THIRTY YEARS IN, Northwest Film Center's annual Reel Music film festival continues its methodology of "more is more," cramming two-plus weeks with more music documentaries than a person can realistically see. There are films of every stripe and musical genre—from hiphop to jazz to classical—and if the fest feels oversaturated, some things are worth singling out.
The big-ticket item is guitarist Marc Ribot's live accompaniment to Charlie Chaplin's 1921 silent classic The Kid (Oct 22). The sentimental film stands on its own, but can only benefit from the framework of a Ribot concert. Outlaw country singer/songwriter Billy Joe Shaver also performs a couple of days after the screening of his bio-doc The Portrait of Billy Joe (Oct 14).
Two worthwhile films on Richard Wagner bookend the festival. Wagner's Dream (Oct 14) documents the Metropolitan Opera's recent staging of the four-part "Ring" cycle of operas, becoming nearly crushed by the mammoth undertaking itself. And Stephen Fry's avuncular Wagner and Me (Oct 27) attempts to reconcile the beauty of Wagner's music with the composer's antisemitism and Nazi descendants.
The festival opens with the Portland premieres of two noteworthy films. AKA Doc Pomus (Oct 12) examines the life story of Pomus (born Jerome Felder), a Brooklyn Jew crippled by childhood polio who transformed himself into a blues singer before becoming one of Tin Pan Alley's biggest songwriters. And Ice-T's directorial debut, Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap (Oct 12), is invigoratingly good: Ice-T himself is fairly ridiculous, but he mostly gets out of the way, allowing an almost comprehensive cross-section of great rappers from hiphop to discuss technique and perform directly for the camera. It's a reminder of rap's vitality and artistry, particularly during its initial, underground heyday—and a reminder that its power has been dulled by its subsequent transformation into mainstream pop.