Now ten years old, the annual Doc’n Roll Film Festival, brought a handpicked selection of new music documentaries to Dukes At Komedia and the Duke of York’s over the last October weekend. We were fortunate to get to the first three screenings and you can read our reviews below.
Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill
Dukes At Komedia, Friday 27th November
This intimate look at the unique singer-songwriter begins with concert footage of Fleet Foxes introducing Sill’s ‘The Kiss’ which fades into Sill’s Old Grey Whistle Test performance of the same. The film details her troubled early life, filled with tragedy, armed robbery and incarceration. It was in reform school that she learned the organ and began incorporating gospel elements into her complex songs.
There are talking heads: friends, lovers and enemies, many key players in her life such as J.D. Souther, Graham Nash and David Crosby, David Geffen and new fans Big Thief and Weyes Blood. As with other music documentaries (Sparks Brothers, Searching For Sugarman) there are animations, in this case taken from her journals, music manuscripts and sketches but there is also a lot of grainy live footage that captures her talent and individuality.
The interviews paint a picture of a songwriter who mixed Bach, country, folk and jazz to create two brilliant albums that were just too complex and out-of-step with labelmates such as Jackson Browne and The Eagles. While their fame and fortune soared, she sank and got dropped. Sill is shown as being driven to create non-secular masterpieces that are an offering to God, with an exhausting work ethic, all while dealing with the horrors of long-term drug addiction and later, constant back pain from a car accident.
Throughout the film, much of which is told by Judee through archive interview tapes, it’s the music that stands out and this film is sure to generate a new wave of interest in this tortured soul’s beautiful music, which sadly ended with her death at only 33.
Dirs. Brian Lindstrom, Andy Brown | US | 2023 | 90 min
Blues Run the Game: The Strange Tale of Jackson C. Frank
Dukes At Komedia, Saturday 28th November
Another master songwriter that died young and half-forgotten, Frank must be one of the most hard-done-by performers ever. He survived a horrific school fire that left him scarred and disabled for life, became a mainstay of London’s folk scene in the mid-1960s but was unable to capitalise on his initial success.
Throughout the film, Frank’s friends and fellow musicians tell the story of this hugely talented, generous soul who was beset by misfortune throughout his life. With no performance footage of him known to exist, aside from a 12-second clip from Les Cousins club in Soho from the 1960s, the director uses Frank’s music with travelogue clips of the areas in the UK and USA where he lived.
Al (Year Of The Cat) Stewart talks fondly of working with Frank in London and playing on his only album, which was produced by Paul Simon. Periods of hospitalisation and homelessness are covered and there are moments where he tries to make a return to music but his physical and mental health make this extremely difficult.
Given the lack of information about Frank, the director has done a great job of hunting down and getting loving testimonials from friends and former lovers who remember a troubled poet, haunted by the fire that almost killed him, seeking solace in buying sports cars and always picking up the tab until the money ran out. A difficult reunion with the since-deceased John Renbourn is covered and the photos show Frank in bad shape. He died in a homeless shelter in 1999 but left a beautiful album that will no doubt be sought out by enquiring listeners for years to come.
Dir. Damien Aimé Dupont | France & UK | 2023 | 84 min
Free Party: A Folk History
Duke of York’s, Saturday 28th November
This is a film where music and politics not only mix, they positively square up to each other and have a running battle. Tonight’s screening is sold out and starts late as soggy, ex-ravers queue up at the bar and catch up with old friends before taking their seats.
Director Aaron Trinder, a former raver himself, introduces the film and informs us it took five years, beginning with a Kickstarter campaign, to complete. The documentary expertly details the Saturday night ritual of driving to who-knew-where, based on flyers and phone calls, guided by lasers and lights in the night sky when you were close.
This was the tail end of the Thatcher era (cue boos when the hated PM appeared on screen) and, incredibly, saw previously polar opposite groups of people, such as football casuals, hunt sabs, travelling communities and various outsiders, come together with the common goal of partying through the weekend to various and ever-evolving forms of rave music and plenty of cheap drugs. The many clips of gurning dancers – off their heads and having the best time – garner cheers from the audience, along with “ahhs” as old friends appear and even a “that’s me!” from one former reveller.
There’s a history of English free festivals, going back to Elizabethan times and focussing heavily on Glastonbury 1990 where things came to a head with the authorities. Many of the key players from Spiral Tribe, Circus Warp and more describe how they emerged from being squatters to organising huge free parties before the age of mobile phones and the internet.
We are shown how the scene was almost obliterated by the Criminal Justice Bill and heavy-handed policing but always managed to reform as warehouse parties in deserted buildings, including London’s Roundhouse and even, taking the party on the road in mainland Europe. The activist elements joined the Newbury Bypass protest and Reclaim The Streets movements and many others are now involved with mainstream festivals such as Boomtown and the far-from-free Glastonbury.
Turner has made a great job of telling the story of having fun, expressing the freedom to roam, protest and party, while kicking back at the extremes of Tory policy. The huge cheers as the credits rolled was well deserved.
Dir Aaron Trinder | UK | 2023 | 107 mins