September 6, 2011

Reel Soundz: movies about music

By Lara Kinne–

This weekend Dreamland Film Center housed Louisville’s first Reel Soundz film festival, a celebration of music through movies. In this homeless shelter-turned-theater, 24 films were showcased over the course of three days, divided into unique programs according to subject matter. This included a pair of short and long films that didn’t run more than two hours per set.

After noticing a strong line of music related submissions to this summer’s Flyover festival, Ryan Daly of the Louisville Film Society began planning a new festival devoted entirely to music. “There wasn’t necessarily room for these films [at Flyover],” Daly told the CourierJournal. As a result, Reel Soundz was conceived.

The festival kicked off on Thursday, Sept. 1 with a rare screening of Peter Whitehead’s “Charlie Is My Darling,” an intimate foray into the Rolling Stones during their transition from British lads to international rock stars. Notorious for documenting London’s counterculture in the 1960s, Whitehead has also filmed Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. A captured performance of “Interstellar Overdrive” was later used to promote his upcoming film “Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London.”

By this time you’d think the Stones have been dissected to the point of disintegration, but this little documentary proves to set itself apart. This isn’t the wash-up story seen on Behind the Music; it was, after all, edited and filmed during London’s cultural peak- once referred as the Land of Mod.

Other programs shined light on many overlooked stints in music history, like dub reggae. Bore from the ashes of the civil war between a country’s people and their authorities, “Roots Rock Reggae” documents this movement in Jamaican society in the late 70s. It sets the historical groundwork for the following film, “Supersonic Sound: The Rebel Dread,” where we learn of Don Letts and his family’s legacy in their undertaking to bring heavy-ass bass to UK music.

Of course, it couldn’t be a Kentucky film festival without a submission closely tied to Louisville. In “Louisiana Fairytale,” the nationally acclaimed locals of My Morning Jacket head south to collaborate with a slew of legendary New Orleans jazz musicians. During this engagement, we see the profound effect of music traditions as they’ve been passed through generations and inspire the ones to follow. Whoever has a negative attitude towards modern music is nuts—just seeing this film gives a clear scope into what music will bring in the future as it continues to evolve. What could be more exciting than that?
It’s too bad that Sun Ra couldn’t join MMJ and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, but he does make an appearance in his own program that pairs Edward O. Bland’s “The Cry of Jazz” with a definitive profile of his spacey sound in “Sun Ra: A Joyful Noise.” Bland’s documentary explores the turning point of jazz in the late 50s during Ra’s Chicago years performing with his Arkestra. Many rare performances in these Windy City nightclubs were featured, sounding just as out of place in their time period as they would be today. Sun Ra describes their sound here as “a portrayal of what the Negro recently was, is and is going to be.”

If you stuck around, you probably caught the Stones in two other featured  films this weekend: once accompanied by Alice Cooper and Muddy Waters in “Rock-a-Bye” and raided by Hell’s Angels in “Gimme Shelter,” a documentation of the tragic Altamont Speedway show that combusted into violence, and eventually death. Although Peter Whitehead had nothing to do with this day, he’d probably be disappointed to find that violence still exists within counterculture, dirty hippies or not.

It’d be an overwhelming feat to see every film featured here, but there are only few that I would recommend skimming over. Reel Soundz already transcends most festivals with its exclusive focus on music. From following Johnny Cash down ancient railroads to exploring the South African Rhythm of Resistance, there was something here for literally everybody. In music’s truest sense, isn’t that what it’s all about?

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Photos courtesy of Harcourt Films and film district

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