Pick of the Litter: 'Tribute'

Recommended at SXSW Film 2002

Keeping the Dream Alive: 'Tribute'

Without giving too much away, let's just say the makers of Tribute show us their chops right off the bat. In a few skillfully edited shots of Journey cover artists Escape, rockumentarians Kris Curry and Rich Fox sum up the sublime ridiculousness of bands who imitate bands who haven't existed in any meaningful way since at least 1982: the irreconcilable juxtaposition of sincere dedication, talent, and desire with what is an undeniably absurd pursuit. A nuanced and frequently hilarious first feature, Tribute follows devoted emulators of Kiss, Judas Priest, Queen, Journey, and the Monkees deep into a parallel universe where they bicker, mope, and suffer "creative differences" in equal measure with "real" bands. And while an amazing variety of dramatic and silly situations unfold -- strip club gigs, various incidents involving fire, periodic abandonment for the greener pastures of German musical theatre -- Curry and Fox quite steadily walk that fine fine line between mockery and adulation. "The longer we spent with [the bands]," says Curry, "the more we realized that the space between who they are and who we are is really not that big. We all have dreams we become invested in that may or may not pan out. ... And it would be sort of an easy, cheap shot to make fun of them and it wouldn't acknowledge the same quality that's in all of our lives." Indeed, for all its hilarity, Tribute is full of poignant moments that attest to the filmmakers' empathy, such as when a Queen fan believes Freddie Mercury is talking to him through a skywriter, or a member of the Judas Priest tribute band explains that he tries to take a Buddhist approach to the day job he hates, repairing tires. Holding out hope for those who don't stop believin', Tribute winds around to the Cinderella story at the heart of the film, which Fox says was one of their initial incentives to pursue the project: the true legend of Tim "Ripper" Owens, the Priest tribute singer who was drafted for the real deal after Rob Halford left the band and whose story was told (sort of, and rather poorly) in the Mark Wahlberg vehicle Rock Star. While Fox and Curry (a married couple) claim to be relatively talent-free musically, both know what kind of tribute band they'd be in. "Björk," Curry pipes up right off. "Definitely the Go-Go's," says Fox. "An all-male Go-Go's."

Tribute screens at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown on March 12 at 9pm; March 14 at 6pm; and March 16 at 4:45pm. Filmmakers Rich Fox and Kris Curry will be in attendance at all screenings.

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