Songs for Cassavetes

The Peechees at the Jabberjaw, L.A., January 1996
The Peechees at the Jabberjaw, L.A., January 1996

Songs for Cassavetes

D: Justin Mitchell; with Calvin Johnson, Sleater-Kinney, Hi-Fives, the Peechees, Dub Narcotic Sound System.

Waiter, there's an emocore band in my soup. Yeah, I know, it's a punchline that doesn't seem to go very far, but then you could say the same thing for this painfully earnest documentary. (The title refers, obliquely, to the filmmaker's statement that once you turn a certain age all artistic momentum begins to atrophy.) Songs for Cassavetes meanders around the periphery of post-post-post-punk rock without ever kicking anyone in the face, or, for that matter, the heart. Black-and-white 16mm and Super-8 footage of a low-rent punk rock band is a magical thing in the hands of, say, Jem Cohen, whose film Instrument nailed D.C. Dischord icons Fugazi in ways no one else has or likely ever will. Of course, Cohen limited himself to telling the non-sequitur story of one great band -- Mitchell tries to cover somewhere around 10 great bands, Sleater-Kinney and the Hi-Fives among them, and everything except the music gets lost in the shuffle. A persuasive look at the emocore phenomenon or a too-long tale of What-We-Did-at-University-When-Not-in-Class? Sure, it's punk rock, but when did that suddenly equal "absence of humor"? Geekily heartfelt like a roll of Necco Wafers wrapped in a dead, red rose, Songs for Cassavetes tries too hard to makes its point. Wouldn't it have been more punk just to rock?

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