The independent film scene has a lot in common with independent music. Ask an independent filmmaker like documentarian Benjamin Meade what he thinks of the state of current film. He will tell you that only films financed, produced, and marketed by the filmmaker are truly independent (meaning, “independent of the studios”). So, too with independent music, striving to exist without the backing of the recording industry.
American Music: Off the Record
Jackson Browne talks about music and being an independent musician in the documentary American Music: Off the Record. (Corticrawl Productions, 2008)
Directed by: Benjamin Meade
Starring: Noam Chomsky, Douglas Rushkoff, Jackson Browne, Les Paul, Iris DeMent, David Lindley, Ray Price,
Richard Thompson, Little Feat, Chris Hillman, War, Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Country Joe McDonald, James McMurtry
Rated Not Rated
Running time: 89 min.
FilmGuru’s Rating : 9 out of 10.
American Music: Off the Record does the unthinkable. It asks musicians what they think about the recording industry. Because the film ignores pop culture icons in favor of older or less well-known artists, the opinion is clear: the recording industry doesn’t serve the music.
One might assume that these “independent” musicians are the bitter remnants of studio rejects, musicians who couldn’t hack it in the competitive recording industry and were forced into self-promotion. Nothing could be further from the truth.
These are real musicians. People who for decades have been traveling America in search of venues for their music. Some, like Jackson Browne and Edgar Winter, have had their share of fame. Others are better known in the inner circle of their fans and those who really know music. Make no mistake, though, these musicians are happy to be independent.
They denounce American Idol for being the opposite of the democratic process, claiming that it forces musicians to fit into a corporate mold. They dispel the myths of popular music and talk about the corporate greed that has turned the music industry upside down. As one musician puts it, “Music shouldn’t be about the bling.”
There is a mutual respect among these musicians. They speak with reverence of men like Les Paul, who at the age of 90 still performs live. They extol the virtue of self-promotion and the need to get the music out to the people. They talk about making a connection with the audience. In short, it’s about the live performances.
Director Meade certainly agrees. He cuts his documentary with a generous blend of commentary and music, making the film not only a thought-provoking one but also a joy to hear. A list of independent artists talking about their craft is perfectly complimented by choice cuts of their performances.
While there are too many great cuts to list, it was a real treat to see each performance, from The Rainmakers 1986 video of “Let My People Go-Go” toThe Elders live performance of “Gonna Take a Miracle.”
The film is a rallying cry for musicians and artists in general. It denounces the corporate model of packaging art for the masses, as if it is a commodity to be bought and sold on the stock exchange.
These rebel musicians are fighting for a chance to control their own destiny. They want to make music and make a connection with the audience. American Music: Off the Record seems to be able to make such a connection, and hopefully people will listen.