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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 9.09%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 9.09%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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I am Trying to Break Your Heart
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by Collin Souter

"Alt-rock band Wilco Gives Shelter to those in need of Radio Cures"
5 stars

I want to make this clear, first and foremost: When it comes to concert films or rock documentaries, I am able to separate the fan from the film critic. For instance, my favorite rock band for the past 10 years has been U2. I can’t put into one paragraph the impact their music has had on my life. I am forever in their debt. However, I find their 1988 concert film/documentary “U2: Rattle and Hum” to be a horrendously flawed mis-hap. Sure, it showcased some great music and it looked nice, but nothing ever happens. It could have been a good concert film had it not tried to also be such an important documentary. The band never opened up, never showed any signs of personality and the whole venture to an outsider’s eyes and ears seems utterly pointless.

That being said, I can honestly say that I find this documentary about Chicago alt-rock band Wilco, “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” to be an absolute masterpiece. Alternately hilarious and sad, aggravating and soulful, scathing and joyous, Sam Jones’ documentary about this band’s making and near-breaking of their fourth studio album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, does everything right that a rock documentary could do. Not only could it be compared to such classics as the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Look Back,” but as a documentary about life, it joins the ranks of Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” and Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams.” It’s that good. Again, for the record, I only own one Wilco album.

Of course, I own the one album that started this whole movie. “Break Your Heart” starts as Wilco—lead by Jeff Tweety and featuring John Stirrat, Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche and Jay Bennett—lays tracks and vocals for their new album. The band wants to open their imaginations to the greater possibilities music has to offer them. They don’t want to make a folk album or a pop album. They want to make a statement. They want to experiment, break some rules and make up some new ones. Their manager, Tony Margherita, stands by his band 100%. Because Wilco had a little radio airplay success with their last album, Summerteeth, they feel confident that their record label, Warner/Reprise, will back them on this venture as well.

But the album proves difficult to pin down for everyone involved. Tensions build between Tweety and Bennett. The dynamic changes between them and they can’t communicate, which eventually results in Bennett’s dismissal from the band. Tweety—the kind of guy who rolls out of bed to sign record contracts without so much as showering or shaving—also does solo shows to keep the band’s name alive in between albums, even though he seems to control most of the work.

But the real thrust of the story here occurs when Warner/Reprise rejects Wilco’s final product, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. As Rolling Stone rock critic David Fricke puts it, the album doesn’t do well to the heads of large corporations such as Warner/Reprise because the album tells them nothing. It doesn’t tell them how to sell it, how many units will move or to whom the album should be marketed. It has no clear center. It tells you nothing simple, yet when one listens to the album, as I have, believe me it tells you everything. But because the attention spans of those who control the music industry (as well as every other entertainment industry) has gotten smaller and smaller, nobody wants to put out an album that requires a little bit of effort on the part of the listener. Unwilling to make changes, Wilco leaves the label, stuck with an album without a home.

Critics, of course, praise Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Wilco proceed to do shows wherever they can to support themselves and to push the new songs on their listeners regardless of the fact that they have no real album to show for them. The album eventually gets leaked and, much to Wilco’s surprise, the fans in the audience know the words as though they have already become classics. They shop the album around to various labels, getting nothing in return. Nobody in Wilco’s circle can understand the lack of enthusiasm for music that actually takes risks.

For the benefit of those who don’t already know how this story ends, I will leave the turn-out for you to discover. In case you haven’t figured it out, though, the album does get released, but the bittersweet turn of events leading up to that conclusion couldn’t be any more poetic. The beautifully shot black-and-white “Break Your Heart” starts by being a dissection of the creative process through re-invention, but ends up being a modern-day David and Goliath, a veritable battle of Art vs. Commerce, not unlike what Terry Gilliam had to go through to get his movie “Brazil” released his way. As a result, “Break Your Heart” will have you cheering in more ways than one.

Basically, the entire music industry gets summed up perfectly in “Break Your Heart.” This is not the first time a band has run into this sort of thing from their record label, but it seems to be something of an epidemic as of late. Dave Matthews Band also ran into this with their album The Lillywhite Sessions, supposedly, according to DMB fans, the best album they ever made. The label, of course, wanted a more radio-friendly, commercially viable album instead. DMB caved in (or pussed-out, as I like to say) and made an annoyingly poppy and overly slick concoction called Everyday. If Selling Out ever had a soundtrack, Everyday would be it. Needless to say, it has received more airplay than any of their other albums.

But “Break Your Heart” doesn’t preach about “selling out to The Man,” or anything along those lines. It illustrates the necessary psyche one needs to overcome rejection for one’s craft. Tweety knows his art. He doesn’t know how to alter it or change it for someone else’s “bottom line.” He has a wife and kids with whom he takes on the road. He probably could afford to take them out to a fast food restaurant for dinner, but he has already chosen to make this bed for himself and his band. Now he lies in it, and it still feels pretty good. Tweety may come off as unlikable to people at times, but when has an artist ever not been a pain in the ass?

Wilco’s music weaves in and out of the story, and only for dramatic purpose. Sometimes, wondered why Jones chose to cut to a performance just as the drama off-stage started gaining momentum. The lyrics say so much about the band’s state of mind at the time and the look on Tweety’s face as he sings them says plenty. Songs don’t come and go just because this is a Wilco movie and the fans wanna hear some music. “Break Your Heart” uses Wilco’s music to add depth to the situations at hand. As the band struggles with rejection and touring without a label, Tweety sings “Outtasite (Outta mind).” In that moment, he has the right attitude and so does Jones. I must say, though, that the final music cue in “Break Your Heart” may be the best send-off a music movie ever had. I promise not to spoil it.

I sincerely hope “Break Your Heart” finds an audience outside of Wilco’s fanbase. Documentaries of this kind rarely ever reach the big screen and when they do, they’re usually met with limited enthusiasm. Radiohead’s documentary “Meeting People Is Easy” was brilliant, but clearly meant for fans only. “Break Your Heart” belongs in the same league as “Gimme Shelter.” It gives us a clear story, introduces the uninitiated to an interesting leading man and the forces he must combat for his art. It also takes the sad state of music’s current affairs and exposes it without forgiveness. How sad it must be for a corporate mogul to hear a catchy and infectious song such as “Heavy Metal Drummer” and dismiss it as merely unmarketable. As “Break Your Heart” beautifully illustrates, even a seven-year-old “gets it.”

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originally posted: 08/05/02 14:22:56
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User Comments

10/09/05 tndave9 Incredible insight to real creative music. 5 stars
7/24/03 Sully ...I have to go blow my nose...... 1 stars
5/17/03 Andrew Carden Well-Done Documentary...If Only It Had Been More Developed! 4 stars
4/15/03 Rocky Totally compelling. Truly a masterpiece documentary about life, failure, and triumph. 5 stars
8/23/02 Cavendish Spenserhaus A beautiful misfire 3 stars
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