Friday, March 27, 2015

The Theory of Obscurity:A Film About The Residents (2015) SXSW 2015

The Residents.

You may not know their music, but you know their imagery-particularly four tuxedoed guys wearing eyeball masks and top hats. They are a group of guys who have “never” revealed their identities instead preferring to work in obscurity since the world, since an artist’s best work is always done that way. The group fused their music with wild imagery to create what can only be called art rock (Their videos are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern art). Their music films predated MTV’s music videos and influenced all that followed in their wake

I’m a casual fan of The Residents at best. I loved their videos on MTV back in the 80’s and I loved their imagery but I have no albums and I couldn’t name a song if my life depended on it. When THEORY OF OBSCURITY: A FILM ABOUT THE RESIDENTS was announced for SXSW I was intrigued, especially since I really liked the poster art (see above). I contacted the PR people to see if I could review the film and after some miscues things came together and boy am I glad- THEORY OF OBSCURITY is one of my favorite films I’ve seen in 2015 so far.

A history of the band from their inception until the present day this is absolutely fascinating trip into the world of the Residents and outsider art rock and roll. Here were a bunch of guys from the American South who went to San Francisco and ended up making music because it was easier to do then make movies… maybe. The trouble with that statement is that the history of The Residents is malleable. Since we don’t know who they group is we can’t be certain what happened since they aren’t talking even if everyone around them is.

To be honest I think that what is in the film is pretty much the way things were. I can’t see it all being a grand game, even if the Residents want to remain largely obscure.


Sitting down to watch the film I fell into it. I loved the groups desire to make their music their way. I loved all of the crazy things they did-“Hey we’ve got nothing to do today-let’s make a film- what are we going to do? We’ll cover everything in newspaper and just wing it. (The footage ended up in a promotional film for Third Reich and Roll) I loved how they simply created their own musical world.

One thing that stuck with me was their ethic that you don’t have to be a trained musician. Music didn’t have to follow rules, but had to follow, essentially, your heart. Make your music your own way. I adore that they have the attitude that you should just do what you want so long as you can “own” what you’re doing- meaning just go for it and sell it, don’t make it ironic, make it your own. There is something about that attitude that makes me smile- if there was any group of guys who prove you can go your own way and be successful it’s The Residents.

While the film is full of good music and wild imagery, the film is also full of talking heads (and a Talking Head-Jerry Harrison) who explain why the Residents are cool and what they have achieved. Les Claypool from Primus explains how he used to hate the Residents, but that the group and their music grew on him like a fungus- to the point where Claypool performs their music.

You have to forgive me I can’t talk about this film rationally, I can only gush about it because I love it so much.

I don’t know if this is one of the best films of the year, it may be, but it certainly is one of my most favorite-which is probably better since it will stay with me more than many “best” films.

(A great thought this film should be screened with another one of my favorite films of 2015 THE KING OF NERAC for a fantastic look at creativity and the creation of art.)