Film festival's musical offerings reach far and wide

By Graham Reid

The sheer joy and passionate belief the Windy City Strugglers have brought to their thirtysomething-year career is infectious and endearing. Struggle No More, often beautifully framed by director Costa Botes, attempts a chronological account of the band's story from its unfashionable, Memphis-style jug band origins in the late 60s through various line-ups and into the band we see today playing original material.

Botes' images bring out the eerie beauty of the landscape around Rangataua (13,473km from Memphis) where the band goes to rehearse in a run-down farmhouse near a railway line.

Cutting from the present to a live show, archival stills - everyone much more hairy - and through interviews with former members, Arthur Baysting who co-writes for the group with singer-songwriter and retired postman Bill Lake, and fans like Midge Marsden and Graham Brazier, the story emerges of a group of self-effacing musicians, the mutual respect between them, and the musical inspiration they have been to each other.

American singer-songwriter Gillian Welch speaks of her music as being ragged but right, and that is what this lovingly crafted and affectionate doco illuminates about the Strugglers. Comes with a terrific subtitle too: Music is too important to take seriously.

At the other end of the spectrum is loudQUIETloud, a doco about Boston band the Pixies whose career inspired Nirvana and 100 other bands, but whose internal dynamics were so troubled they split up acrimoniously.

Twelve years later in 2004 the band unexpectedly got back together for a tentative reunion and tour. The reason is never made clear although it has to be noted that post-Pixies, the drummer David Lovering pursued his hobbies of magic and metal detecting (he was keen on the reunion); bassist Kim Deal formed the Breeders with her twin sister Kelley and enjoyed considerable success but fell into drug and alcohol dependency so lived with her mother (who says Kim needs something to do); and main man Black Francis had a solo career as Frank Black, but of diminishing returns. Guitarist Joey Santiago - a family man and the most well-balanced here - seemed to just hitch on for the ride.

It is a curiously unflattering doco: Deal is emotionally needy, has Kelley along for companionship, is nervous and insists on no alcohol backstage; drummer Lovering is increasingly wired and irritating; Frank is distant and sometimes impatient; and Santiago remains firmly detached on the sideline.

There is a lot of footage of them sitting around talking - and, more pointedly, not talking - and the usual backstage and rehearsal stuff. But when they hit the stage the thrill of their music is something to behold.

The Pixies appear to be fully re-formed but God knows what it is like on the inside these days: as Kelley observes, they seem totally dysfunctional and avoid talking to each other.

An interesting insight into an important if troubled band, and the choice of footage in the credits is inspired.

Not talking is elevated to an art form in Linda Linda Linda, the quietest film about punk rock made.

This fictional account of some bored, listless and mostly impassive Japanese slacker girls who decide to get a group together to play at their school concert involves long periods of nothing happening in an anonymous high school.

But the drama is in the small gestures, the soliciting of a Korean girl to sing at the expense of a former band mate, their discovery of an old Japanese punk hit to cover, and lots of sitting around.

It hardly sounds compelling and yet curiously - because it deals with friendship, a shared love of music, and the willingness to take the risk and be different - it speaks volumes about the joy of being in a band.

Their final song at the concert - accompanied by images of the dreary local landscape, empty school corridors, and a sense of ennui - sums it up: We won't forget about times like this.

Unforgettable, too, for those who attended, was the street party thrown by black American comedian Dave Chappelle in a rundown New York neighbourhood.

Using the clout he had, Chappelle hooked in Kanye West, Mos Def, the Roots, Common, the Fugees, Jill Scott and others for a street party like no other.

However, the stars in Dave Chappelle's Block Party - undramatically directed by Michel Gondry - are those Chappelle bussed in from his hometown of Yellow Springs in Ohio, especially the wide-eyed kids on the local marching team who cannot believe they are in New York seeing the who's who of hip-hop, and also performing themselves.

This is a movie where music and the pleasure it gives just makes you feel good about being alive.

And finally there are two other movies about music: Beijing Bubbles which explores the uncompromising punk rock underground in China's capital, and Metal: A Headbanger's Journey about the rise and enduring appeal of rowdy metal rock in which fans, the music-makers (Alice Cooper, Lemmy, Rob Zombie and more), psychologists and others have their say about metal and its darker offshoots.

That seems a more meagre offering of movies about music than in previous international film festivals but - from Beijing to Japan, Brooklyn to Wellington, and on the road through Canada, the United States, and Europe with the Pixies - you can't fault the breadth of its reach.

Screening times

Beijing Bubbles: Punk and Rock in China's Capital
Thursday July 13, 4.30pm; Sunday July 16, 8.30pm; Thursday July 20, 12.45pm

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
Friday July 14, 8.15pm; Tuesday July 18, 4pm

Linda Linda Linda
Tuesday July 25, 9.15pm; Wednesday July 26, 3.45pm

loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies
Wednesday July 26, 8.45pm; Friday July 28, 4.15pm

Metal: A Headbanger's Journey
Friday July 14, 4pm; Saturday July 15, 9.30pm; Sunday July 16, 6pm

Struggle No More
Thursday July 27, 6.15pm; Friday July 28, 10.30am

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