Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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The second and final week of The Carolina Cinemas’ Music Madness series rolls on with four new rock/R&B documentaries from 2013, only one of which has previously played locally (and even then it was a one-night run at the Fine Arts Theatre).

A Band Called Death (Drafthouse Films)

A Band Called Death
(Drafthouse Films)

At the heart of A Band Called Death is a powerful story of the bond between brothers and a faith that good music will eventually be heard.  The saga of Detroit’s Bobby, Dannis, and David Hackney is so strong and their music so good that the combination generally overcomes the uninspired framework by directors Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett.  Working from precious few video clips of the titular proto-punk trio, the filmmakers rely on photographs (of which there are plenty), though feel the need to animate practically each one for an end result of artificial depth.  Little by little, revisiting key sites and building the band’s fame-elusive mystery takes hold before giving way to a pleasant Searching for Sugar Man detective story that consumes most of the film’s second half, making for a brisk ride to the end credits.  It may not be the best possible tribute to Death, but it’s an informative and passionate one nonetheless.

Grade: B+

Not rated.  Plays daily at 10:25 p.m.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Magnolia Pictures)

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
(Magnolia Pictures)

One’s enjoyment of Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me largely depends on one’s familiarity with the cult Memphis band’s music.  Devised more as a documentary for the fans than lay listeners/viewers, Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori’s film discourages a connection to Big Star’s compositions both as a whole and in regard to specific songs.  Consistently playing tracks for mere seconds before someone interrupts, the film is primarily people talking about the band’s music and how great it is instead of allowing the viewer to hear more than a snippet and decide for his/herself.  Not helping matters is that these praises arrive via odd interviews with the band’s Memphis contemporaries, few of which give much insight into the group, but instead capture the liberated, creative, drug-fueled culture in which they came up.  Further crippled by a lack of video, viewers emerge with a lot of personal information about the musicians but few musical specificities.  Unlike Martin Scorsese’s Bob Dylan doc No Direction Home, which brings these elements together into an informative, entertaining whole, Nothing Can Hurt Me leans heavily on factoids yet sacrifices quality takeaways in the process.

Grade: C+

Rated PG-13 for drug references and brief strong language.  Plays daily at 11 a.m.

Good Ol' Freda (Magnolia Pictures)

Good Ol’ Freda
(Magnolia Pictures)

Not far into Ryan White’s Good Ol’ Freda, the daughter of former Beatles secretary Freda Kelly shares that her mother is the most private person she knows, a quality that seems at odds with a documentary about sharing juicy details.  While Kelly isn’t quite the clam her daughter makes her out to be, she’s not a particularly engaging subject and suffers from her director’s bland presentation.  Her tale certainly benefits from use of the Beatles songs and a healthy combination of archival video and photographs instead of simply the latter, but a montage of Kelly reading from her Beatles Monthly articles atop animated shots of the publications is the most energetic things get.  What ultimately saves the film, however, is her wholly goodnatured demeanor, an asset that goes a long way in the face of some surprisingly cheap-looking photography.  Though not the greatest vehicle to deliver such particular (one might even use that tricky word “unique”) insight into the band from someone who knew them before they were a worldwide sensation, White’s film is too innocent a play to take that much critical heat.

Grade: B-

Rated PG for some thematic material and smoking.  Plays daily at 1:30 and 6 p.m.

Muscle Shoals (Magnolia Pictures)

Muscle Shoals
(Magnolia Pictures)

Easily the best of the bunch is Muscle Shoals, one of the rare complete music documentaries.  Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s history of the eponymous Alabama town and how FAME Studios founder Rick Hall built its signature sound is a stunning array of high-quality photography, engaging speakers, and an ever-moving pace.  Whereas several of the above docs struggle in maintaining viewer interest, Camalier wisely intercuts his interviews with memorable songs cut in FAME and the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and rarely lets up on the throttle.  Testimonials from those who made the music (including but in no way limited to Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, and Percy Sledge) spice up an already vibrant party started by the magnetic Hall and makes nearly two hours go by in a snap.  Up with 20 Feet from Stardom as the year’s finest music doc, it’s a cinematic treasure and a worthy encapsulation of a magical time and place.

Grade: A

Rated PG for thematic elements, language, smoking and brief partial nudity.  Plays daily at 3:30 and 8 p.m.

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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