On The Wild Side Of The Screen

Justin Pearce

LOUIS ARMSTRONG, Talking Heads and the Leningrad Cowboys are among the artists who will appear on independent cinema screens when the Primal Screen Music Film Festival plays in Cape Town and Johannesburg next month.

Organised by Cas Rasch of Savage Eye Filmworks, Primal Screen brings together a collection of films and videos from Europe and the United States with music as the unifying theme. They include footage of live concerts, documentaries and biopics about musicians, and fiction feature films with musical connections.

Satchmo appears in Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a documentary record of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival; the Talking Heads in True Stories, David Byrne’s typically oddball treatment of middle America.


The Leningrad Cowboys (they have been dubbed “the world’s worst rock band”) star in their second movie, The Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses.

Rasch was prompted to initiate the festival because he was “sick and tired of the movies on circuit — very few of them are actually special”. But the choice of music as the linking theme was not an arbitrary one: “Music films quite specifically expose cultures and subcultures of the country they come from, or reflect a particular era of subcultural activity.”

Walk on the Wild Side is a case in point: part of a BBC series entitled Tales of Rock and Roll, it examines the story behind Lou Reed’s song, which is inseparable from the characters who surrounded Andy Warhol’s Factory in the New York of the late sixties.

Alex Cox’s Sid and Nancy is a dramatised account of the last days of Sid Vicious which also definitively evokes the punk era. Rob Reiner’s already classic pseudo-documentary This is Spinal Tap sends up the pretensions of heavy metal.

Live performance videos will include the Unplugged series which drew adult audiences for the first time to MTV; the series comprises low-tech coverage of concerts by Elvis Costello, Midnight Oil, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Annie Lennox.

At the other end of the spectrum are films in which music is only incidental, like Christopher MYnch’s The Hours and the Times, a fictional account of the friendship between John Lennon and Brian Epstein.

* The Cape Town leg of the Primal Screen festival runs at the Labia Theatre and the River Club, from August 5 to 14. The Johannesburg leg is at the Seven Arts cinema and the Coffee Society V-Screen, from August 12 to 21. For further information call (021) 233425.

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