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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart", Wilco at the crossroads

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. A Film About Wilco
Beefeater In-Edit 2012, Chapter II

The nice and great people of Beefeater In-Edit elaborated (collecting the opinions of "many experts") the 100 music documentaries best-of-list in occasion of its 10 birthday, including the top ten among the films that can be seen in this edition of the Festival. Needless to say, it was a great opportunity to enjoy some of them. I’m not a fan of Wilco, but its a band I’m quite curious about and I respect a lot, so their story in its hardest hour, their battle against music corporations, sounded pretty exciting to me.

Unfortunately, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” suffers, quite a lot, from “too high expectations”. Interesting and I assume, really addictive for Wilco fans thanks to the amount of live songs included, I have to say this is not the promised revealing take on a band struggling, internally and against their record label (Warner- Reprise Records). How to define it? The documentary is (hope that’s understandable) reflective. We don’t really see the band in these turbulent, tense times. We see the band (and manager Tony Margherita, plus other few people) telling us there was conflict and tension then. But that’s giving us their opinion, something that can be interesting, but its far from being the outstanding, unmissable documentary we expected.

That brings directly me to my other concern, or better said, main question: is this documentary controlled, approved by the band? The insight on the group seems quite biased, in my opinion. You spent a third of the movie length before any of the “issues” arise. There’s only one scene in which you can see the obvious tensions between Jay Bennett and Jeff Tweedy. Then there’s a little take on Tweedy doesn’t wanting to say much about it, and the rest of band showing their relief the former member was fired, while Bennett suggests a much bigger problem within the band. There’s only one phone conversation in which we can see the label and the band are going to crash. The rest is merely the thoughts and opinions of Tweedy and Co. (Margherita opinions are brutally biased, he’s a pretty annoying character I have to say). I expected a lot more on the clash between artist independence vs. commercial/music label greediness.

So what’s “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” offering? A bit of the band on the studio creating Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, tones of live music (Tweedy alone & the full band) looking cool (surely will amaze fans), and just a little bit of what was supposed to be a very troubled period for Wilco. I can’t help but keep thinking director Sam Jones didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to show us all the stuff he had. Maybe the band (or some members) wouldn’t look so heroic if he had shown us the whole picture? Being honest, after watching the documentary, my impression is that Wilco is Jeff Tweedy's band (look who signs the new contract). For the good, but also for the bad.

I think the most definitive comments on this film came from Rolling Stone’s journalist David Fricke (an opinion that, if you think about it, shouldn’t be particularly relevant for the development of the story) who establishes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot as a landmark within their time, because of its painful process of recording and then fighting against media monster corporations, but in particular due to the music, a creative attempt to challenge themselves musically. What Fricke says is that all that matters is the music. I guess he’s right with this documentary. Must-see for fans, but occasional Wilco listeners or people without a clue about the band might find it quite flat in terms of storytelling. So it will all depend on how much the music appeals you.


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