The documentary <i>Paul Williams: Still Alive</i> tracks down the songwriter, who really isn't thrilled about the attention.
The Wisconsin Film Festival always offers unusual windows into the music world. In recent years, selections have included documentaries about Fishbone, the Replacements, and Youssou N'Dour, to name a random few.
The schedule usually goes beyond band documentaries, and this year's no exception, featuring as it does the coming out of a country singer in Wish Me Away, the bizarre musical Bugsy Malone, and even an adorable ukulele lady taking a dramatic role in Without.
Here's a cheat sheet to the musical highlights of this year's lineup, with several hat tips to Mike King, one of the festival's programmers and projectionists.
- In what must be the fest's most unlikely recipe for excitement, the documentary The Entertainers captures competitive ragtime piano players descending upon Peoria, Illinois. It's yet another esoteric documentary subject in a world full of 'em, sure, but it just might also provide a window into an endangered art form. (Trailer)
- Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev's grim-looking drama Elena boasts a score by Philip Glass. (Trailer)
- The documentary Hit So Hard: The Life And Near Death Story Of Patty Schemel looks beyond the Courtney Love train wreck to get in-depth on Schemel, the former drummer of Hole. (Trailer)
- At least two of the festival's many short films were scored by Madison-based musicians. Cellist Pat Reinholz says he processed cello sounds, among other things, through electronic effects to make the music for Just Breathe. "I used many long sounds to try to give the idea of frozen moments," Reinholz reports in an email. Brian Grimm likewise harnessed cello and digital effects for Walt, which was shot in Madison. Grimm and Reinholz play in jazz sextet the Lovely Socialite Mrs. Thomas W. Phipps. If you're a local musician who contributed songs or score to a WFF selection, send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll update this.
- It's all too easy to dabble casually in great music from the Third World but ignore the challenges and fears the musicians themselves face. Elinor Burkett's documentary iThemba offers an antidote, following the eight members of Liyana on their journey from turbulent upbringings in Zimbabwe to the studio. (Trailer)
- Grant Gee has directed music videos for Blur and served as cinematographer on the documentary Scott Walker: 30 Century Man, as well as directing the music docs Joy Division and Meeting People Is Easy. He moves on with Patience (After Sebald), in which he tries to immerse himself in the work of German-born writer W.G. Max Sebald. (Trailer)
- In the proud tradition of documentarians and subjects pissing each other off, filmmaker Stephen Kessler tracks down a once-famous songwriter who really isn't thrilled about the attention in Paul Williams: Still Alive. (Trailer)
- Milwaukee filmmakers Anthony Lopez and Jon Salimes' production company, High Frequency Media, is responsible for a recent music video from Madison band The Hussy and the 2011 Wisconsin Film Festival selection The Death Of Triforce. They return with Points Of Interest, which follows Milwaukee band Juniper Tar and tourmates Strand Of Oaks on a 10-day jaunt along the East Coast. The film includes some characteristically high-quality performance footage, but mostly just aims to soak up the vibe and show the unpredictable encounters that come with being a band on the road. (Trailer)
- Watch for footage of Ike and Tina Turner, among others, in the comedy Taking Off, Milos Forman's 1971 directorial debut. (Watch a clip.)
- In the special event A Tribute To The Nicholas Brothers, the festival honors the late singing, dancing duo of Fayard and Harold Nicholas with clips of many of their routines. Bruce Goldstein, a friend of the brothers who produced the 1992 documentary The Nicholas Brothers: We Sing And We Dance, will be on hand to present the program. Watch their dashing performance of "Stormy Weather."
- The struggle to end discrimination against gays can be discouraging, but take heart from country star Chely Wright, whose coming out as a lesbian is documented in Wish Me Away. (Trailer)
- The festival's ever-rich Restorations and Rediscoveries series includes a revival of Alan Parker's 1976 musical Bugsy Malone. That's the one in which all the gangsters are played by kids and gun each other down with gobs of whipped cream. Take it from someone who can't abide musicals: The weirdness will likely be worth it. (Trailer)
- After seeing the buddy-cop caper Bon Cop, Bad Cop at the 2008 festival, you'd do well to take in Canadian comedies when possible. The Quebecois selection Familiar Grounds looks promising, and writer-director Stephane LaFleur also makes gentle, dreamy folk in the group Avec Pas D'Casque. The group recently released a new album, Astronomie. (Trailer)
- Singer and YouTube ukulele personality Joslyn Jensen stars in the drama Without, which the festival guide enticingly describes as "a haunting variation on Gaslight." She even uses her uke talents in a key scene. Don't write her off as a lightweight. If a preview is any indication, Jensen's up to the film's creepy tension. (Trailer)
- Mike King says the Greek film Alps begins with "a great music gag." Seems hard to explain out of context, but it's hinted at in the trailer, with the line "you're not ready for pop." (Trailer)
Wisconsin Film Festival tickets go on sale Saturday, March 31.