Wednesday, January 4, 2012

It’s About Them

John Mellencamp at Sun Studios in Memphis.

It’s About You
Directed by Kurt Markus and Ian Markus
Starring John Mellencamp

Having married a musician and written a biography of John Lennon, I take an interest in music documentaries of all kinds, even those about musicians whose work I don’t feel a great passion for. Such is the case with John Mellencamp. Though I’ve enjoyed some of his earlier songs, like “Pink Houses” and “Jack and Diane,” for the most part I find his later material lacks excitement.

Even though the documentary It’s About You, directed by photographer Kurt Markus and his son, Ian, focuses more on Mellencamp’s later material, it’s at times a compellingly unique film—not only because it was shot in Super 8 and recorded with a vintage microphone and a mono reel-to-reel tape recorder, but because Kurt Markus plays an unusually large role in it.

As he follows Mellencamp and his band on a 2009 tour through the decaying landscape of the American south, and as they record the album No Better Than This, Markus provides wry voiceovers as he searches for his own identity through Mellencamp, whom he’s known for decades. He doesn’t interview Mellencamp, or accept an invitation to join him on the tour bus. It’s not reality-TV, Markus notes, and he doesn’t want to intrude. Nor does he manage to film or interview Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson when they show up. Instead, he tells us what we missed in a voiceover. It’s this sort of thing that gives the film its homemade charm. Ultimately, like Mellencamp's music, It's About You is sometimes evocative and sometimes a little boring.

My favorite bit was Harvard professor Cornel West backstage, grooving to “Pink Houses.”

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