In between Noise Pop gigs in Oakland and San Francisco, Stephin Merrit and Claudia Gonson of the Magnetic Fields, joined co-directors of the documentary Strange Powers, for the film's world debut, followed by a Q&A.
I should preface everything that follows by stating that I am biased when it comes to documentaries on bands that I love. More often than not, I'm giddy throughout. There are few exceptions, namely the Wilco documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, which never sat well due to its portrayal of Jay Bennett. That said, documentaries on bands ranging from Beulah and Luna to Daniel Johnston and Townes Van Zandt, are very, very dear to me. And I really don't care how corny that sounds. God, Townes rules.
Strange Powers is no exception. Along with a packed house at Mezzanine, I grabbed first row, front and center. When concert footage would conclude, I'd forget that I was at a movie and not a show. On two occasions, I lifted my chicken-bone arms and nearly began to applaud before realizing this. When songs such as "Come Back From San Francisco" and "All My Little Words" came through the speakers, I almost couldn't contain myself. My head was bobbing, knees bouncing. "God, I love this band," I thought.
Music aside, Strange Powers takes the viewer inside the life of the almost unknown "genius" behind the band, Stephin Merrit. From his days sitting on the "wall" in Cambridge, MA to his years writing albums in various gay bars throughout New York City, up to his recent move to Los Angeles, Merrit is an incredibly interesting person to watch develop and well, think. In addition to the stunning music and look inside the life of the band, there are some very touching moments, including a shot of Merrit sitting on his studio floor reading journals and lyrics the years over. And despite the exhausted perception of him as a grump (by critics), which he kind of fulfills, the movie is quite hilarious at times. Add in superb commentary from cello player Sam Doval, and Strange Powers proves to be an excellent film, one that I will certainly pick up on DVD the day it becomes available.