“Welcome to our nightmare.”
That sardonic introduction by Green Day bassist Mike Dirnt made for the only notable words from the band to the audience during Friday’s SXSW premieres of Broadway Idiot and Cuatro!, a pair of new documentaries focusing on the punk trio’s creative process behind the Broadway adaptation of American Idiot and their recent album trilogy.
Broadway Idiot chronicles theater director Michael Mayer’s conceptual rehearsals for the Green Day musical, and follows through the show’s run on Broadway in 2010 and 2011. The movie shows Armstrong becoming close friends with the cast and crew during rehearsals, and bringing them into the recording studio for a cast version of “21 Guns.” As the singer became more involved with the show, he even developed some acting chops after Mayer asked him to do a stint playing St. Jimmy, the show’s rock & roll villain. Packed with revealing and sentimental moments – including the trio’s stunned reaction upon visiting a rehearsal to get a look at the show before giving it their blessing – the movie brings even more depth and meaning to the music from one of Green Day’s most successful albums.
The audience also got an early look at the film’s archival footage from 1983 of a pre-teen Armstrong singing show tunes and standards by Frank Sinatra and Al Jolson that his mother taught him. That early appreciation and familiarity with musicals is discussed in the film as a likely reason why Armstrong and Mayer clicked so well while working on the show, despite coming from different backgrounds.
The counterpart film, Cuatro! is a combination making-of album documentary, concert film and band historical project that’s centered around the writing and recording of ¡Uno!, ¡Dos! and ¡Tré! As the band, which officially becomes a quartet with the addition of longtime touring guitarist Jason White, reconvenes following a break, it deals with sorting through more than 60 songs, eventually deciding to release three albums in quick succession.
Much more of a visual feast in the way director Tim Wheeler uses quick cuts and a host of other showy filmmaker techniques, the movie offers lots of footage from club shows in Austin, Oakland and New York City, where it worked out much of the new material. In the studio footage, new songs like “Stop When The Red Lights Flash” and “Oh Love” seem to round into shape easily, but the band struggles with how to sequence three album’s worth of material.
“We think of it as Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi,” Armstrong says at one point. “Only we’ll make Jedi not suck.”
In between live shots and footage from recording sessions, Wheeler incorporates funny glimpses into the band, including drummer Cool joking on camera and shots of Armstrong coming to the studio dressed up as a moss monster to surprise studio employees and passersby.
Addressing the audience during a brief post-film conversation, Broadway Idiot director Doug Hamilton praised the band, and Armstrong in particular, for opening themselves up to the filming and taking an active role in an entirely new creative endeavor. “This was a chance to do something more than just a making-of film,” he said. “Billie Joe really engaged every step of the way. I mean, here you have one of the most famous artists willing to take on something new and out of his control.”