David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee, 2020)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents David Byrne’s American Utopia.

Deeply reflective and exceptionally high-spirited, David Byrne’s theatrical concert American Utopia stormed Broadway with the ex-Talking Head’s mix of iconic music and quirky ideas. With a collection of eleven talented musicians, singers, and dancers supporting him and informed by the work of James Baldwin, Janelle Monáe, Hugo Ball, and Kurt Schwitters, the show plucked at the connections between us and aimed to start making sense of it all. With director Spike Lee commemorating the show for the screen, David Byrne’s American Utopia transforms the stage production into an immersive, dynamic cinema experience that radiates with astounding performances, inventive contemporary dance, and political urgency. A clarion call for protest, compassion, and shared responsibility and a new masterpiece among concert films, David Byrne’s American Utopia is the life-affirming rock-doc arriving at precisely the right time, ready to burn down the house.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • 4K digital master, approved by director Spike Lee and David Byrne, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio Soundtrack on the Blu-ray
  • Start Making Sense, a roundtable conversation with Lee, Byrne, musician Janelle Monáe, and critic Ashley Clark
  • One Fine Day, a new program of interviews with Lee, Byrne, and the film’s cast of performers
  • Slippery People, a conversation between choreographer Annie-B Parson and cinematographer Ellen Kuras
  • Remain in Light, an exploration of American Utopia stage design and its innovative lighting
  • Promotional discussions featuring Lee and Byrne
  • Meet the Band, introductory videos for the cast and crew
  • Additional performance of “Hell You Talmbout”
  • Trailer and teaser
  • English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • PLUS: An essay by film critic Robert Daniels

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Dinner in America (Adam Carter Rehmeier, 2020) – Fantasia International Film Festival 2020

AS AMERICAN AS APPLE PIE AND PUNK ROCK

In a dreary Michigan suburb, aggro punk rocker Simon (Kyle Gallner) finds himself on the run after a bout of arson and a close call with the police. A chance encounter with eccentric and socially awkward Patty (Emily Skeggs) provides him a place to hide from the law, though she fails to realize that her new friend is the anonymous lead singer of her favourite band. The pair embark on a series of misadventures and while their radically different personalities make them an unlikely duo, Simon and Patty realize that they have a lot more in common than first expected.

Dinner in America is an ode to the ’90s Nebraska punk-scene of writer-director Adam Carter Rehmeier and a hilarious underdog love story boosted by a generous helping of absurdity and some instantly quotable dialogue. Set to the beat of brilliant original songs and perfectly casting Skeggs and Gallner as a suburban Bonnie and Clyde, Dinner in America is a wild and empowering ride through the places and people of Middle America — in all their peculiar forms.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Adam Carter Rehmeier and producer Ross Putman
  • One Night Only, new interview on the film’s music with Rehmeier, Emily Skeggs, Kyle Gallner, and composer John Swihart
  • Freedom from Want, new interviews with supporting cast members Lea Thompson, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Pat Healy, and Griffin Gluck
  • Straight Shooting, new interview with cinematographer Jean-Philippe Bernier
  • Apocalypse Yow, new interview with musician and actor David Yow
  • Detroit Punk City, stories from cast and crew on the shoot
  • Outtakes and deleted scenes
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Soundtrack CD including a remix of “Watermelon” by Bernier
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by producer-director Ant Timpson

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Payday (Daryl Duke, 1972)

FOR MAURY DANN, EVERY DAY IS “PAYDAY”

In a rare starring role, Rip Torn plays Maury Dann, a hard-living country singer traveling the Deep South honky tonk circuit. Dann’s good ol’ boy smile charms even passing fans, but in private he is a greedy, entitled, and pitiless tyrant ruling from the back seat of a Cadillac sedan. Set over a day and a half, Payday reveals Maury’s unrepentant selfishness and cynicism, bedding young fans, popping pills, and casting off members of his entourage once they have outlasted his needs. Dann’s self-serving and hedonistic ways come to a head in a late night parking lot scuffle, transforming his megalomania into inevitable self-destruction.

