find anywhere else. Naturally, much of the series is made up of documentaries, including 2008's The Gits, which recounts the life and brutal murder of Gits singer Mia Zapata in Seattle, or Nerdcore Rising, which follows hiphop geek superstar MC Frontalot.
But it's not all docs: Two Sergio Leone westerns (The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West) make the bill, due to Ennio Morricone's iconic scores. English madman Ken Russell's 1983 visual interpretation of Gustav Holst's The Planets makes use of found footage and newsreels, while Christmas on Mars is the Flaming Lips' long-gestating homemade science fiction mindfuck. And after appearing at the Hollywood Theatre this past November, Filmusik: The Superman Orchestra makes a welcome return, pairing live soundtracks with vintage Superman cartoons.
Still, the series' strength is documentaries on music makers, whether they be legends—Van Morrison in 1991's One Irish Rover, Tom Waits in the classic 1988 performance film Big Time, Patti Smith in Patti Smith: Dream of Life, or Cash in Johnny Cash's America—or relatively unsung heroes, such as female rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson in the bio-documentary Sweet Lady with the Nasty Voice, or grease-funk progenitor Andre Williams in Agile, Mobile, Hostile, or recovering amnesiac and jazz guitarist Pat Martino in Martino Unstrung. And there's stuff for hippies, too: banjoist Béla Fleck travels to Africa in Throw Down Your Heart, and you can probably guess what Bob Marley: Exodus '77 is about.