John Mellencamp: It’s About You


John Mellencamp comes across as the kind of anti-establishment millionaire who believes in artistic freedom but knows things are better done his own way, who likes it ragged but also just so. Which, considering his track record, is eminently fair, but it’s enough to give a genuine free spirit fits. Interested in self-documentation but drawn to unconventionality, he recruits photographer (and non-filmmaker) Kurt Markus to chronicle his 2009 concert tour and No Better Than This recording sessions as a rough-hewn work of independent art. “This film should be about you,” Mellencamp insists, denying the inherent hypocrisy of his charge and evidently persuading Markus that he’s sincere. The result is an amateurish travelogue that feels like a botched assignment, halfheartedly self-regarding and resentfully remote from the object of our fascination. The footage often looks great, captured as it was on Super 8 stock that abstracts visible light sources and gives skin an indefinite warmth. And the music, recorded on analog equipment at historic locations like Sun Studios and Robert Johnson’s hotel room, turned out to be Mellencamp’s strongest in decades. But Kurt’s monotonous, diaristic voiceover drowns the film in armchair philosophizing, bloodless “this is so kickass” editorializing, and sarcastic swipes at his rock-star employer. Such failures to ingratiate only make Mellencamp’s expertly calibrated folksiness more appealing, which might have been the plan all along.