“Most of the drama of the film took place offscreen. And it came from people who couldn’t accept the idea of a rock documentary with no music. Or from people who insisted that I did it that way because I couldn’t get the rights. People don’t want to believe that I did it this way on purpose. That was my plan all along.”
So said director Gorman Bechard recently about the making of his documentary, Color Me Obsessed: A Film About the Replacements, which has been screening across the country and makes its New York debut this week at the Bowery Electric. Regardless of circumstances—Replacements frontman Paul Westerberg is notoriously guarded with his image and did not participate in this film and, according to his manager, is working on his own film about the band—Bechard, a 52-year-old Connecticut writer and fiction filmmaker, has done something pretty original in this movie about Minneapolis’s beloved rock brats. Color Me Obsessed contains not one note of the punkish noise created by Westerberg and his bandmates—noise that helped a lot of Reagan-era misfits and screwups through their adolescence. Nor an inch of concert footage. Instead, “all” we get are fans, friends, critics, and rockers sitting around talking, theorizing, and, most importantly, disagreeing about the Mats.
Think My Dinner With Andre with about 100 guests. The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn shares space with Minneapolis fiction writer Robert Voedisch, who talks about how the band’s music got him through his teen years living on a remote Minnesota farm. Mrs. Bob Stinson remembers the crazy outfits her Replacements guitarist husband wore in the early days. One of Westerberg’s pals reveals that, surprisingly, the rocker listened to Miles Davis. “And I mean Bitches Brew Miles Davis.” Everyone has something funny, sad, and/or strange to contribute. And the low-key, homemade movie (which began filming in 2009, after another filmmaker and Mats fan Hansi Oppenheimer gave up her own, similarly themed project to come help produce Bechard’s) is quite the corrective to the burnished, worshipful rock docs we’ve all become accustomed to—most recently exemplified by Cameron Crowe’s Pearl Jam hagiography.
“I wondered how I could get my love for the Replacements across to people who didn’t really know their story,” says Bechard, who first saw the band in 1983 at Toad’s in New Haven. (“They opened for R.E.M., and I thought they really sucked that night.”) “So I thought, ‘Why not let the fans tell their stories.’” It just so happens that some of the fans—or “witnesses”—are pretty famous.
There’s the wasted but brilliant Grant Hart (of Replacements rival Hüsker Dü), who is filmed in the graffiti-covered dressing room of Minneapolis’s 7th Street club, where the Mats used to play. Songwriter Jesse Malin sits on a barstool and crows about how he heckled the Replacements when he was 13, calling out for Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Jack Heidenreich, a local Minneapolis musician, relates some lore about how Replacements bassist Tommy Stinson ended his academic career by marching into the principal’s office, putting a boombox on the guy’s desk, and blasting the Mats’ “Fuck School.” (While acknowledging that he’s not sure this really happened, Heidenreich says it’s a pretty great story either way.) Another hometown musician, Jim McGuinn, laments that the Replacements kept “shooting themselves in the foot,” at every turn, like when the band finally had a decent budget for a video but, since they had a clause in their contract saying they didn’t have to appear in the damn things, simply aimed a camera at a speaker for all four minutes of “Bastards of Young.”
There are no industry schmucks sitting in their massive homes or platinum-record-decorated offices here. Color Me, shot mostly in Minnesota, sticks close to the simple front-porch vibe that Paul and the guys grew up with. You see their ghosts in almost every scene. It’s an appropriately low-key way to experience this always ramshackle band.
With a $75,000 budget, Bechard shot 250 hours of film and interviewed 145 people. Every one of them has an opinion. A turning point for the band—and in the film—is the firing of genius/wack job guitarist Bob Stinson, who died too young in 1995. Former Voice music critic Robert Christgau says: “Fuck art. You would have kicked Bob Stinson out of your band, too!” He is challenged by writer Jim DeRogatis, who counters, “If you’re in a band with Iggy Pop, you realize, yeah, this is hell to live with, but this is brilliant, and it’s not gonna be brilliant without Iggy Pop.” With so many voices, Color Me becomes a rock version of Rashomon, and what the film lacks in music and live footage, it more than makes up for with obsessive detail and heated debate. Who’s right? Everyone.
Color Me Obsessed will screen at the Bowery Electric on November 16 and 17. On the 17th and 18th, the Bowery Electric will host Replacements tribute concerts.