i am trying to break your heart (2002)


director: sam jones

jeff tweedy, jay bennett, glenn kotche, leroy back, john stirratt

Sam Jones documentary about a band making a record is the anti-Spinal Tap, a throwback to when rock documentaries were meant to make the band look more sympathetic than ridiculous. Itís a measure of how influential Rob Reinerís ďmockumentaryĒ has become that the absurdity of life in a band, a slow-motion train wreck spectacle populated by dim musicians and venal music biz types, has become the norm, reaching an apogee of sorts with VH1ís "Behind the Music" and "The Osbournes".

While Spinal Tap were a made-up band, the subjects of Jonesí film, Wilco, are a band that, outside a small circle of avid fans, are almost unknown. Wilco are the kind of group who, unlike teen pop stars and the novelty acts that fill the charts, will sell records for decades, becoming influential long after they might have broken up. Breaking up, in fact, seems like a constant threat during the film, as tensions between the bandís two creative voices, leader Jeff Tweedy and his right-hand man, Jay Bennett, simmer unbearably.

When the film starts, the band are on top of the world, having been given the money by their record company to record their next record in the comfort of their Chicago rehearsal loft. In almost no time, Tweedy and Bennett are at each otherís throats at the mixing sessions, and Tweedy - a classic passive-aggressive personality - is habitually throwing up in the studio washroom. Halfway through the film, the record company have rejected the record as unsellable, and Bennett has acrimoniously left the group.

Tweedy and Wilco are now in the land of lawyers and boardroom meetings, and you wonder why Tweedy persists. An early scene, backstage at a gig, is painful to watch, as Tweedy squirms as heís grilled by eager but clueless fans. As if to compensate for how dismal this life appears, Jones shows Wilco performing, a welcome reminder that music is actually played in some remote corner of the music industry.

He also stacks the film with interviews with the bandís supporters in the industry and the media, the most conventional thing about the film. The record in question - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - is a stark but beautiful piece of work, but it would have been nice to hear someone voice the record companyís position in detail, or a dissenting voice to explain why bands like Wilco are necessarily, essentially marginal.

The big gag in the end is that, while one label in the AOL/Time Warner conglomerate rejects Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the record is bought and released by another part of the same corporation, and the conglomerate pays twice for the same record. Itís a sign of how desperately absurd the music industry has become, a corporatized version of Spinal Tap, where a Wilco or a Jeff Tweedy no longer have a place.