Hilly would have been delighted.
As rock ‘n’ roll bands celebrate CBGB’s 40th anniversary, a film festival is also occurring this week, a cinematic salute to Manhattan’s hippest music club. One can only imagine the late Mr. Kristal, CB’s owner and purveyor of all things punk, somewhere whispering, “Cool idea, kids.”
Beth Toni Kruvant’s David Bromberg: Unsung Treasure, one of these films, performs two tricks simultaneously. First, her documentary demonstrates quiet movie magic. It also restores its subject to his rightful place in the pantheon of great guitarists. This superb session player and solo star in the ’70s is captured here with real charm, a humble guy who says, “I felt terrible that my name was Bromberg. That’s not a folksinger’s name.”
Kruvant’s film, which hinges on the guitarist’s partial return to performing (he quit playing live in 1980), came about when she saw Bromberg play one of Levon Helm’s Rambles in Woodstock, a few years back.
“He was on fire. I wondered where he’d been all this time. I looked into things to make sure there was a story there. David had stopped performing to make violins in Wilmington [Delaware] and was about to start recording a new album. I had my story.”
She did, indeed. Kruvant tells us all about Bromberg, from his difficult childhood to eventually accompanying Bob Dylan and George Harrison. The movie culminates emotionally with the guitarist helping to restore Wilmington’s crumbling theater, The Queen. Kruvant took two years to make her doc, and the former lawyer used the time well, crafting a fine film about a musician who walked away from showbiz. But also saved his soul.
Punk rock is regally represented with two terrific documentaries: Gorman Bechard’s Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart and Lilly Scourtis Ayers’s Last Fast Ride: The Life, Love, and Death of a Punk Goddess, depicting the tragic tale of an L.A. cult figure. Neither film is feel-good. Both, however, are beautifully sad.
“I wasn’t sure Grant would do it,” says Bechard, who also made Color Me Obsessed, about Replacements fans. “But I sent him Errol Morris’s The Fog of War, with Robert McNamara, alone, simply talking about Vietnam. I wanted to do something like that. And Grant was sold.”
Bechard’s film eloquently imparts that brilliance (like former Hüsker Dü drummer Hart’s), is often more hindrance than help, whether filming the musician standing in a vacant lot where his house burned down—and remembering where everything was—or holding forth on poet John Milton (who inspired his new album). This documentary dynamically reminds us that smarts don’t ensure success or happiness.
Ayers’s film, about throwaway child Marian Anderson, treads similarly sad turf. Ride recounts Anderson’s short, horrid life: molestation by her father, numerous suicide attempts, and finally finding her “family” amid the ’80s Bay Area punk scene.
“It began when I was 17 and at a party,” says Ayers. “I looked over, and sitting on the couch was the ‘famous’ Marian from The Insaints, a legendary local band. That’s where the seed started.”
After seven years, marriage, two kids, and scores of interviews, the seed sprouted. With Henry Rollins narrating, Ride is more than just a film about an almost-star. The movie breaks your heart as it hints at how many castoff kids there are in the country. Who, with some support, wouldn’t fatally overdose at 33, as this gifted girl did. Ride tells Anderson’s story. But it should also resonate with anybody who’s found in punk rock an aural antidepressant.
Finally, the festival features Louder Than Love: The Grande Ballroom Story. This joyous blast from Detroit native Tony D’Annunzio details the hall where everybody from Iggy to The MC5 learned to “kick out the jams, Motherfucker!” or get off the MF-ing stage.
“My budget was under $15,000,” says D’Annunzio. “I have access to higher-end equipment because I work in the business, but that’s still really cheap. The main thing is, this was from my heart. I was too young to go to the Grande in the ’60s, so doing this story was the next best thing. It took four years to make. But it doesn’t matter. I followed my dream.”
As with Ayers’s film, there’s also a subplot. The people who worked or played at the ballroom made do with bad pay and no perks—as someone in the film says, this happened before rock stars “had personal assistants” and the fun became big business. Want to see The MC5 in their prime? Or the Who? Check out Louder. This documentary, like most punk rock, was made for all the right reasons. As for the CBGB Festival’s film lineup? You can say exactly the same thing.