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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Review of Lynn Shelton's $5 Cover: Seattle

Posted by on Tue, Mar 2, 2010 at 11:35 AM

The first thing you need to know about $5 Cover: Seattle, Lynn Shelton’s new series of online shorts (“webisodes”) for out this June, is that it’s not bad. There were good reasons to worry that it would be:, “webisodes,” the scripted “reality” style. But there were as many good reasons to expect that Shelton would pull this off. The semi-scripted/semi-improvised pseudo-reality style is her forte, and she’s managed to spin some surprisingly great films out of the potentially dubious form; she’s worked with bands and non-actors before and coaxed fine performances out of them; she’s a certified Stranger Genius.

Last night, at a sold-out SIFF Cinema, the series’ 12 episodes were received with thunderous applause, generous laughter, and the occasional outburst (a child in the audience, upon seeing the Lights onscreen: “there’s Jeff!”; Thomas Gray of Champagne Champagne, upon one of his band’s appearances: “Yuh yuh yuh!”). It was blessedly not like that scene in Reality Bites where Ben Stiller's shifty ersatz-MTV executive premieres an embarrassing, butchered version of Winona Ryder's labor of love documentary—about the cheesiest thing was the series' Zune-like tag line, "Everyone is in on the jam"—but mostly it seems like, IRL, the actual MTV execs just wanted to let Shelton to do her own thing.

Typically, there’s some great awkward, self-aware humor here. At one point, Sean Nelson is accosted by two overzealous Harvey Danger fans (try to suspend your disbelief), one of whom thinks Harvey Danger is Nelson’s given name and then says he got his tongue pierced because of them (a sharp joke given “Flagpole Sitta”’s actual attitude on the matter of body modification).

There are some great musical performances—GOD, a synth and cello-abetted Correspondents side-project, were particularly revelatory—and several of the musicians, playing versions of themselves, turn out to be able actors. Every episode ends on an effectively abrupt note, not exactly cliffhangers, just sudden jolts. And, like the music videos of fellow Genius Award winner Zia Mohajerjasbi, Shelton’s (and cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke's) shots of the city—beautiful, close-cropped, offbeat—present a Seattle far removed from its stereotypical representation: there’s no Space Needle, no endless shots of the waterfront, no Frasier skyline (ironically, this has the effect of making the city look less real, because it doesn’t conform to the stylized depiction we’re used to from, say, the Seattle season of MTV’s The Real World).

Still, I’m not sure how the series will play outside of Seattle—or even outside of SIFF Cinema, with its stacked audience of cast, crew, and industry types (even Shabazz Palaces was there!)—without the hometown pride and the little thrill of recognition. There are some dull stretches (even if some of those are meant to show us that being in a band is sometimes dull work), and the series doesn’t really hit its stride in terms of comedy or narrative until six episodes in. That may be fine in a theater, but online, where you can just click away to anything else in the world, those first couple episodes could do a lot more to grab you. If anything, you’re left feeling like this was just a pilot for a longer series (I’ve been watching Skins lately, so I’m imaging a version with a lot more sex and drugs, and no bleeping of the word “weed”)—there are so many characters and subplots here that you’d want to see teased out further rather than cut short as they are here.

There are two central speeches in the series. In one, an old man tells the Moondoggies they need to find a way to make money making music. In the other, the lead singer of the Lights extols the virtues of all us “great Seattlites” supporting each other and trying to spread our music to the rest of the world. One’s about business, one’s about love. The reality of $5 Cover: Seattle is somewhere in between.


Comments (16) RSS

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newradio 1
Will this be available for viewing in its entirety online? I'm sad I missed it...
Posted by newradio on March 2, 2010 at 12:29 PM · Report this
coolio 2
Pay attention.
It will be online @ in june.
Posted by coolio on March 2, 2010 at 12:47 PM · Report this
3 coulda been really good if it was Skins-like full on little to no censorship etc., but Shelton was working within the confines of MTV and her own ideas, probably not seeking too much from the bands and the actors, which is what many of the folks in this series are--performers, fakers, etc. Some scenes rock the house, some scenes are way way tiresome and really the love BS is played out...and those bars are much more packed and dirty in reality.

