Hot Docs, North America's biggest documentary film festival, kicks off its 2011 run on April 28 in Toronto. Jam-packed with documentaries running through May 8, Moviefone Canada will be there from start to finish, offering up looks at some of the festival's noted films.
When alt-comic/anti-hipster-schlubb Harvey Pekar suddenly pops onto the screen with no identifying credit in Alan Zweig's 'Vinyl,' it becomes clear how this documentary reached cult status.
The late creator of the superhero-free comic, 'American Splendor,' simply weighs in on music and relationships, just like everyone else does in 'Vinyl.' Watch a little closer and there's Canadian writer/actor Don McKellar, director Guy Maddin, Daniel Richler, Bruce LaBruce, and writer/columnist Geoff Pevere. Heck, Bruce MacDonald produced the thing. If these were the guys hanging with Zweig before he had an audience as a filmmaker, it's no wonder Hot Docs has decided to make his litany of projects the focus of the 2011 fest.
Other titles by Zweig at the fest include the 'Vinyl' sequels 'Loveable' and 'I Curmudgeon,' his 'Early Shorts,' the recent prison system doc 'A Hard Name,' and 'Vinyl: The Alternate Take.'
Some scenes in 'Vinyl' are well over a decade old and they stand the test of time. Released originally in 2000, Zweig's two-hour doc is mainly about lonely guys, including him, who collect records. Not CDs, not tapes, but vinyl. LP's, 45's, 7 inch –- 33,45 and 78 speeds.
With its rocky editing and lo-fi images, 'Viny'l strolls along downtown Toronto, stopping at indie record stores and the homes of compulsive packrats, sewn together by a couple dozen Zweig testimonials about the effects that record collecting has had on his relationships, or lack thereof.
The characters you meet in 'Vinyl' are the best kind. There's the guy who cleans every record he owns –- alphabetically. Another fellow can rhyme-off the song listings, performer and writer of every track on every album he owns. A young Geoff Pevere decides that throwing out his entire collection into a trash bin is better than letting someone else own his beloved musical autobiography.
These people seem to have drug-like addictions to the physical presence of records and the casings they come in. One man claims that he doesn't even listen to his albums, another claims he dreams of records that don't exist, while another feels that replacing his old vinyl with CDs makes the loss of the original format feel even worse. Complete and mint-condition Elvis Presley and Frank Zappa collections make appearances, alongside fascinating titles like Sado Maso Disco, Organ and Bongos, and a personal favorite, Music to Iron your Clothes to.
Zweig himself has earned the moniker of 'negative guy' thanks in part to his cathartic monotone testimonials about loneliness, escapism and the need to be a father –- something he has remedied since. To add a little drama, he threatens to get rid of his entire collection. His monologues are the homework of 'Vinyl,' but the payoff borders on profound.
In a recent interview, he weighed in on the doc's enduring cult following:
"Part of it is because I never released it on DVD, mostly to do with the fact that when I was making it, I genuinely didn't think anybody would see it. I always feel like there is a large percentage, maybe 20 percent, maybe higher, of serious record collectors that seriously hate it. A guy finally made a film about record collecting, and yet he didn't make a movie about record collecting. I think the people who do like it, and get it, and think it's about record collecting -- they come to its defense."
Can we busy ourselves to avoid the pain of living? Surely we have metaphorical record collections of our own that bring us both pleasure and despair. If you like to laugh, have a healthy dose of curiosity and know a thing or two about music –- 'Vinyl' is worth a first, second or umpteenth viewing.
Thursday, May 5, 9:30PM - The Royal Cinema
For complete schedule and movie listings, visit the Hot Docs website.