Celluloid Music 

Documentaries focus on backstage views of bands

With the commercial and critical success of 2004's Some Kind of Monster, the fascinating look at a Metallica reunion, behind-the-scenes music documentaries are the film du jour of this year's festival.

Ramones: Too Tough to Die (2 stars, Mon., June 12, 10 p.m.; and Thurs., June 15, 3:15 p.m., at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas) is the ironic title of a film about a band that has seen three of its members pass away. The film documents a 2004 benefit concert marking the band's 30th anniversary, which took place two days before the death of guitarist Johnny Ramone to cancer. The film is less than insightful about the legacy of the Ramones, but the performances by Deborah Harry, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and others do rock.

I Want to Be Happy: The Jackie Washington Story (3 stars, Sun., June 11, 7:15 p.m., at Cinefest) is the engaging story of an 86-year-old Canadian folk singer and guitarist who never enjoyed any measure of commercial success, but now serves as a living relic of the music styles of the '20s and '30s. What gives the film spark is the joy Washington exudes as he discusses his life and, especially, when he performs his music.

When Bob Dylan was 19 years old and a struggling folk singer, he regularly visited Woody Guthrie in the state hospital where Guthrie was dying from Huntington's disease. During one visit, Guthrie scribbled the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" on a piece of paper and forced a puzzled Dylan to take them. Dylan finally realized that Guthrie had no idea that he'd become a folk music icon; he gave the lyrics to Dylan because he was afraid his song would be lost forever if Dylan didn't memorize and perform it. That classic story, unfortunately, isn't part of Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home (3 stars, Sat., June 10, 9:45 p.m., at GSU Speakers Auditorium; and Fri., June 16, 4:45 p.m., at Cinefest). While the film features interviews with Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Guthrie's daughter and his first wife, it is handicapped by the fact that most of Guthrie's contemporaries are dead. It's an excellent primer for those who don't know much about the legend of Guthrie, but it's also almost too earnest for its own good.

The movie that most aspires to be another Some Kind of Monster is loudQUIETloud: A Film About Pixies (2 stars, Thurs., June 15, 10 p.m., at Landmark Midtown Art Cinemas). The concert sequences, filmed during the influential band's 2004 reunion tour, will appeal to Pixies fans. At first, everything seems wonderful, then you realize that no one in the band talks to one another and there are long moments of dead silence in the dressing room. The drummer gets hooked on Valium, the bass player is a recovered alcoholic who guzzles non-alcoholic beer, the guitarist is passive-aggressive, and the lead singer is an egotistical loner. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, that's the extent of the backstage drama. The band has none of the inherent turmoil and open conflict that made the Metallica documentary so fascinating. In short, nothing much happens. Which, for a movie, isn't a good thing.

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