REVIEW: ‘Who Killed Jazz’ and ‘Deadguy: Killing Music’ an unusual combination at the New York City Indie Film Festival

What does an angry, vaguely defined metal band and classic jazz have in common? 

Though there doesn’t seem to be much, one thing is certain…both move to beats all their own.  At one time, live music was the way of the world, but with the impact of surging technology, the expansion of creativity and simultaneously the lack of original ideas, the use of sampled music and a vast array of music influences, music is a constant evolution.

Photo credit to the New York City Indie Film Festival

What hasn’t changed is the effect is has on its listener.  Who Killed Jazz explores the art of jazz, a respected, quintessential genre defined by its clever improvisation, and how it fits into the contemporary world.  Deadguy Killing Music is a peculiar authorized documentary on Deadguy, a band that hinges on chaotic improvisation.  Both were featured in the documentary 13 series at the recent New York City Indie Film Festival at New York City’s Producers Club.

The New York City Indie Film Festival featured a variety of films from shorts to narratives to documentaries curated with common themes.  Sleepless Critic had the opportunity to review screenings on music, small businesses, love, connection and much more. 

Co-founded by Executive Director Dennis Cieri and Director Bonnie Rush, this renowned festival has screened thousands of films since it was first launched in 2010.  Click here for more information, film submissions for next year, and click here to see what we had to say about NYC Indie Film Festival’s Narrative 14 series,  here for film reviews in the Documentary 12 series, and here for a film review of 34 Carmine Street, part of the Documentary 14 series.

Skillfully written, directed, and produced by Ben Makinen and inspired by Makinen’s Jazztown documentary on Netflix, Who Killed Jazz is a comprehensive and fascinating analysis of jazz’s exciting history and how the value of it has changed over the years through the eyes of musicians who have lived and are living through it.  Becoming a jazz musician is more of a risk than it has ever been before as television, disc jockeys, and pre-recorded music take over the clubs and today’s club owners are paying musicians less.  Jazz is an extraordinary and complex genre as well as a standard in music education and yet, it struggles.

Filmed in Colorado and Indonesia with eye-catching cinematography that delivers vintage flair, Who Killed Jazz captures fascinating perspectives, memorable stories, and concert footage from renowned musicians such as Dianne Reeves and various insights from contemporary musicians like Esperanza Spaulding.  It takes a hard look at the industry and how jazz and jazz culture has changed to fit in, but in the process, is it losing what made jazz great in the first place?

Photo credit to the NYC Indie Film Festival

Foo Fighters front man David Grohl once advised wannabe musicians to go a yard sale, buy an old drum set, get in a garage, and just suck.  Deadguy is a 90s New Jersey metal band that started in a basement who claimed they didn’t care how they sounded and to some, that was part of the appeal.

After all, they had just about given up before they really got started.  Before selling some albums, performing with the Misfits or even before the release of their debut album, they had split up.  It was a band that almost lived up to their name.

Written, directed, and produced by William Saunders with mature themes, Deadguy: Killing Music is a unconventional, authorized, and fan-focused documentary about Deadguy, a self-proclaimed anti-establishment band with punk influences that seemed to self-destruct before their music raged on.  It is a by-the-numbers 90-minute documentary that could have easily gotten away with being a tighter 60 minutes if not for its occasional meanderings and side stories.

If you were a fan of this group, you’ll be satisfied by never-before-seen footage, the band’s self destructive and wildly absurd antics, songwriting, storytelling and just how they created their debut album, Fixation on a Coworker.  However, the sheer chaos of the band’s sound as well as their impulsive and rage-fueled delivery can be off putting even if the lyrics have some substance.  Having reunited in 2021, it is ironic that they have returned to sing anti-establishment songs while living the suburban life they so rallied against in a house with a mortgage, jobs, kids, and all. Maybe this time they really have something to be frustrated about.

Who Killed Jazz and Deadguy: Killing Music were both featured in the Documentary 13 series at the recent New York City Indie Film Festival which took place live and in person at the Producers Club in New York City.  Click here for more information about this annual event, film submissions, and more.

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