By Peg Aloi
Most of the films selected will be shown in 35mm, making the visual experience as invigorating to watch as the music will be to listen to.
The Somerville Theatre continues its penchant for crowd-pleasing film programs that gather up cult faves under intriguing themes. This time it’s Reel Films/Fake Bands, as in, bands created specifically for movies. Most of the films selected will be shown in 35mm, making the visual experience as invigorating to watch as the music will be to listen to.
Here’s the thing about fake bands: they’re still playing music. The members are expected to sing and strut around on stage, maybe even play instruments. They’re probably not writing the songs, but most pop stars don’t either. Actors playing musicians is not an enormous stretch: archetypal ego-driven personalities drawn to work in an exploitative industry — not unlike Hollywood movies. There’s a meta-cinematic layering that goes on in these films that can make them extra delicious to watch. The series is very eclectic and features a rollicking mix of genres, from mockumentary to period drama to romantic comedy.
The series opens April 11th with the lighthearted That Thing You Do, a sort of modern fairy tale about a band with a story not unlike the Beatles, directed by Tom Hanks. If you look close, you may recognize a young Charlize Theron. On April 18th is Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’ darkly-glittering biopic of a musician in the glamrock days of the 1970s who looks an awful lot like David Bowie (played by Jonathan Rhys Myers). Like all of Haynes’ work, the visuals are a sumptuous, subtly symbolic pictorial feast. The cast here (which also includes Ewan MacGregor, Toni Collette and Christian Bale) is extra fine. This film also features an impressive original soundtrack, penned by members of the groups Radiohead, Suede, and Roxy Music.
May 2nd brings Cameron Crowe’s coming-of-age biopic about his days writing for Rolling Stone as an underage aspiring rock critic. It’s hard to find fault with much of anything in this movie, apart from the plausibly obnoxious behavior of some of its narcissistic characters. The cast could not be better: Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Fairuza Balk, Jason Lee, and even a cameo from legendary guitarist Peter Frampton.
The legendary mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, the quintessential fake band movie, shows May 9.. You probably know a few people who used to quote from it endlessly in bad working class English accents. Three phenomenally good actors (Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, and Michael McKean) play a mediocre heavy metal band from the 1970s. The deftly created hilarity is an indictment of the music industry as well as a lampoon of that horrible genre of music. The team behind that film come together again for a second parody, A Mighty Wind, about a 1960s era American folk duo and their career tribulations, showing as part of May 23rd’s double feature. The second film that night is Alan Parker’s The Commitments, a well-loved classic of a working class 1980s Irish band that decides to play American R & B classics and builds a huge Dublin following before it all crashes and burns. A bit of trivia: one of the band members (Glen Hansard) continued playing music in real life and later starred as a character based on himself in the experimental indie hit Once, which became a successful Broadway play (and was just revived at SpeakEasy Stage Company). Once also inspired the name of the small but popular music club in Somerville.
But before that, the May 16th double feature offers my two favorite films of the series: High Fidelity, starring John Cusack as an obsessed vinyl buff, and Frank, an indescribably strange little indie film about a strange little indie band and their charismatic but shy lead singer who insists on wearing a giant papier-mache head at all times. With sublime performances from Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Domhnail Gleeson, this is the entry you’ll want to see if you missed it the first time it played in theaters.
Cameron Crowe’s Seattle grunge scene fable Singles will screen on May 30, which features Matt Dillon, Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, and various other beautiful white people dressed in slouchy clothes. The double feature that same night includes the rarely-seen cult pic Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, made by the guy who also made Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke, so you know it will rock.
Peg Aloi is a former film critic for The Boston Phoenix. She taught film studies in Boston for over a decade. She writes regularly for The Orlando Weekly, Crooked Marquee, and Bloody Disgusting. Her blog “The Witching Hour” can be found at at themediawitch.com.