27 March 2005

The Power That Comes From Nowhere

Q: So what happened to New Directors/New Films?
A: Pfft.

Actually, the buzz on Darwin's Nightmare is growing steadily, so I may try to wheedle my way into that one tomorrow evening. But after walking out of the first three press screenings I attended—having previously walked out of an additional three films in the lineup at other festivals—I decided to cut my losses this year. Subsequent coverage from various sources suggests I'd already seen most of the keepers (Duck Season, Games of Love and Chance, Murderball, They Came Back), and my tolerance for mediocrity seems to be receding at a pace roughly commensurate with my hairline. My new Credo of Apathy and Lethargy: If it's any good at all, it'll come around again. I love these movies, and therefore I set them free.

That's Ed, I did stir myself to check out The Devil and Daniel Johnston, the only movie I got shut out of at Sundance. And I dug it pretty well, albeit not necessarily in the way its makers intended. Without rehashing a lengthy, semi-heated debate that erupted on the movie nerd discussion group vis-à-vis the merits of Johnston's music, let's just say that I remain unpersuaded by testaments to his songwriting genius, and firmly convinced that his cult status derives almost exclusively from his mental illness. Homeless lunatics who sing a cappella on the L train can be haunting and moving, too, but that doesn't mean I want them on my iPod.

Thing is, I was predisposed to like Johnston's work, since I have a soft spot for lo-fi solo homemade recordings. One of my all-time favorite albums, Michelle Shocked's The Texas Campfire Tapes, was recorded on a Sony Walkman, by someone who saw her perform at a festival and requested a private encore; you can hear crickets chirping in the background from start to finish, plus the occasional passing car. And this week my friend Chris—himself a member of a fine San Francisco old-time/bluegrass band, All Wrecked Up—introduced me to Dan Reeder, a middle-aged American painter/musician living in Germany. Reeder recently put together a demo, playing instruments he'd built himself (and generally harmonizing with himself); on a whim, he sent it to John Prine, who promptly released it on his own label without any tinkering whatsoever. This album kind of defies description, so I'll save myself the trouble and just give you a taste. Listen to this song twice and it'll be stuck in your head for at least a week, whatever your personal sense of propriety.

(IMPORTANT: This track is probably not suitable for the office environment. It is probably even less suitable for the toddler-coloring-Batman's-cowl-forest-green-on-the-other-side-of-the-room environment.)

(ALSO: I see where YouSendIt now limits the number of downloads for a given file, so if it's gone by the time you see this, my apologies. You can hear a few other tracks by following the link above.)

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