THE NXNE 2004 FILM FESTIVAL presents SEARCHING FOR SLY directed by Joeren Berkvens, at 2 pm. Rating: NN; and JANDEK ON CORWOOD directed by Chad Freidrichs, at 5 pm. Rating: NNNN. NFB Cinema (150 John), Sunday (June 13). Each film $5, free to wristband and pass holders. www.nxne.com
The two most intriguing films screening as part of NXNE 2004 both probe the myth and mystery surrounding cult music figures who've chosen to remain outside the spotlight. But that's really where the similarity between the two documentaries ends.
Searching For Sly is a slapdash hand-held video job put together by Joeren Berkvens, a film student from the Netherlands who travels to San Francisco to find out what happened to the innovative funk conceptualist behind the million-selling group Sly & the Family Stone.
Despite the absence of basic research and his lack of people skills, the inept Berkvens – best known for the Nick Drake study A Skin Too Few – somehow manages to stumble onto a couple of former Family members. But ultimately the woefully amateurish venture raises more questions about Sly Stone than it answers.
Chad Freidrichs's Jandek On Corwood is an altogether more professional and engaging study of the mystery surrounding a series of strangely compelling outsider folk recordings released under the name Jandek and the cultlike fascination they've inspired.
There are no vertifiable photographs of the elusive Jandek – the images on his record sleeves are only presumed to be him – much less any film footage, and there's only one known audio interview (recorded over the phone by John "Blind Man's Penis" Trubee in 85). And over the course of the 88 minute film, Freidrichs makes Desperately seeking cult music celebs no visible attempt to hunt down the person behind the Jandek recordings.
Instead he turns to the self-styled Jandek experts – a cast of music critics, label reps, record store staffers and radio personalities – who each has a different take on Jandek, whether based on years of careful analysis of the available recordings or pure speculation.
In the end, the great success of Jandek On Corwood is how Freidrichs deftly reveals the myth-making process while preserving the Jandek enigma, while the geeky know-it-alls never realize that the real subject of the film isn't actually Jandek, it's them.