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I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

There’s nothing like a happy accident. When first-time filmmaker Sam Jones, who spends his days photographing the glitteratti for glossy outlets like Vanity Fair, undertook to make a documentary about the band Wilco, he knew he was taking a gamble. As Jones explains it, he was looking to “capture the creative process. I wanted to show what goes into making an album.” Jones conciously took the chance that Wilco, a critically acclaimed rock & roll band with a small but loyal following, would create something special. It was his great good fortune that the album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, would be universally acclaimed as a classic by critics, and also—after much corporate wrangling—would become the biggest selling disc of Wilco’s career.

The complicated, dark road to that happy ending is what gives I Am Trying to Break Your Heart its drama. It also serves as a cautionary tale about the record business, which, controlled by multinational corporations and overseen by bean counters, is fast losing patience with acts that don’t move a lot of product in a short period of time.

Two days before filming began, Wilco fired their drummer. Jones’ cameras captured the relatively happy period of recording that followed, though tensions grew between principle songwriter Jeff Tweedy and multi-instumentalist Jay Bennett. Then, after being left for months in blissful isolation by Reprise records, Wilco were told by the label that the album wasn’t acceptable. Word leaked to the press, and Wilco—one of the most respected American bands—became a cause celebre for journalists and fellow artists. If Wilco could be tossed aside, who might be next?

Speaking by telephone from Los Angeles, Jones talks about why he made the film. Though undoubtedly a big Wilco fan, Jones “did not make it just for the fans,” he says. “I approached it differently—I wanted something a little more timeless.” Jones, working in the tradition of cinema verité, deliberately kept the number of interviews to a minimum, preferring to “capture the moment, and tell the story by being there as it happened.”

This technique was a necessity in working with an enigmatic character like Tweedy. When interviewed, Tweedy tends to give elliptical answers to perfectly straight questions. Much more revealing, however, is the way Jones presents him—in his element. There’s a scene in which Tweedy nervously meets fans after a show. They press him on his music; Tweedy, squirming, endures this for a few minutes, mutters monosyballic answers, and then splits. “That’s one of my favorite scenes in the film,” Jones says proudly. “He’s that kind of guy—you can tell a lot more from watching him than talking to him.”

It’s no surprise that with his background as a professional photographer, Jones would be very careful in planning the look of the film, which was shot in black-and-white. He constantly asked himself, after filming a shot, “Did the image look beautiful?” Referring to his choice of black-and-white, he explains, “I wanted something that would seem a step removed. Black-and-white film does that very well.” Jones adds that he was as concerned with the sound of the film as with the picture: “I wanted it to be sonically and visually beautiful, to be experienced on the big screen.”

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart opens tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 23) at the Spectrum 7 Theatres (290 Delaware Ave., Albany). Call 449-8995 for information, or visit www.spectrum7.com.

—Shawn Stone

Christy McWilson, Amy Allison, Mike Thomas

At a time when it was damn tough to be alternative in Seattle—it’s the city that made alternative mainstream, after all—Christy McWilson (pictured) bucked the tide. Just when grunge was all the rage, she and her country-rock band the Picketts steamed ahead with their heartfelt roots rock, country, rockabilly and honky-tonk.

The Picketts lasted three albums and roughly 10 years, and McWilson, coming to Valentine’s tonight (Thursday), became much loved by the flannel city. In addition to Pickett duty, McWilson provided backing vocals on a few Young Fresh Fellows albums, as “Crispy” McWilson (and as Mrs. Fresh Fellow Scott McCaughey). She forged out on her own once it seemed the Picketts had slowed to a standstill, releasing The Lucky One on Hightone Records in 2000.

Mac daddy Blaster Dave Alvin decided to produce McWilson’s debut, which was made up of mostly original songs, and featured the likes of Alvin, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Syd Straw. Alvin once again took the production chair for McWilson’s second solo effort, Bed of Roses, released this past March. Many of the musicians that appeared on her first album are present in her second, with hubby McCaughey making an appearance, and when McWilson toured behind Bed of Roses in late March, Alvin, McCaughey, Joe Terry and Bobby Lloyd Hicks (of the Skeletons and Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men) were her backup band.

McWilson, who has been likened to Patsy Cline and Chrissie Hynde (and Alvin has called her “the roots-rock Sylvia Plath”), is bringing a killer band with her, and, opening up for her is Mose Allison’s daughter, New York City-based Amy Allison. Christy McWilson and Amy Allison will be joined by Mike Thomas at Valentine’s (12 New Scotland Ave., Albany), tonight (Thursday, Aug. 22). The show starts at 8:30 PM; tickets are $7. Call the club at 432-6572 for more information.

Mabou Mines’ Red Beads

Avant-garde theater group Mabou Mines joins forces with puppeteer Basil Twist and composer Ushio Torikai to present Red Beads, a quasi-opera incorporating dance, music, text, and wind.

Wind? Yes, wind: It is the essential force in bringing Twist’s 15-foot-tall silk puppets to life. Twist is internationally renowned, the only American to ever be accepted in the French school for puppeteers, L’ecole Superieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionette.

Written and directed by Mabou Mines cofounder Lee Breuer, Red Beads, opening tomorrow at MASS MoCA, is the story of the spiritual-mystical connection between a mother and daughter. Adapted from traditional Siberian mythology, it is intended, according to Breuer, as something of a scary ghost story. (So, even though the show features puppets, don’t bring the kids.) Red Beads has an impeccable pedigree; nearly everyone involved in the production—Twist, Breuer, Torikai—is a multiple award-winner for past work. MASS MoCA regulars will recall that an early work-in-progress version of the show was presented in February 2001.

Red Beads will be performed tomorrow (Friday, Aug. 23) and Saturday (Aug. 24) at 8 PM at MASS MoCA (1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, Mass.). Call (413) 662-2111 for tickets and information, or visit www.massmoca.org.


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