I Am Secretly an Important Man: Profile of Underground Bard Jesse Bernstein
The following is pure fiction: Ive been handsome and popular all my life. That sour joke is one of the better lines from fringe poet/songwriter/all-purpose bohemian Steven J. Bernstein, known to his never-large public as Jesse. Bernstein killed himself in 1991, at age 40, near his adopted home of Seattle. This being just prior to the post-Nevermind A&R landrush, he is dubbed the orator of grunge by one talking head in director Peter Sillens bio-doc, but grunge is just the last of many scenes that he drifted through in the footloose, rented-rooms life that followed his first hospitalization, as an adolescent, for schizophrenia. Sillen, co-director of the portrait of a cross-dressing Atlanta rocker, Benjamin Smoke, herein enshrines another doomed local legend. The myth is ready-made from ample photographs and footage of Bernstein reciting and perambulating, supplemented with melancholy ambient imagery of nighttime traffic, industrial-belt Seattle, and Puget Sound. A weedy little guy with homemade tattoos running up his arms and wary almond eyes behind chunky glasses on a squished goblin face, Bernstein is more memorable as a beautiful crank than a bard. Sillen ennobles the havoc of his life with a measure of down-and-out romance, but no moments really puncture a viewer, and the darkness is all too easily shaken off.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.