EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE BAND 'THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS', BUT PROBABLY DIDN'T THINK TO ASK
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8/16/2003 - Starring Ben Affleck as John Flansburgh, and Mark Metcalf as John Linnell. I should point out up front that I'm a fan of They Might Be Giants, so I'm not going to refer to their fan base as geeks and / or spazzes. I had the pleasure of seeing this documentary about the aforementioned band whom people often have a hard time labeling. Are they a rock band? Are they a novelty act? Are they a 20-year overnight success? Linnell says they are the "Shitty Beatles"; I sometimes think of them as the Coen brothers (twin quasars) of rock. TMBG's music can be enjoyed by the whole family, and about 99.8% of the documentary can. However you classify them, the documentary is made in the same spirit as the boys' music - catchy and upbeat yet sometimes dark lyrically, and never dull. Most of the interviewees are quite positive and glowing about the effect the Giants' music has had on them, while a small few prefer to distance themselves.
We start with Senator Paul Simon talking about Abraham Lincoln, then linking it to the Giants because they were born in Lincoln, Massachusetts. Well, that's Slick Willie for you! Oh wait... never mind, that's the other guy. I reiterate: the documentary, like the Giants' music, is definitely offbeat (it even includes an ode to Ken Burns!); one might even be tempted to question the documentary label, but I'll leave that for others to do. There's a lot of old black and white photos of the boys starting out, and even some footage of a video for their song 'Rabid Child' which I've never seen before. One of the interviewees was Adam Bernstein who's done many of the Giants' videos, but he would only appear on the condition that no one ask him about It's Pat. They showed clips of "Don't Let's Start" and "Ana Ng" but sadly didn't go further into the genesis of the choreography of the videos.
There's plenty of concert footage of the boys, shot on digital video. They didn't get to use Lucas's cameras from "Attack of the Clones", apparently. And if I may be so bold their live rendition of "Particle Man" was from their live album "Severe Tire Damage". Immediately after we see high school debate students (Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School outside of Boston if I remember correctly) debating the meaning of Particle Man's lyrics. In my own interpretation, Triangle Man represents the Republican Party. A Republican would probably say Triangle Man represents Unionized Labor.
I can't say I learned much I didn't already know about They Might Be Giants. Although I was surprised to learn they went through a Dylan Going Electric phase when they turned into a full band with other members about the time of the release of their album 'Flood'. I myself became a die-hard fan when I first learned of the band through their album 'Apollo 18', so I missed out on that whole scene. Well, I say, why aren't they allowed to change and adapt, like Dylan or Prince? Or leave Liverpool like the Beatles? Of course, with Mink Car some might question their move into techno (Man, It's So Loud In Here) music or hip-hop, or whatever Mr. Xcitement and Wicked Little Critta qualify as. Also I didn't realize that coffee played such an important role in their professional lives; so much so that you might say coffee is the third member of TMBG. So the premise of this paragraph was a little premature. And unlike Bill O'Reilly, I'll apologize. Sorry about that.
As they say the documentary stayed towards the light. Monopuff, Flansburgh's other band incepted about the time of the release of 'Factory Showroom', was not discussed. And neither was Linnell's album 'State Songs', although I believed it was referred to in passing; "Why, they've even got a song for every state!" As they say, referring to Ringo breaking away from the group in the movie 'A Hard Day's Night', they've had their Ringo Walks and they're back! The film hints, though, that seeds of dissent have been planted. Linnell, the scholar, says he thinks Flansburgh, the showman, can do it all himself. Michael McKean recites most of the song "The End of the Tour", a song ending with the lyric "..and we're never gonna tour again. No, we're never gonna tour again." Their song "Working Undercover for the Man" is similar in theme, but fuels the fire for all those who grumble about the boys getting so much lucrative work lately...
They also wisely stayed away from September 11th, 2001, the day their album 'Mink Car' was released, but they got awful close to it, showing Tower Records at midnight September 11th! How did the boys get out of town?
I couldn't help but think of Comedian and that the success of some is at its core based on friendship. In the Pantheon of success stories, They Might Be Giants's story is one of those rare admirable examples where someone has achieved exactly as much success as they want, where they're not overly, nakedly ambitious and haven't stepped on toes to get to where they are in the world. Even people they no longer work with speak of them happily. I think of them happily, and while I may not have all of the memorabilia, I've got most of it and the DVD of 'Gigantic' is going into the collection.
Dial-a-Song 1-718-387-6962. Free if you call from work.
-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan
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