Embracing Portland’s adoration of and deep connection to music, each year the NW Film Center programmers spend the year on the lookout for new works (and timely classics) for our annual celebration of music and image. Spanning musical genres from jazz and blues to funk and punk, the Reel Music Festival is full of inspiration for music and cinema fans alike. This year’s festival will be held from January 13 through February 5.
There will be numerous films offered this year featuring blues and roots music that just may appeal to you. At this time (BluesNotes deadline), dates and screening times are not quite set in stone, so please check out the nwfilm.org website for further information.
Here’s a quick run-down on blues-related films being shown:
Cocksucker Blues, US, 1972
dir. Robert Frank and Danny Semour (93 mins., bad boys, Digibeta)
In 1972, famed photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank followed the Rolling Stones on their first North American tour since the Altamont debacle —an outing in promotion of their new “Exile On Main Street” album. While the Stones commissioned the film, Frank’s portrait of their rock ‘n’ roll road life—yes, sex, drugs and rock & roll (interspersed by tedium) struck such an unflattering note that the film was immediately shelved. Save for some poor bootleg copies, it has remained largely unseen for four decades. This rare screening of the raunchy time-capsule affords vintage performances of “Brown Sugar,” “All Down the Line,” “Satisfaction,” and more; it has been called “The best Rolling Stones movie you’ve never seen.” This one is for adult audiences.
A Song For You: The Austin City Limits Story, US, 2016
dir. Keith Maitland (97 mins., Americana, DCP)
On the air for over 40 years, Austin City Limits is the longest running music program on television. Originally intended to celebrate the Texas music scene—indigenous blues, western swing, Tejano, country, and rock—over the years the stage has been home to the best of everything from everywhere, including jazz, folk and alts of every persuasion. Keith Maitland’s valentine to ACL goes behind the scenes to tell the story of the show’s evolution and features performances and interviews with the likes of Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Charles, Beck, Alabama Shakes, Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Wilco, Lyle Lovett and many more.
The Rolling Stones Olé Olé Olé! A Trip Across Latin America, UK, 2016
dir. Paul Dugdale (105 mins., old guys still rockin’, DCP)
In early 2016 the Rolling Stones toured South and Central American, performing sold-out shows in Mexico City, Lima, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and São Paulo, finally winding up in Havana where more than a million people turned out for the band’s first-ever concert in Cuba. Brimming with beloved hits, casual conversation on the road, and an inside look at the interworking of the creation of the historic Cuba show. Olé Olé Olé! reveals not only the international affection the band enjoys and the sophistication of their shows, but the enduring power of their music five decades on.
A Poem Is a Naked Person, US, 1974
dir. Les Blank with Maureen Gosling (90 mins., documentary, DCP)
Les Blank’s portrait of Leon Russell went unreleased for 40 years before hitting the screen. Russell, who also coproduced, wasn’t happy with the result, so questions of rights and differences of opinion meant that only a handful of people ever saw the film. Blank shot the footage between 1972 and 1974 while living on the property of Russell’s Shelter Records recording studio in NE Oklahoma. Four decades later, the footage functions as a time machine to a lost place and time. In addition to concert and studio recordings of Russell and fellow artists Willie Nelson and George Jones, Blank observes the scene with the intimate vérité that is the hallmark of all his films, capturing the spirit and feeling as much as the fabulous music.
Two Trains Runnin’, US, 2015
dir. Sam Pollard (80 mins.,documentary, DCP)
In June, 1964, college students from throughout the country, impassioned by the civil rights movement, traveled to Mississippi in what would be known as Freedom Summer. That same month, two separate groups of musicians, students and record collectors also arrived in Mississippi. Though neither group was aware of the other, each had come on the same mission: to find an old blues singer who since recording in the 1930s, had be lost to time. Thirty years before, Son House and Skip James had recorded some of the most memorable music of their era, but where were they now? The telling of how their parallel quests collided in the mix of social activism revisits a watershed moment in American culture, ever relevant in an era continuing to wrestle with police brutality, voting rights, social justice and the legacy of the blues. Narrated by Common and featuring music by Gary Clark Jr., Buddy Guy, Lucinda Williams, Valerie June, the North Mississippi Allstars and more.