Music critic and Payday producer Ralph Gleason declared that the objective of this staggeringly jaundiced portrait was a desire to provide an honest portrayal of life in the country music business. Under the direction of Daryl Duke (The Silent Partner), Payday rejected the polished image of country music, pointed the way toward the approaching outlaw country movement, and placed a spotlight on the magnetic presence of Rip Torn.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original mono audio (uncompressed LPCM)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Feature-length audio commentary with director Daryl Duke and producer Saul Zaentz
  • Risk Management, a new interview with actor Michael C. Gwynne
  • Ride-along, a new interview with actor Elayne Heilveil
  • Passing Through, a new interview with actor Cliff Emmich
  • The Music Man, a new interview with music supervisor Ed Bogas
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by musician and scholar Kim Simpson

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Clapping Music (Peter van der Ham, 2005)

In anticipation of our next proposal for a Criterion treatment, MMC! thought it might preview that upcoming discussion with an oddly related short – Peter van der Ham’s Clapping Music (2005). The film performs Steve Reich’s minimalist score “Clapping Music” through a scene from John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) where Angie Dickinson flails away at an impassive Lee Marvin, hitting him 1,344 times before crumpling at his feet. The effect of the short is fascinatingly hypnotic and it offers a kind of weird portrait of cinematic chauvinism in its exaggerated futility.

And so, if you like van der Ham’s Clapping Music, Point Blank, and novel editing choices, you should love MMC!’s next imagined Criterion edition! (Maybe I’ve said too much?)

SFFF Day 2 Report – Frenemies

The second day of the Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival leaned into bad behaviour, mostly by men, mostly among (supposed) friends. The program started light with Brent Hodge’s Who Let The Dogs Out (2019), an MMC! favourite of this year’s Calgary Underground Film Festival. Hodge, Alberta-born and in attendance at the SFFF, has found a niche with his self-described “comedy documentaries” like Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (2018), I Am Chris Farley (2015), and A Brony Tale (2014), and Who Let The Dogs Out further confirms Hodge’s mastery of the subgenre. Devoted to the Baha Men’s 2000 hit “Who Let The Dogs Out,” its myriad authorship claims, and its various legal battles among friends and stranger alike, Hodge distills Ben Sisto’s eight-year exploration and three-hour lecture on the track into a tight, enthralling 62-minute doc. Sisto acts as the song’s scruffy biographer, travelling the world’s music studios, courtrooms, and high schools to trace the origin of the song’s ubiquitous catchphrase. This BOSUD (a “biopic of someone undeserving,” to use Dennis Bingham’s terminology) is a definite crowd-pleaser, being far more fascinating that its novelty subject matter should allow for. The SFFF was the last festival stop for Who Let The Dogs Out as it now transitions to cable and streaming platforms. Look for it on Crave in Canada!

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The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978)

An inspiration to the Nelvana animation studio’s first feature, Rock & Rule (Clive A. Smith, 1983), The Devil and Daniel Mouse (Clive A. Smith, 1978) was the Canadian animator’s second television special. Following 1977’s A Cosmic Christmas (Clive A. Smith, 1977), this Halloween program takes its inspiration from Stephen Vincent Benét’s classic short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” and mines Canadian artistic anxieties over American cultural imperialism and selling out. Struggling folk duo Jan and Daniel Mouse are fired from their last gig and Jan sells her soul to the demonic record producer B.L. Zebub, transforming her into the hit sensation Funky Jan. Success is bittersweet for Jan as she misses Daniel but when B.L. claims his payment under the contract, it’s Daniel who stands up for her in a trial of the damned that culminates in a musical final statement that carries the day. The short features some solid tracks by John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful and singer-songwriter Valerie Carter, as well as some stunning animation for the infernal B.L. Zebub.

Those looking for more on The Devil and Daniel MouseRock & Rule, and the failed early efforts of Nelvana to achieve its own commercial and artistic independence should consult Keir-La Janisse’s excellent essay “A Song from the Heart Beats the Devil Every Time: The Fear of Selling Out in Nelvana’s The Devil and Daniel Mouse and Rock and Rule” in Gina Freitag and André Loiselle’s The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul.