By Calum Marsh
By Michelle Orange
By Michael Atkinson
By Simon Abrams
By Zachary Wigon
By Aaron Hillis
By Casey Burchby
By Stephanie Zacharek
The Monks were a five-piece (including strident electric banjo), staffed by former American GIs who met while stationed in West Germany. The comrades-in-arms brought lockstep whomp, boot-camp discipline, and coffin-black foreboding up against the blossoming idyll of mid-'60s rock. Typical Monks' song title: "Shut Up." Typical lyric: "You know why I hate you, baby?" Says early admirer Hans Irmler (Faust): "Their style was hard." The title of Transatlantic Feedback refers to the band's regurgitating amps, and to the Monks' place in the ongoing "feedback" that was the Euro-American musical conversation. One of the featured points is that the band's two German, art-school-trained manager-conceptualists, Walther Niemann and Karl-H. Remy (neither interviewed here), were primary in defining the group's grudging aesthetic and jingle-repetitive lyrics. Before being drilled into Bauhaus sternness by the brainy Teutons, the Monks were a good-but-one-in-a-thousand bar band called the Torquays—afterward, they were wearing tonsures and barking down the Vietnam War. The intersection of Continental avant-gardism with working-class, all-American chops allowed for a breakaway sound—and inherent tensions, with some ex-Monks here expressing lingering discomfort with the group's Army-bashing and sacrilegious image. Rediscovered in late middle age and deep middle-America, the onetime Monks make good, unpretentious company. Directors Palacios and Post don't manage to memorably individuate band members for much of the film, but at least Transatlantic Feedback doesn't ego-massage Hall of Famers who've made their pile (at the current pace, by 2014 we will have one middling documentary for every onetime Rolling Stone darling). The film single-handedly justifies its existence with stock footage of the band ripping it up on some Deutsch version of Shindig! circa '66, the kids in the audience awkwardly doing the Jerk because they don't know what else to do.
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