This week, the film critic Robert Horton recommends some music-related movies.
If you were in Seattle in the early ‘90s, the word itself was to be avoided, at least if you wanted to maintain any shred of street cred; nevertheless, since "grunge" has by now passed into history, we can employ it here as a descriptive term for a phenomenon, if not the actual music. And that sort of distinction is noted in "TAD: Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears,” the engaging rockumentary by Adam Pease and Ryan Short, which gathers a gallery of talking heads (the members of the band TAD, as well as Nirvana's Krist Novoselic, Soundgarden's Kim Thayil, and Mudhoney's Mark Arm) to extol the band and describe the scene. I can personally vouch for the glorious noise of TAD live, yet the band never quite made it, and that saga of missed chances and horrendous bad luck is faithfully chronicled in the movie. Play it loud; then consider these related movies.
“Hype!" (1996). Doug Pray's winning documentary picture of the "grunge" moment serves up a bounty of performance footage and commentary from the usual suspects. Pray was an outsider to the scene, but he caught that peculiarly Seattle embarrassment about becoming successful, conveyed by so many of the musicians of the moment.
“Almost Famous” (2000). Part-time Seattle resident Cameron Crowe got some of the Seattle scene on film, with mixed results, in “Singles”(1992), but he really created his rock movie here: a portrait of a teen journalist swept into the excesses and excitement of a touring band, circa 1973. Among the right-on touches is a sense of how an entire generation was changed by music, in a way that might not happen again.
“The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack”(2001). Like the TAD band, Ramblin' Jack Elliott never made the big time, while contemporaries and imitators (including one talented disciple named Bob Dylan) found success. This portrait, directed by the singer's daughter, is an utterly fascinating account of a self-invented man: Elliott was born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn but ran away with the rodeo and become a Kerouac cowpoke with guitar in hand. He also left behind plenty of damage, which his daughter measures with a forgiving eye.