Bobby Blue Bland: Two Steps From the Blues, UK, 2009
dir. Paul Spencer (60 mins. documentary, DCP)
Memphis legend Bobby “Blue” Bland (1930-2013) began his career with B.B. King and ballad singer Johnny Ace in the 1950s, going on to become one of the great stars in blues and soul music. Along with such fellow greats as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland mixed gospel, blues and R&B with big-band backing to fashion his own sophisticated style of telling stories of love and betrayal. His style, and such hit songs such as “Farther Up on the Road,” “I Pity the Fool,” and “Cry Cry Cry,” influenced generations of diverse artists from Elvis, Otis Redding, and Van Morrison to The Allman Brothers and Jay Z. Spencer’s film, made for the BBC., traces Bland’s musical path, drawing on the reflections of Van Morrison, Quincy Jones, BB King, Mick Hucknall and others.
Bobby Womack: Across 110th Street, UK, 2013
dir. James Maycock (60 mins., documentary, DCP)
Soul singer Bobby Womack (1944-2014) stared his career in the 1950s as a member of the gospel group The Womack Brothers. By the 1960s, he was singing and playing guitar for Sam Cooke, mentored by James Brown, and soon had the Rolling Stones (“It’s All Over Now”) and Wilson Pickett recording his songs. After working as a session guitarist with everyone from Aretha Franklin, Joe Tex, Ray Charles and Sly & the Family Stone, Womack finally emerged as a major soul star in his own right with hits like “Across 110th Street,” “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” and “Lookin’ For Love,” the beginning of an eclectic career that involved diverse musical associations in all genres and a multitude of ups and downs fueled by an erratic, and sometimes tragic personal life. James Maycock’s BBC-made portrait chronicles one amazing singer and career: “Soul-music genius Bobby Womack had talent to burn — and he burned it.”—Rolling Stone.
Mose Allison: Ever Since I Stole the Blues, UK, 2005
Dir. Paul Bernays (60 mins., documentary, digital)
Paul Bernays affectionate portrait tells the story of legendary jazz/blues singer, songwriter and pianist Mose Allison (1927-2016)—called the “jazz sage,” by some, the “William Faulkner of jazz” by others, and a treasure by most everyone — and his journey from Tippo, Mississippi, to the world. Occupying a singular place and influence in the pantheon of greats, among those singing Mose’s praises are Pete Townsend, Van Morrisson, Georgie Fame, Loudon Wainwright, Elvis Costello, and Bonnie Raitt . As the Kinks’ Ray Davies once said, “When I discovered Mose Allison I felt I had discovered the missing link between jazz and blues.”
Van Morrison, Pete Townshend and a host of musicians pay tribute to the singer and pianist from Mississippi known as the “jazz sage”.
How Sweet the Sound—The Blind Boys of Alabama, US, 2015
dir. Leslie McCleave (89 mins., gospel, DCP)
Gospel greats The Blind Boys of Alabama have an amazing career—since meeting at a Talladega institute for the blind in the 1930s and creating a band, they have toured continuously, amassing five Grammy Awards and universal acclaim. They soared through the golden era of gospel in the 1950s, experienced difficult times when rock ’n’ roll took over, and resurged with the Broadway hit “Gospel at Colonus.” Now as the group enters its seventh decade, they are as artistically vital as ever, collaborating with musicians like Peter Gabriel, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Ben Harper, and others. Leslie McCleave follow their remarkable story over ten years on the road and in the studio, emerging with a rousing portrait of these gospel legends.
A portrait drawn from ten years on the road with these enduring gospel greats.
I Am the Blues, Canada, 2015
dir. Daniel Cross (106 mins., Mississippi blues, DCP)
I Am The Blues provides a musical journey through the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou, the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta and Moonshine soaked BBQs in the North Mississippi Hill Country. Visiting some of the last original blues musicians in the deep South, many now in their 80’s and 90s and still working the Chitlin’ Circuit, the memories and music harken an era coming to a close. Let Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, Lazy Lester, Little Freddie King, Bilbo Walker, RL Boyce, Jimmy ’Duck’ Holmes, Lil Buck Sinegal, LC Ulmer and their friends give you a taste of the blues as
they’ve lived it.