LAist Interview: The Anders' of the Don't Knock the Rock Film Festival
Submitted and Authored by Dan Collins
You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, played at the Silent Movie Theater Thursday Night as a double-feature with DFW Punk, a like-minded feature about punk in the Ft. Worth/Dallas area of Texas. They were just two of the many great (and wildly varying) films playing at this year’s Don’t Knock the Rock film festival, curated by Allison Anders and her daughter, Tiffany Anders. After the movies and the free beers and the music was over, I cornered the mother-daughter team out in the back garden and had a blast talking with them about music, movies, punk rock, and meeting Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las.
How did the Don’t Knock the Rock festival itself actually start? It’s been going on for a couple of years.
ALLISON ANDERS: Well, I was teaching a class at UC Santa Barbara. They allowed me to create my own class, so I created a class on rock and rock films, and I had such a good time that I was like “Oh god, I wanna keep doing this!” So I thought, why not start a festival? And Tiffany was about to move back to Los Angeles from New York.
What were you doing out there?
TIFFANY ANDERS: I was playing music, and I had a band…
Oh? What band?
TIFFANY: It was just my name, T. Anders. It wasn’t really a band.
ALLISON: (Laughing) It’s all about her!
TIFFANY: It’s all about me, actually, ha ha! No, not really. But I played with a couple people.
(to Allison) Do you think having a musical daughter encouraged you to start being more of a rock-music youth-movie curator?
ALLISON: I might have kept my interest, but I wouldn't have kept knowing anything that was going on past... well, certainly past punk rock. Tiffany kept me listening to new stuff--but she also helped me understand old stuff, too.
Yeah, it seemed to be the theme to the conclusion of the documentary we saw tonight, the Chicago punk movie. You know--what's happening new now that's reminiscent of the punk in the seventies or maybe even the psychedelic music in the sixties? And all the old punkers in the film were kind of saying, "If something new came, we wouldn't know, and if it's real, we should be annoyed at it." I almost think the folk movement in L.A. nowadays has sort of the same kind of energy, though a totally different style of music. Do you think that's fair to say?
TIFFANY: Yes. I do. Are you talking about it as being an outside sort of thing? Yeah, I definitely feel that way. I think that's what punk is. It's sort of a DIY--it's more of a philosophy of how music is, or how things are anyway. So I definitely feel things on the outskirts are punk.
ALLISON: And also Animal Collective. When you talk about having to wrap your head around something... I think when you first hear that, you've got to wrap your head around it. It doesn't sound like anything you've ever really heard. It doesn't sound like something that's a throwback to any other period. I mean, they're bringing in a lot of other elements. But I mean, the first song [Tiffany] gave me from them, I still find it truly beautifully bizarre.
TIFFANY: It's funny, because actually Jena Malone and I were talking about it tonight. She was sort of saying "Yeah, it's interesting to see this movie, because I'm not a huge punk rock fan, but I like the whole DIY movement." And then we just got on this weird thing. It's like my birthday tomorrow, and 88 Boadrum are playing on my birthday, and I was telling her about that, and there's this sound installation that David Byrne did. I think people are going to keep trying to do stuff like this, more installations, and keep experimenting with sound, which I hope keeps happening. And that is sort of a punk aesthetic in itself, trying to keep the whole musical thing in motion.
Yeah. I was actually thinking about your movie, Mi Vida Loca (My Crazy Life), because so much of the music from our town today comes from Echo Park, and one of the themes of that movie was what Echo Park was like in the nineties. Did you expect when you were making that film that Echo Park would become this musical center?
ALLISON: I never... well, the interesting thing on that movie was that those kids at that time--I don't know if it's still true, because I'm out of touch with what's happened, how that subculture's evolved--but those kids had a specific set list, as it were, to their lives. And you didn't just introduce something new. They had a whole repertoire of music they listened to. They had songs that they dedicated to each other on Art Laboe, and you just didn't get a new song in there. So all the music in Mi Vida Loca was run by them.
So that was the music at that time. But to think that there would be a hipster scene in Echo Park--I never would have believed it. I mean, there was always a bohemian element, but not like this now.
