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Music Video Distributors presents
Songs For Cassavetes (2000)

"In this country people die at the age of 21. They die emotionally at the age of 21, maybe younger. My responsibility as an artist is to help them past 21."
- John Cassavetes

Review By: Daniel Hirshleifer   
Published: April 08, 2002

Stars: Sleater-Kinney, Tullycraft, Unwound, Henry's Dress, The Peechees, Some Velvet Sidewalk
Other Stars: Dub Narcotic Sound System, Further, The Hi-Fives, The Make-Up
Director: Justin Mitchell

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (no objectionable content)
Run Time: 01h:36m:14s
Release Date: September 11, 2001
UPC: 022891432791
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- DB-C+ C-

DVD Review

At its best, Songs For Cassavetes is a document of a portion of the indie rock scene. At its worst, Cassavetes is a portrait of elitist, whining, idealistic young musicians who speak in platitudes and sound ridiculous. It is a shame to see such talent revealed to be so silly, but part of me revels in the fact that these people are really just jealous and petty individuals, like the rest of us. The sad thing is that the filmmakers actually agree with their subjects, so the whole enterprise comes off like a self-righteous round of mutual backslapping.

Director Justin Mitchell interviewed members of several bands, as well as other prominent figures in the indie rock scene and filmed their live performances on a 16mm black & white camera. Apparently, because of this, the film has "indie" credibility. Yes, the movie is independently produced, but for the most part, it is really boring. Even the most exciting performances seem dulled by simply having been put on film, and it doesn't help that the bands are out of focus half the time.

The interviews are the heart and soul of the film, however, not the concert footage; it is here we see the absurdity of being one hundred percent sincere about anything. One of the first things we hear is that all mainstream music is junk, which right from the beginning is absurd. Major labels sign talented people. Plenty of talented people don't get signed, but plenty of untalented people don't get signed and end up in the indie underground. Even The Boredoms were signed to a major label. And if they're worthless, then I don't see the point of listening to music anymore. Almost all of these artists feel the need to rail against a capitalist society. Of course, they don't realize that most classical music was made on commission, and that most non-capitalist societies don't have as much freedom in the arts as capitalist ones.

The viewpoints in this film sound like political propaganda from rebels in some South American country. None of these people have a sense of humor; they say what they believe straight-faced, making it all the more funny. They talk a lot about integrity and any other jingoistic thought that pops into their heads. Music doesn't need to be so baldly political. And, in fact, it's usually better when it's not. Music is the most abstract art we have, and politics don't mix too well with that. If Songs For Cassavetes shows anything, that's it.

By the way, in case you were wondering where the title came from, the film is inspired by a quote from the late indie film director John Cassavetes, who amazingly also shot a lot of his film on 16mm in black & white. However, there is another independent filmmaker who shot in 16mm for his early career that the makers of this film seemed to forget about: John Waters. And if Waters has succeeded at anything, it's making fun of the pomposity found in the kind of people who appear in this documentary.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: D


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Songs For Cassavetes shows how elastic 16mm film stock is. The film here looks very good, with only a minimal amount of grain. There is a lot of detail to be found, despite the bad lighting in most shots. It obviously doesn't look as good as a print struck from a 35mm or 70mm negative, but for what it is, it looks good.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The sound is a bit hissy, and even quiet, but you can still hear the bands when they perform, and you can make out what the people are saying.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Video montage/radio interview
Extras Review: The sole extra on this disc is a radio interview with Justin Mitchell and co-producer Marvin Miranda. While they talk, small images of whatever band/person they are talking about show up on the screen. This interview summarizes the whole point of the movie in a more concise and entertaining movie than the feature. However, even it becomes silly when Justin and Marvin begin to wholeheartedly agree with the more absurd comments that some of the interviewees in the film make. If you've already soldiered through the movie, it is worth your time to listen to this.

Extras Grade: C-


Final Comments

WARNING: You should only watch Songs For Cassavetes if you either worship the bands on the film, no matter what they say, or if you have a high tolerance for BS. If you are pregnant, have heart disease, or like bands for the quality of their music rather than their politics, regardless of whether they "stayed true" to their beliefs or "sold out," then you should not see this, lest your health be adversely affected.


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