What a treat I got last Friday during the music film festival in Copenhagen: To be able to watch this old Tom Waits-film on the big screen again. It’s from a time in his career when he had almost redefined himself as an artist (with invaluable help from his wife Kathleen Brennan on the three albums “Swordfishtrombones”, “Rain Dogs” and “Frank’s Wild Years”), and the film consists of concert performances loosely glued together with fictionalized intermezzos with some off-beat Waits-personas.
He has always been inspired by American musical culture (blues, Tin Pan Alley-songwriting, jazz’n’poetry of the Beat-generation to name a few) and in this period he throws in a lot of other good stuff too (different European music styles for example). He manages to take it all in, give it a twist and a growl and then you have that unmistakable musician he had become at that time. His musicians matches him perfectly (including the innovative guitarist Marc Ribot), and my biggest objection to the film is that it offers them too little screen time.
But the film also documents that Waits is just one hell of a performer. Not a good actor in films, no – never thought so – but having seen him live on three occasions I can vouch for the impression that this film brings: he is a quite unique composer, lyricist, storyteller, comedian AND entertainer.
Though it may not be the best introduction to his music for Waits-novices (it IS a rather wild ride); as a concert or music film it is just right and despite being from around the time of the early days of MTV it actually feels rather timeless. It is both a document of a certain time in an artist’s career and a semi-avant-garde experience in its own right.
The film has never been released on dvd and the “literature” is a bit vague on the reasons. It can, however, be found on the internet, but you didn’t hear it from me since I’m pretty sure that neither the director nor the Waits-couple has agreed to it.
USA, 1988, 87 mins