From “Long Strange Trip” to “Summer of Soul,” the M.V. Film Center launches the popular Filmmusic Festival this weekend. Seven films will play.
‘Long Strange Trip’
One of the first, playing on Thursday, June 24, is “Long Strange Trip,” a series featuring the Grateful Dead and playing in the Film Center. Directed by Amir Bar-Lev, the first episode of this series narrates the beginnings of the legendary band. It started as the Warlocks with Jerry Garcia as the band’s inspiration and leader. The series describes how Garcia was influenced as a child by “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein,” goes on to describe how Jack Kerouac became Garcia’s hero; and then his hookup with Ken Kesey. LSD became an important part of the band’s performance ethos. Its experiments with psychedelics became a way to get away from “all of that safeness,” according to one band member. “By confronting death you learn how to live” was their credo.
‘In the Heights’
Friday, June 25, brings “In the Heights,” the critically acclaimed musical celebrating the Uptown New York Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights, and “Sparks Brothers,” the remarkable, eccentric band with 50 years of music.
Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical of the same name, “In the Heights” is directed by Jon Chu of “Crazy Rich Asians” fame. Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi, Dominican owner of a small bodega, or convenience store, and Jimmy Smits, car service owner Kevin Rosario. With a plot including their romances, families, and aspirations, the imaginative “In the Heights” also includes an overhead of a Busby Berkeley–style swimmers’ water wheel and a gravity-defying dance on the side of a building. Miranda appears as a street vendor of urban juice drinks. With plot playing a relatively minor role, this film breaks into repertoires of joyous song and dance that makes it a delight to watch.
Two-and-a-half hours of the “Sparks Brothers” is a celebration of and delving into this cult band, which many have not heard of but will love once they’ve been introduced to Ron and Russell Mael. Director Edgar Wright matches the band’s uniqueness with animation, archival footage, lively editing, and imaginative takes.
Beginning with their childhood, “Sparks Brothers” explores how their songs and albums hit the highs and lows of the music business. With Ron’s Hitler- and Chaplin-like mustache and Russell’s performances, they played some 500 songs that were always unexpected and sometimes shockingly unique.
Come Saturday, June 26, are two documentaries, “Ronnie’s,” about the much-vaunted jazz club, playing online and in the Film Center; and “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” only in the Film Center. “Ronnie’s” opens with the comment that only an idiot would go into the jazz club business.
With a father who played the saxophone influencing him, Ronnie Scott decided to form his own band and, eventually, club. Pete King became his business colleague, and their partnership contributed in large part to the club’s success.
Scott moved from London to 52nd Street in New York to join the locale of most of the jazz clubs. “It was like being transported to dreamland,” he said, with high praise coming from Downbeat magazine. The film illustrates plenty of the musicians, from Zoot Sims to Dexter Gordon, that built the club’s reputation. Scott died in 1996, but the legendary center of jazz and blues he ran continues to exist at the same Frith Street location in London.
‘Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart’
Although not available for review, “Bee Gees” examines Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb and their 50-year career. Critics describe how they garnered 20 No.1 hits, and includes interviews with the oldest brother Barry, as well as archival ones with the late twins, Maurice and Robin. The film includes recording sessions, concert performances, and TV appearances, as well as home videos. Also in the film are interviews with Eric Clapton, Noel Gallagher, Nick Jonas, Justin Timberlake. and others.
Sunday, June 27, ends this festival with “Los Hermanos/The Brothers,” playing online and in the M.V. Film Center, and “Summer of Soul,” only in the theater.
The documentary “Los Hermanos” describes the lives and music of two Cuban performers, violinist Ilmar Gavilán and his younger brother, pianist and composer Alvan López-Gavilán. Once they immigrated to the U.S., they were able to play together. The film, with plenty of the music of the two, also examines the relationship between Cuba and the U.S.
‘Summer of Soul’
“Summer of Soul (Or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)” concludes the festival with an exploration of a fascinating variety of Black music. Based on the six-week 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, it features Stevie Wonder, the 5th Dimension, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone, among others. After 50 years, the footage of this classic event re-emerged as a film, with recent interviews added. Winning the 2021 Sundance Jury Prize and Audience Award, “Summer of Soul” plays only in the Film Center and celebrates Black history and culture through its music. It’s a documentary not to be missed, and will play again on Friday, July 2.
Information and tickets for the Filmmusic Festival are available at mvfilmsociety.com.