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.

REVIEW: Company Theatre walks the line between love and rage with Green Day’s catchy punk musical, ‘American Idiot’

Rage. Love. Town. City are the themes emblazoned within the songs and tale of the Tony award-winning punk rock musical, Green Day’s American Idiot, presented by the Company Theatre and continuing through Sunday, February 17 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  It is an in-your-face journey of a group of young, unambitious city dwellers who occupy a portion of an angry, rebellious America.  Green Day’s American Idiot is a concert drama that contains mature themes and surprising moments.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Green Day American Idiot set

The set of Green Day’s ‘American Idiot’ Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

This high energy musical is based on Green Day’s lauded album, American Idiot, a band known for their raw, catchy, guitar-tinged riffs, and uncensored lyrics.  With hits such as Holiday, Know Your Enemy, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Wake Me Up When September Ends, and Good Riddance (Time of Your Life), Green Day’s American Idiot contains the music and vocal chops that would please Green Day fans while also considered a message-driven punk rock opera.

Sharing a bit of the mentality of Rent and the 90s film, Reality Bites, the characters in American Idiot wander into a realm of rebellious indifference, confusion, and perhaps laziness looking for their purpose in life as Green Day sings, “in the land of make believe.”  Some are unconcerned and others genuinely lost.  Partially set in a beat up apartment equipped with a blank, but lit tube TV and shabby couch which perhaps reflects a thinking but lost generation, American Idiot shows they have a hell of a lot to learn.  

The energetic, daring choreography by Corinne Mason, which includes moshing and head banging, reflects the anarchic nature of punk music.  The choreography in Holiday, which includes a group of characters packed into a wire cart, is a visual highlight.

Cast of Green Day's 'American Idiot'

(Back row, L-R ) Audrey Clark of Northboro as Whatsername, Jose Merlo of Attleboro as Jose, William Oliver of Weymouth as Will, Sarah Kelly of Braintree as Heather, John Crampton of Dedham as John, Jessica DePalo of Westboro as Extraordinary Girl, Brendan Duquette of North Attleboro as Tunny (Front row) Theo Victoria of Brockton as Theo, Evan Cole of Natick as Johnny, Aliyah Harris of Mansfield as Aliyah Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

This cast of jaded youths include a haunting performance by Chris Boyajian as Joshua/St. Jimmy, a role that Green Day lead singer Billy Joe Armstrong took over for 50 performances during the show’s run on Broadway.  Evan Cole hits all the right notes as Johnny, who also plays his own guitar for Boulevard of Broken Dreams, one of the show’s few quieter tunes.  He shares a natural camaraderie with Brendan Duquette as naive Tunny and William Oliver as oblivious Will, a trio of friends heading in different directions.  Sarah Kelly stands out as Heather as she develops her resolve during a heartfelt Last Night on Earth.  Aliyah Harris as Aliyah also lends her serious pipes to Favorite Son and Too Much Too Soon.

The Company Theatre presents Green Day’s American Idiot through Sunday, February 17, with a special event for Valentine’s Day.  All performances take place at Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts  Click here to support the Company Theatre and here for more on their 2019 season.