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What Do You Get When You Cross AMERICAN MOVIE & THIS IS SPINAL TAP? (1 Viewer)

Randy A Salas

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If you like American Movie and This Is Spinal Tap, then the documentary duo Driver 23 and The Atlas Moth will hold great appeal. The films, which each won the Minnesota Film Board's annual D.L. Mabery Award (best picture) and various film festival awards, chronicle the incredible (and often futile) adventures of Minneapolis rocker Dan Cleveland as he tries to make it big with his heavy-metal band Dark Horse. Driver 23 also was featured in the prestigious Whitney Biennial.
  • * Watch Dan try to lug heavy equipment out of his basement using a precariously rigged "pulley system."
    * Watch Dan turn two garbage guitars into a double-necked electro-acoustic monstrosity.
    * Watch Dan create a bass amplifier so big that it needs to be stored in a barn.
    * Watch Dan explain his psychological disorder using auto parts and a socket set.
    * Watch Dan take five years to record a CD.

On Tuesday (May 27), Image releases a fantastic DVD ($19.95 MSRP; $15 at discount) that collects both 75-minute films and includes great feature-length commentaries by Dan Cleveland and Minneapolis filmmaker Rolf Belgum, who directed both movies. The disc also includes an audio bonus, a fantastically mixed song by Dark Horse. I highly recommend the movies and the DVD and bring them to your attention only because the films haven't played anywhere but at a few festivals and at the Whitney. (They're not even listed on IMDb, an oversight that needs to be corrected.) But wherever they've played, they've been a huge hit.

I interviewed Belgum for this week's DVD column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where I wrote more about the DVD. In addition, you can find a photo of Dark Horse (from left, drummer Jon Mortenson, bassist Sean Cassidy and singer/guitarist Dan Cleveland) with director Rolf Belgum and the double-necked guitar here.

If you've seen these Minnesota-made originals, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
 

Mark Cappelletty

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Randy, is "The Atlas Moth" a sequel to "Driver 23"? I've seen the latter on Sundance and laughed my ass off. What Randy has failed to mention is that Dan Cleveland seemingly hot-glued said guitars together.
 

Randy A Salas

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I should add something that I didn't have room to mention in the article but that HTF members would want to know:

1) This is not a DVD for A/V demonstrations. Each film was shot and edited on digital video for $750.

Belgum tells a wonderful story about this. After winning the second D.L. Mabery Award, another filmmaker approached Belgum: "He asked what did your film come in at? And I said well the first one was shot for 750. And he said, how did you raise $750,000? And I said, no, $750!"

Anyway, the video looks fine, but keep in mind that it was all shot on a handheld camcorder.

2) When I noted that the films are letterboxed, I meant that in the truest sense of the word. The DVD is not anamorphic. The films were hard-matted in post-production at 1.85:1 and the shots were composed for that ratio. "I like that format much better," Belgum said about the letterboxing. An anamorphic transfer would do nothing to boost the films' quality, considering the source material (as noted above), but it does admittedly make it more of a pain to watch for those with 16x9 displays. I apologize for not noting this in my first posting.
 

Mark Cappelletty

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Another film similar to this and "American Movie" is the amazing "Mule Skinner Blues," about a bunch of oddballs in small-town Florida who decide to make a horror movie. It's been on IFC, but isn't on DVD yet.
 

Vince Maskeeper

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Which, of course, immediately brings to mind the wonderful Errol Morris documentary Vernon, Florida.

That movie makes me wish I was a turkey hunter.
 

Blu

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I emailed the producers of Mule Skinner Blues and they replied that the Sundance Channel's new dvd line will be producing a DVD this summmer sometime!
 

Mark Cappelletty

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Nice! The "Turnabout Is Fairplay" movie that the Mule Skinner Blues folks create makes "Coven" look like Citizen Kane!

Looked for "Driver 23" at LA's Laser Blazer today and came up short.
 

Karl F

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Dec 21, 2002
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This reminds me of a DVD I watched a few weeks ago called "Friends Forever." It's a documentary about the two guys who comprise the titular band -- they just pull up to a curb in their VW van and play a 15 minute set -- mostly from inside the van -- then they'll drive 400 miles just to do another 15 minute curbside set. It's a whole lot of effort and passion to produce very little result.

It's maybe a little long, but worth checking out.

--K
 

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