"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Monday, December 13, 2004

So, tonight I went along to see Stranded in Canton a second time. I really didn't expect to find a throng of people fighting to get in, again, but despite the cold, there they were, lined up to see a non-narrative, shot on home video documentary from thirty years ago. In fact it was worse than the last time as we had to fight to get two seats together - what gives people the right to say "These seats are kept for our friends" anyway? As my viewing companion Catherine said, 'Let them talk to my granny.'
The film now has crucial elements of voiceover at certain points, introducing people like Vernon. Randall Lyon and Marcia Hare, and most importantly Jerry McGill and Campbell Kensinger. Knowing the violent lives and desperate ends of these two makes their contribution to the film more understandable, particularly in the scene that introduces McGill, playing along with Jim Dickinson on that darkest of outlaw ballads, Wild Bill Jones. Now, the audience knows that he's a bank robber, so his look to camera at the end, as he acknowledges the truth of the song, and also acknowledges that he knows he looks cooler than fuck singing it, has new meaning.
I laughed a lot this time around too. It's a funny, funny film, and the more you know the characters, the funnier it gets. It will have a long life on DVD or whatever format, as people endlessly watch and re-watch it, learning lines of dialogue and getting just as high as those doomed translucent people on the screen.
As we left, Catherine said it was just like the old days in Dublin. I know exactly what she means. In fact, that's what dragged me into all this in the first place, the feeling that Memphis and Dublin have twin energies. I couldn't have interposed myself there, started trying to make this film, if I hadn't felt that from the beginning. Small places full of large personalities, all the time convinced they're at the centre of the world while the actual fabric of the place they live in is being taken away from them and sold for scrap. But always, under it all, there's something there that keeps on pulsing out that energy, and keeps these cities from being just land and concrete and roadworks. That's the real subject of It Came From Memphis, and it doesn't just concern Memphis. It concerns everywhere that has ever had some special sense of itself. Cities on fire with rock'n'roll.
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