Wednesday, September 3, 2008

We Jam Econo: The Story of The Minutemen

Dir. Tim Irwin

Viewed: From the Couch

The music documentary is a tough nut to criticize.

Might I get personal? Who's to say We Jam Econo is a better movie than The Devil and Daniel Johnston or Live Forever or any other music doc. Sure you can talk about how nicely framed the talking heads are and such but it is all a matter of personal taste when it comes to the music. For me, We Jam Econo: The Story of The Minutemen is a movie 15 years late. And for all you punks who think all these movies are just another 90 minutes of Henry Rollins and Thurston Moore doing all the jibber jabberin -- not so. Yes, they both make their appearance but it is kept to a minimum.

We Jam Econo is a special document of the punk I hold dear. The punk that has nothing to do with the piercings or the leather. The punk that couldn't care less how you're dressed or what color hair you might have. The Minutemen. A band made up of two childhood friends and a guy who'd rather be playing in a new wave band. D. Boon on guitar, Mike Watt on bass, and George Hurley on drums. All three of them doing things that a punk band shouldn't be doing -- playing their instruments well. The tragedy is that D. Boon died at the height of the band's trajectory.

I have no attachment to The Minutemen, I would not call myself a fan, I have no reason to go on about them. The point is: these guys didn't give a fuck. That is punk. It has nothing to do with that tattoo. This movie does a wonderful job of capturing their brief but sweet impact. This video below is a nice little edit job and it captures an amazing bit of meaningfulness.


Padraic said...

Can't say I agree that the value of a music documentary lies only in the band being covered.

Compare for instance, 'Man in the Sand' and 'I am Trying to Break Your Heart,' two docs on Wilco. While the former documented the creation of what I take to be a much better album, it's a woefully inferior film.

Sure, the latter benefited from the departure of of Jay Bennet, but part of the success of a film is how well it takes you into the conflicts and emotions produced by the band and its music. There might have been all sort of interesting things going on while Mermaid Avenue was made, but you would never know it since Man in the Sand does nothing more than cut between the band playing and talking.

Sean said...

If you're strictly a jazz fan you're going to appreciate that doc on 1930s Kansas City more than the one on 1990s Manchester. It's a very general statement and I'm sure there's exceptions and I'm sure a documentary filmmaker could get pissed at me saying that every documentary that takes a look back at a band or a scene is simply a bunch of talking heads cut together with old footage of the band playing. Obviously there are music documentaries like Trying to Break Your Heart, Don't Look Back or Jim Jarmusch's Year of the Horse that capture a band in the moment and are a completely different beast all together. But when you're talking about a low budget retrospective documentary on a niche subject like a Daniel Johnston or Minutemen -- your appreciation for the subject going in has a lot to do with it. There's no shortage of Wilco or Radiohead DVDs out there and I'm sure a review of whatever the next one is will be useful to the fan. But there's likely only going to be one movie made about the Minutemen, and if you're a fan, you're going to see the movie and you're going to like it. But if you were to compare it to The Devil and Daniel Johnston or Don't Look Back, you'll see that it obviously doesn't stack up to those movies. My point is that these kind of comparisons don't really matter in these kinds of cases. If someone got around to making an equally compitent movie about The Replacements (lord knows that's another over-due movie) I would say that it's a much better movie than We Jam Econo because I'm a much bigger fan of The Replacements. Of course someone could completely drop the ball on one of these docs but at the same time no one makes these kinds of movies without putting a lot of heart and soul into it and that is usually something that comes through.

Padraic said...

I sorta see your point (well, not really, I don't understand the Jazz analogy), but I loved Mermaid avenue, and Wilco and Billy Bragg didn't have a million DVDs at that point, and the movie still was a bore.

And I love Townes Van Zant, and his doc was only so-so.*

I also don't get the comparison with the Daniel Johnston movie. You say it is like the Minutemen flick in that its for the fans, but then you put it in the category of Don't Look Back.

From what I heard, it was a fantastic movie, extremely well made, and of interest to people far outside his direct fan base.

It seems to me that the Minuteman movie was kinda 'eh', but since you're averse to criticizing people, you decided to make a major generalization about a genre.

*I also hated that lame metal band Spinal Tap, but the documentary they made on them was fantastic.

Sean said...

I'd also had four beers and a couple gin and tonics which, as you know, is when the sweeping generalizations come out.