HOWEVER, its still a good project and it does not suck. Shelton is still growing as a filmmaker and has yet to make her "great movie"I'll wait to pass judgement on this cute thing until maybe an R rated version comes out...until then I still won't upgrade to basic cable.
Posted by until next year on March 2, 2010 at 12:48 PM · Report this
Granted, I haven't seen the loose script of this film, if there even is one. But you applauding Shelton for the shots of Seattle and her framing of the city is a bit ridiculous.

Shouldn't credit be given to the cinematographer of this series, Benjamin Kasulke?

Also, I lol'd at the amount of references to Genius award winners in a single post.
Posted by yhellothereinternets on March 2, 2010 at 1:12 PM · Report this
@4: Thanks. Added Kasulke's credit.
Posted by Eric Grandy on March 2, 2010 at 1:15 PM · Report this
seandr 6
Trailer looks interesting, thanks for the tip.

Was this all shot in Seattle? Because the girl/guy ratio on the dance floor at 1:00 was way higher than any dance floor in Seattle I've ever seen.
Posted by seandr on March 2, 2010 at 3:09 PM · Report this
I don't really understand the need to bring Zia Mohajerjasbi into this review... the late addition of a parenthetical reference to Shelton's remarkable cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke doesn't do justice to his loving and artful depiction of Seattle in $5 Cover.

Just because Benjamin hasn't won a genius award doesn't make it reasonable to blindly grasp for a reference to some Stranger favorite filmmaker who had absolutely nothing to do with the production of this show...
Posted by ryanh on March 2, 2010 at 3:35 PM · Report this
@7: If you read the Genius profile of Zia, you'll note this passage:

Forget the Space Needle, the Pike Place Market, and so on—"No Label" is set on and around the Dr. Jose Rizal Bridge, a fresh and cinematically unfamiliar view of the Seattle skyline—not from a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound or the heights of Queen Anne hill, but from the city's working-class and immigrant neighborhoods.

I make the comparison because I think $5 Cover achieves a similar effect of dislocating the viewer from stereotypical Seattle (albeit without Zia's working class/immigrant outlook). This is how analogies work.
Posted by Eric Grandy on March 2, 2010 at 3:51 PM · Report this
Estey 9
I love "Skins." First two seasons at least. Haven't seen the third.
Posted by Estey on March 2, 2010 at 3:58 PM · Report this
And seriously, I come at this—as most viewers probably will—not as a local film-making buff, but as a music fan. If you think the analogy's inapt, that's fine, but there's a reason behind it, and it's explained right there in the original post.
Posted by Eric Grandy on March 2, 2010 at 4:00 PM · Report this
josh 11
Skins Series 1 & 2 >> Series 3 & 4; almost to the degree that the complete $5 Cover series is better than its trailer. I don't know if it's going to catapult any of these bands from the verge that they're on into some stratosphere of MTV fame, but it sure makes Seattle's musical scene look unshowily great.
Posted by josh on March 2, 2010 at 4:17 PM · Report this
Estey 12
Could be a coincidence, but this bold new programming isn't surprising with Bill Flanagan at MTV now. He did wonders for VH1, back when it was good ("Storytellers"). His interviews for Musician magazine back in the 80s were essential (the Leonard Cohen profile was a masterpiece). His new novel "Evening's Empire" is the best book about major record labels since, oh, Flanagan's own "A&R." Again, it's great to see him at MTV ... and there might be a story here.
Posted by Estey on March 2, 2010 at 5:02 PM · Report this
so if the stories are all fiction, does that mean the comment "great seattlites supporting eachother ..." is also fiction. I would have to wager a yes bet. so sad.
Posted by tapehead on March 2, 2010 at 7:33 PM · Report this

Really? That's not what I've been seeing around town.
Posted by Jeff on March 3, 2010 at 1:26 PM · Report this
If it's so good, why does the preview SUCK? I'll remain skeptical.
Posted by moo on March 3, 2010 at 1:36 PM · Report this
I admit the trailer made me skeptical. But it's really funny! not immature poop jokes funny, but awkward moments in life, funny. I was surprised and really wish they had more time for each band.
Posted by 222 on March 4, 2010 at 7:28 PM · Report this

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