The Sundance Film Festival, held annually in Park City, Utah, has always celebrated the connection between the emotions expressed in honest filmmaking and those that come from a compelling piece of music. At this year's festival, however, the connections between music and film were not only witnessed on screen, but in the clubs, bars and venues of this tiny ski town.
The Sundance Institute, in collaboration with music rights agency ASCAP, presented the Music Cafe, which featured artists including Josh Ritter, Judith Owen, Daniel Lanois, Jonny Lang, Emmylou Harris, Doug Martsch, Frou Frou and Paul Brady throughout the days and nights of the festival. Not to be outdone, rights agency BMI presented a film music roundtable featuring artists BT and Clint Mansell, music supervisor Thomas Golubic and filmmaker Neil LaBute, and brought in its stable of artists including Roseanne Cash, John Doe, Grant Lee Phillips and Lou Barlow for a showcase along Main Street.
"Good music evokes strong feelings," says songwriter, E Street Band member and Bruce Springsteen spouse Patty Scialfa. "You hear a certain piece of music and it can feel very tangible. . . . The music should underscore an emotion, and make the audience feel vulnerable."
Scialfa and Springsteen provided soundtrack music for Manhood, a film by Bobby Roth that picks up where his 2001 Sundance premiere, Jack the Dog, leaves off. Roth happens to be married to Springsteen's sister, so his request to use songs off Scialfa's 1993 album Rumbledoll came through e-mail, rather than an agent.
But this year, the selection of films that have screened not only feature strong musical scores and soundtracks, many of them actually reveal the culture that communities of musicians and fans create around "scenes" and around relationships. Among the premieres this week:
Party Monster, directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, tells the true story of the New York City's underground club kid movement in the Eighties, the scene's two most fabulous personalities -- Michael Alig and James St. James -- and the drugs and murder that destroyed their world. The film stars Macaulay Culkin as Alig and Seth Green in a groundbreaking performance as St. James.
Prey for Rock & Roll, directed by Alex Steyermark, is a grungy, emotional look into the world of a struggling all-girl rock band in Los Angeles, fronted by the spectacular Gina Gershon, who sings all of the band's songs in the film. The film is based on an autobiographical stage show that played CBGB in 2000, and features Drea de Matteo, Lori Petty and Shelly Cole as Gershon's band.
Masked and Anonymous, a project originated by Bob Dylan and directed by Larry Charles, is a tale of politics, charity and understanding featuring the troubadour musician in a role he literally created himself. The film, an obvious allegory on our over-saturated celebrity activist society, also stars John Goodman, Penelope Cruz, Luke Wilson and Jessica Lange.
Tupac: Resurrection, directed by MTV exec Lauren Lazin, is the story of the slain rapper's life, told entirely through his own words and music. Not just a television documentary, the film pops off the screen with Shakur's larger-than-life personality.
Tom Dowd & the Language of Music, directed by Mark Moorman, is a brilliant documentary about the legendary, yet largely unknown, recording engineer/producer who gave Atlantic Records its distinctive sound and edge as rock and soul stormed up the charts in the Fifties and Sixties. Dowd is portrayed through loving anecdotes and interviews before his death, as a pioneer who recorded everyone from jazz greats like John Coltrane and Charles Mingus to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Otis Redding. He almost single-handedly invented the 8-track recorder, as he went on to produce rockers like Cream, Derek and the Dominos, the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, before dying last year modestly and with only his memories and recorded legacy to leave behind.
The Blues is a seven-episode documentary series by directors including Charles Burnett, Mike Figgis, Marc Levin and Wim Wenders digging deep into the history of the treasured American musical form, stretching from the genre's early days to its connection with hip-hop and popular music.
The Beat, directed by twenty-year-old University of Southern California junior Brandon Sonnier, is an 8 Mile-like hip-hop journey film through Los Angeles, that shows incredible promise from its young director.
Garage Days, directed by Crow and Dark City filmmaker Alex Proyas, is a hyper-colored comedy, set in Sydney, about a band of musical misfits looking to make it big as quickly as they can. Thing is, they're not very good.