Friday, November 6, 2015

Review: Color Me Obsessed – A Film About the Replacements

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

Color Me Obsessed – A Film About the Replacements
Written and directed by Gorman Bechard
What Were We Thinking / MVD Visual
123 minutes: 2 discs, 2011 / 2012

Only once have I had the honor of seeing the Replacements live. Thanks to writer and music historian (and friend) Nancy Neon Foster, we managed to get tickets to see them play at Madison Square Garden in 1991, opening up for Elvis Costello. While we didn’t have nose-bleed seats, weren’t close either, at an almost 90-degree angle from the stage. They put on a good show.

The Replacement rose in Minneapolis around the same time as Husker Du in the early 1980s, and while there was a Beatles/Rolling Stones rivalry between the two bands (which is which depends on your point of view), there is no question that these two groups were the most influential bands to rise out of that punk scene. Husker Du were a bit more driven towards success even with the internal pressures within the band, but the Replacements were a complete time bomb waiting for the right moment to both explode and implode. As the director, Gorman Bechard says correctly in his commentary track, the record companies that signed the Replacements should not have been surprised when the Replacements showed up. In other words, they were volatile, played by their own rules, and had absolutely no respect for any kind of authority, record company or otherwise.

Of course, that is part of what made them such an amazing musical force, whose impact is felt to this day, even after all these years, which includes newbies on the scene who don’t realize that their favorite band was influenced by them. Same is true for Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers, or the New York Dolls. This is evidenced, in part, by the sheer number of musicians interviewed for this doc.

While we are at it, let’s talk about the interviews in this film. There are probably about a hundred people gushing and dishing about the band, including some big name musicians, actors, and fans. The musical who’s who is quite stunning, including Tommy Erdeli (aka Ramone, who produced one of their albums), two members of rival Husker Du (except Mould, natch), three members of the GooGoo Dolls from Buffalo (including Robby Goo), Archers of Loaf (with whom Bechard has also done a live film to be reviewed at some point here), Titus Andronicus, the Decemberists, the underrated Babes in Toyland, etc. For writers, the list includes Legs McNeil, Jack Rabid, and the late Robert Christgau. From the big and small screen, there’s (among others) George Wendt from Cheers and, of all people, Tom Arnold, who apparently is a huge fan of the band and has some great stories to tell. What I really like is that no one tells second hand stories, like “At that moment Paul was feeling like…” which really annoys me, but rather they tell their own experiences, or their interpretation of things.

With rare exception, all of the interviews are in short bytes. It’s unusual for any clip to last more than 30 seconds, so for most of the two-hour running time, it’s bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-etc. It’s a bit whiplash inducing, but happily Bechard puts in the captions of who is who quite often, so you’re not thinking, who is that?, which is another peeve of mine in documentaries. There is a nice touch where in many cases you see photos of the interviewee from the ‘80s.

Essentially, this is more of an oral history than just a bio of the band, which is actually what makes it even more interesting, because you definitely get more than one side of a story (and sometimes contradictory), and some questionable information, such as one guy claiming that he is the inspiration for the name of the Replacement’s album Tim. Could be true, just no way to verify it. But that’s what oral histories are all about, and also why the subtitle of the film is “The potentially true story of the last best band.”

Who isn’t interviewed? Well, any member of the Replacements. In his commentary, the director explains quite clearly that since the band were rule breakers, this documentary would do be same, therefore there is purposefully no member of the band in it whatsoever other than still photos, and no music, live or from the records, only the stories and the fans. Besides, if you’re obsessed with the band and viewing this, you’d probably know it anyway. For the casual or curious, their music is available elsewhere. At a running time of just a bit over two hours, it’s probably better it was left out because of the amount of time it would have extended the film. As it was, it was cut down from an original 3-hour first edit, and that from 250 hours of interviews.

Another nice touch is the text included sporadically throughout the film, such as facts about the albums (how many units sold of a particular record as compared to the top selling one of that year) including song list, what was happening with the band playing at particular shows, why the band’s nickname is the ‘Mats, and like that. It’s actually the closest to “fact” in the whole piece. Sometimes it interferes with the talking, and I ran it back so I could grasp both, but I wouldn’t change it.

Over the dozen years they were a viable band, the quartet were known for their excesses, be it great or dreadful shows, depending on the night you saw them (the Heartbreakers, a band I saw often, could be that way as well). Substances, such as booze – and lots of it – were also mixed into the equation. That they were banned from Saturday Night Live after practically destroying their dressing room in a drunken haze is an example of that.

Now for some truth: yeah, I really like the Replacements, but I’m not obsessed with the band. There is way more on this double-DVD set then I really want to watch (I can hear Gorman in my head saying, “You’re no fuckin’ fan!”). I sat through the entire first disk, which consists of the film (2 hours), an excellent commentary by Bechard (2 hours), an interesting commentary by producer Jan Radder about getting the interviews and editing them together (1 hour), and a 19 Deleted Scenes collection that is definitely worth watching (over 1 hour). The second disc, which I didn’t watch, is a Behind the Scenes with Bechard and producer Hansi Oppenheimer, which are two separate segments (over 1 hour), three complete interviews of Grant Hart of Husker Du, Robert Christgau, and Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis (over 3 hours), and four completely individualized trailers (5+ minutes).

That’s nearly 11 hours, not counting the desire to replay all their records. I’ve happily put in my 6, but I’m done. As I said, I like the band, and I like this documentary, but I’m not obsessed enough, I guess. Could be good for a cold, shut-in weekend. You won’t be sorry.

No comments:

Post a Comment