Truth Be Told

It's the docs that rock this year's USAFF schedule

Joe Bussard is a different kind of obsessive: a man who has spent five decades collecting 78s of prewar blues and country, a purist for whom rock and roll is "a cancer" and Blind Willie McTell is a god. Bussard, the subject of Australian filmmaker Edward Gillan's delightful Desperate Man Blues, loves the sound of a banjo more than the sound of his own heartbeat, and in his basement he has preserved the very best American music ever made in the middle of nowhere by unknown heroes and forgotten legends.

Three wonderful documentaries focus their attention and adoration on overlooked eccentrics: Paul Fehler's Jandek on Corwoodtries to reveal the mystery behind Jandek, the maker of ethereal music who has given one interview in nearly 30 years of self-releasing records from his Houston home. Phillip Anagnos wants us to keep in our hearts, and ears, Bruce Haack, the subject of Haack: The King of Techno. Haack, inventor of an instrument that allowed you to play people (no, really) and forerunner of electronic music, was a guy who made kiddie music for adults; it was weird stuff, full of bleeps and blips, but it was also inspirational to the likes of Money Mark and Mouse on Mars, who pay homage to the late ruler of bizarre noise. And George Hickenlooper tells the story of KROQ deejay Rodney Bingenheimer in his hysterical and surprisingly sad The Mayor of the Sunset Strip. Bingenheimer introduced L.A., and the rest of the country, to the best punk and new wave had to offer, but his was a tangential fame; without David Bowie or Kurt Cobain or X or Gwen Stefani, he would have been a nobody and kind of is a nothing even with them around to sing his praises for playing their music.

But the biggest outsider of them all is Richard Peterson, the subject of director Todd Pottinger's decade-in-the-making Big City Dick, about the Seattle musician who at first glance looks and sounds like a street musician just this side of mentally disabled. Peterson, who looks like Tor Johnson with canyon-wide gaps in his teeth, is actually a savant and a genuine talent, a pianist and trumpet player who has recorded with the Young Fresh Fellows, been covered (more or less) by Stone Temple Pilots and who jams, at film's end, with Jeff Bridges, who considers the lovable lug something of a friend. Peterson calls Bridges "Son of Sea Hunt," because he's obsessed with the music of the TV show that starred Jeff's father, Lloyd; Sea Hunt provides the soundtrack to whatever's happening in that big, bald head of his. Peterson's a harmless, gentle giant--a "human litmus test," says one of the many Seattle radio and TV personalities who've befriended Peterson over the years, someone you might fear at first glance but come to love over the course of two hours you don't want to end.

Sons of Sea Hunt: Jeff Bridges and his new buddy Richard Peterson, the subject of Big City Dick
Sons of Sea Hunt: Jeff Bridges and his new buddy Richard Peterson, the subject of Big City Dick

Details

runs April 22 through April 29 at the Angelika Film Center, 5321 E. Mockingbird Lane; closing night is at the Regent Highland Park, 32 Highland Park Village. Tickets are $8 per screening. For a complete schedule, go to www.usafilmfestival.com.

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Bruce Sinofsky and Joe Berlinger's brilliant Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is like Big City Dick's polar opposite, a movie during which one of the biggest bands in the world goes into therapy, front man James Hetfield retreats into therapy and disappears for a year and Metallica somehow manages to record St. Anger. Not since D.A. Pennebaker's Dylan film Dont Look Backhas a band allowed so much unrestricted access and revealed so much about not only the process of making music but keeping it together when they look moments away from busting apart. At first they're skeptical of meeting with a therapist but come to rely on him, perhaps too much; they seem incapable of making their own decisions, of writing music, of even being friends despite decades spent on the road and in the studio. Drummer Lars Ulrich is forced to confront Dave Mustaine, the Megadeth front man long ago ousted from Metallica but still licking his wounds and nursing regret; also given ample screen time is ex-bassist Jason Newsted, who bears a grudge the size of a dozen arenas.

Some Kind of Monsterdoesn't flinch from its task of showing a band under overwhelming strain to keep making music for itself and money for its label; Ulrich and Hetfield argue incessantly, until finally Ulrich tells the singer that when he thinks of Hetfield, all he hears in his head is a constant, roaring "fuuuuuuuuuuck." Guitarist Kirk Hammett, soft-spoken to the point of being a whisper in the hurricane, tries to act as ref; he can no more believe the band's still together than we can. It's only when the band finds a common enemy--a radio conglomerate that asks it to do cheesy ads, the therapist who overstays his welcome--that finally it gets its shit straight. The movie becomes an epic, more than two hours in length, but it never feels long; it's overwhelming only because you get these guys better than they do, and you want to strangle them for being so pigheaded and hug them for finally coming to their senses. No other film in the fest has the kind of drama and humor on display in Some Kind of Monster, which is some kind of movie--and further proof, as though you needed it, that you don't need special effects to make great films, only special people to put in them.

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