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Music Meets Film at Sundance

Tupac and Dylan become celluloid heroes in Utah

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.

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