Don't Knock the Rock: Films for the vinyl crowd
Don't Knock the Rock screens unique tales of musicians, scenes and their wild sounds.
Music and film have always traveled hand-in-hand, score and soundtrack being the integral undercurrent propelling a story forward. Film is visual, but music is visceral — it can take cinematic imagery and guide it straight to the heart.
Indie director Allison Anders has always been interested in this symbiotic give and take. Many of her movies (“Grace of My Heart,” “Sugartown”) have explored music as identity — her own obsession with rock 'n' roll providing the primary fuel for her filmmaking.
In 2003, Anders extended this obsession into the curatorial — founding a film festival dubbed Don't Knock the Rock with her daughter, musician and music supervisor Tiffany Anders. Named after a 1956 B-movie, Don't Knock the Rock has now become a much-anticipated gathering for vinyl and film geeks alike. Digging deep in the crates for docs, shorts, musicals, concert films and narrative, music-driven features, the Anderses provide an annual offering that would make any cine/audiophile swoon.
The festival begins Thursday and has screenings through Aug. 25 at the Silent Movie Theatre. Highlights include the world premiere of “The Jim Sullivan Story,” about the disappearance of an L.A. folk singer and UFO enthusiast; the L.A. premiere of “Bob and the Monster,” about former Thelonius Monster singer Bob Forrest; and a world premiere look at the history of longtime Los Angeles mainstay Rhino Records.
“The festival came about when Tiffany and I thought we'd like to bring music movies we loved together with live music we loved,” explains Allison Anders. “We knew we wanted to cater to obsessive music and movie fans with very defined tastes. We knew they would want to see movies on bands and performers who created pop culture, who went out on the edge to do it. And within those parameters the world was open to everything from the roots of rock 'n' roll to wherever it has gone since.”
Over the years, the Anders' festival has explored the genre through poetic pieces on '60s vocalist Scott Walker and girl group the Runaways, live sets from indie legends such as J Mascis and PJ Harvey, and early screenings of acclaimed music docs such as “You're Gonna Miss Me,” about garage rock icon Roky Erickson, as well as raucous revivals of narrative cult classics like “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains.”
“Tiffany and I are generally in perfect sync on the films we select,” Anders says. “We know which films our audience will respond to because we are fans, just like they are. It can encompass a wide range of subjects; it can be a film about a single band or artist, or it can be a genre of music, or a scene, which was thriving, in a specific time and place. It can be a cult classic, or about a particular label, club or record store. I don't think we have ever had a year where we didn't have a mix of these sorts of films.”
With that in mind, this year the fest will be screening films on “pandrogynous” sonic explorer Genesis P-Orridge (Psychic TV and Throbbing Gristle), street musician Kevin Gant and the volatile, explosive reconstructed punk of Jay Reatard, who died last year at age 29.
“The fact that a film about these people exists at all is cause to celebrate,” Tiffany says. “The fact that people are putting so much into these films about artists that are not pop charters is really admirable, especially in this day and age. The filmmakers are true lovers of their subjects and we get the films to the right audiences, the people who share their enthusiasm.”
And in the process, mother and daughter continue to satiate their own shared, unstoppable curiosity for everything music and film. Part of the fun of curating, for them, is uncovering both the long forgotten and hitherto unseen. Over half of the festival program this year will feature L.A. premieres, many of them films that may not make it to traditional widespread theatrical release. The chance to see great short form, cult and independent work focusing on music is yet another thrill for both the audience and the fest's programmers.
“Jay Duplass' film about Kevin Gant is beautiful,” says Tiffany of “Kevin,” “and this is an artist whom I had never heard of before I saw the film. I was really happy to be introduced to his work and I am even more excited to see Gant play after the screening. I'm also really excited about the Light in the Attic night as well — they not only are an amazing record label but have made two exceptional films, ‘Wheedle's Groove' about the Seattle 1970s soul scene, and ‘The Jim Sullivan Story' — an amazing story about a lost — literally — folk troubadour.”
Alongside longtime sponsors such as Criterion and Amoeba, charismatic rocker Michael Des Barres, who has been MC at the fest since its inception, and the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, where the fest has found a home since 2008, the Anderses have managed to create a series of events as unique and varied as the music they love.
“We're always working on ways to push the festival forward and take it to the next level,” says Allison. “We are well aware that for what we do there is no one else quite like us — and we're proud of that.”
-- Jessica Hundley
Photo: Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge & Genesis P-Orridge. Image from: "The Ballad of Genesis And Lady Jane," courtesy Don't Knock the Rock.