COLOR ME OBSESSED (Gorman Bechard, 2011, US, DigiBeta, 123 mins.)
What Were We Thinking Films, Inc.
It almost seemed like, on some level, it was a drunken art project with Bob. —Writer Tom Kielty on founder/guitarist Bob Stinson
I was leery about this documentary for three reasons: 1) I don't listen to the Replacements anymore, 2) it doesn't include the members or their music, and 3) the poster sports the Spin-inspired phrase "last best band." Not a promising start.
That said, most rock docs follow the VH1 Behind the Music model, so it's refreshing to find a filmmaker brave or stupid enough to try something different. In this case, Gorman Bechard allows fans and associates to tell the 'Mats story. In place of commentary from the quartet, he uses on-screen text to fill in the blanks, starting from their humble Minneapolis beginnings in 1979 as Dogbreath.
A year later, the newly-christened Impediments (Paul Westerberg, Bob Stinson, Chris Mars, and 13-year-old Tommy Stinson) released a four-track demo, which led to a manager, Peter Jesperson, and a deal with his Twin/Tone label.
As the story continues, Bechard zooms in on ticket stubs, posters, fanzines, set lists, and other mementos, but no images of the group (until the end credits), which is unfortunate, especially when people describe Bob's infamous outfits, which ranged from tutus to garbage bags. The good news: you get used to it.
Before releasing their 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, the foursome finally became the Replacements. Hootenanny producer Paul Stark remembers that Bob, the group’s designated Brian Jones, was "really good after two beers" and "really bad after four." Bad would eventually overtake the good.
Village Voice pop critic Robert Christgau, who rated 1983's Hootenany a B+, wonders if he should’ve given it a higher grade. Later, he adds, "The other records are really good, but Let It Be is just something else. It never stops. The songwriting is amazing." (He assigned both Tim and Pleased to Meet Me an A-.)
Other speakers include Steve Albini (in a Dead Moon t-shirt), Craig Finn (the Hold Steady), Colin Meloy (the Decemberists), Grant Hart and Greg Norton (Hüsker Dü), Mac McCaughan (Superchunk), Matt Gentling (Archers of Loaf), Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows), David Carr (The New York Times), Lori Barbero (Babes in Toyland), Legs McNeil (Please Kill Me), Jim DeRogatis (Sound Opinions), Ira Robbins (Trouser Press), Jack Rabid (The Big Takeover), George Wendt, Dave Foley, and Bill Schneck, "a basic, middle-aged family guy."
He may not have had to clear any music rights, but Bechard deserves credit for assembling 140 individuals to tell this tale. Like many early adherents, I’d never work up the same degree of enthusiasm for the band after Let It Be, which Meloy wrote about in his entry for Continuum's 33 1/3 series, but I would continue to follow their career, more as an interested observer than a devoted fan.
The rest of the film represents a sad, but compelling wallow in alcoholism, interpersonal tension, artistic compromise, and flashes of brilliance, as the 'Mats signed to Warner Brothers, played SNL, worked with the late, great Jim Dickinson, and fired Bob, Peter, and Chris (Bob died in 1995). Then they broke up.
In the end, the quality of the interviews makes Color Me Obsessed worthwhile—for Replacements fans. As I heard about certain songs, they played in my head, because I'm familiar with their discography. It doesn't matter that I never purchased anything after Let It Be (though I liked Pleased to Meet Me). Someone who doesn't share that familiarity will be missing a lot of context. I can't say how the documentary would play for them, but I wouldn't recommend it.
In 1989, a friend who worked at Sony, sent me a bootleg of the live release The Shit Hits the Fans, which sprung from an audience member's confiscated cassette. Since I never saw the Replacements live, it's a swell souvenir.
Color Me Obsessed offers the same sort of semi-legit experience, and reminded me why I once loved these guys so much, though I still detest "Achin' to Be." It ends tonight, 10/23, at the NWFF. For more info, please see the official site.