First of all, let me just make clear that the fact that the festival irritates so many of my friends is not the only reason I love it. No, there's also the "people in black" with cell phones, water bottles and books standing in line at theaters, saloons, fine dining establishments and liquor stores. People like me! My "festiphobe" peer group has just got to get over it.
So, what are some of the celluloid delicacies that have me so amped up a full month before the fact? Well, for starters, there are three films with musical connotations that caught my eye. Not to mention a couple of "beat" flicks that deal with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and a triptych of the hunt for bin Laden, covert wars, and the "Occupy Wall Street" phenomenon. Somehow I found common ground for the last three.
Let's start off down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with the FAME Gang, which featured Rick Hall, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett and David Hood (father of the Drive By Truckers' Patterson Hood). Also known as "The Swampers" (tagged in the "Sweet Home Alabama" lyric), these cats went about recording Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and countless more. The film that gets inside this story is "Muscle Shoals" and it should be a barnburner.
One called "History of the Eagles Part 1" attracts me because, in the main, it's just got to have some great archival footage of the '60s LA music scene including all the goings on in Laurel Canyon and the legendary Troubadour Bar in West Hollywood where they all hung out trying to become rock stars. I have no idea what the "Part 1" is all about.
Dave Grohl, of Nirvana and Foo Fighter fame, seems to be everywhere these days. I just saw him in an interview segment with Andrew Loog Oldham tacked onto the end of a very-early previously unreleased Rolling Stones documentary of a tour of Ireland. And now here he is bringing his own film to Sundance.
Grohl's documentary is entitled "Sound City" and not only tells the story of a recording studio of the same name - this one in the San Fernando Valley - but also gathers many of its illustrious alumni (Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield, Paul McCartney, etc.) to record once again on that legendary soundboard.
I'm equally excited to stretch my "boho" sensibilities with two narrative films that, due to subject matter, sort of bookend the beat literature movement. With the seldom-recounted true story of a murder intruding into the early relationship of Allen Ginsberg, Lucien Carr, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, "Kill Your Darlings" looks like a must-see.
On the other end, we get Kerouac nearing the end of his creativity looking for renewal on the northern California coast at Lawrence Ferlinghetti's cabin a short way up Bixby Creek from the iconic bridge. Besides showcasing some of my favorite natural landscape anywhere, "Big Sur" gives us the interior view of an already published Kerouac not being able to adequately process his fame.
Another film that seems intriguing is "99% - The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film," which purportedly covers the activist movement on the ground from the very beginning, featuring multiple points of view from all over the country. Going inside the motivations of its most ardent adherents, the film, like the movement itself, is structured to reflect non-hierarchical models of decision-making.
Which is probably not the modus operandi for those involved in doing the heavy lifting in the film "Manhunt: The Search for Osama bin Laden." Documenting the two-decade search for the Al Qaeda chief from early, mostly female, CIA operatives through the Navy Seal Team 6 operation that took him down, the film has all the earmarks of an espionage thriller.
"Dirty Wars" looks at the highly covert "War on Terror" and the ramifications the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), with its drone campaigns, night raids, and government-sanctioned torture, has on democracy. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill is featured uncovering the post-9/11 war-making mindset.
I can't wait for the lights to dim and the film to roll! To borrow a phrase from my night-shift lift operator friends of yore, "In darkness there is light!" The current art of independent filmmaking almost gives me the shivers. There's brilliance afoot and we're lucky to live where we do during late January.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.