TIFFANY: It's very bohemian now. I mean, there's tons of bohemian history there, but I feel like right now, it's really, like, booming right now. I think it's good. But it was bohemian before. It was bohemian in the twenties. I was actually at the Brite Spot, and I picked up this thing: they do historical tours now. They were talking about "Red Hill"...
ALLISON: Where we used to live! Red Hill. "Bolshevik Hill."
TIFFANY: ...the communist whole thing there. And then Jackson Browne lived on Laguna Avenue. And just, stuff like that, where it's like, "oh, it's always been this Bohemian area of Los Angeles."
Back to the films, I noticed that this year's festival is about 75% documentaries. But what's the best fictional movie about a band that's come out recently?
ALLISON: I gotta say something that is coming out soon: My Dinner With Jimi, which was just shot a little bit down the street at Canter's and all over Los Angeles. That's about the Turtles tour, but it's fictional--it's got actors in it--but it's about the Turtles going to England in 1967 off of the success of "Happy Together." And they have kind of a crappy time. Except Howard Kaylan manages to spend an evening with Jimi Hendrix, getting very drunk and talking about life. And he wrote the script, which I found absolutely amazing, that Howard Kaylan of the Turtles wrote this really funny, charming script. And Bill Fishman just directed such a fun, amazing movie from it. So that movie will be out, he tells me, in '09.
Returning to non-fiction, when people think of rock documentaries, especially punk rock documentaries, they often think of Decline of Western Civilization by Penelope Spheeris, maybe because it was kind of the first of its type. But many of the artists who were in that movie have decried the way she portrayed them--was she an influence on the way you think about rock documentaries?
ALLISON: Well, I remember her shooting it at the time. I wasn't there when she was shooting, but I remember already knowing about it, and seeing her in her leather clothes, looking so hot. I mean, she was so stunning to look at, and I remember thinking "Oooh, there's that woman, that woman filmmaker." So I think she had an influence on me, just as a woman director, seeing this woman have... charge.
But I think there's all different ways to do the music doc. One person who was here tonight, Stephen Kijakn did this beautiful film on Scott Walker that has a totally different kind of mood: Thirtieth Century Man. And it kind of follows the way that you feel when you're listening to a Scott Walker album.
(At this point, Allison got distracted by some vacating directors and disgruntled theater employees, and got up say some goodbyes and one-more-moments.)
(to Tiffany) Are you going to the Mary Weiss show tomorrow night at the Knitting Factory?
TIFFANY: She came to my show in New York!
TIFFANY: And I got to meet her! My mom hasn't met her yet in person, but she met her through MySpace. It was one of those things--"Oh, I love Grace of My Heart!" So, I played there for CMJ, and she came to my show. And I'd actually lost my voice--I'd never had that happen, and Mary gave me some pointers. She actually did one of her tough girl--she's full on Queens, full on New York accent--and she just kind of shrugged and laughed and said "oh, just fake your way through it."
And I was like "I don't know how to do that! I've never lost my voice before. I don't know how to fake my way through it." But then afterwards she was like, "Put your face in steaming hot water and just sit there with your face in front of steaming hot water until it just starts healing it all up." Which I did. I actually would make boiling pots of hot water and just sit with my head with a towel over it.
ALLISON (returning to the conversation): I can't even tell you that when I was nine years old, listening to "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," the idea that one day my idol, Mary Weiss, would be telling my daughter I didn't even know I was going to have how to get her voice back--it's just like, life can be perfect, ha ha!
Is there a certain type of music, that if a person said "I have a documentary about this music," you would say "Listen, I don't have room for that at my festival."
TIFFANY: You know what, I actually don't think so!
ALLISON: I don't either.
TIFFANY: Because tonight a friend of mine who is of Syrian descent said, "You guys really need to have a documentary on Middle Eastern music at your festival." And we were like, "Yeah, yeah, we do! You're right!" And he was bringing up all these points...
ALLISON: I didn't know one band...
TIFFANY: ...and he's like, "You can have Tinariwen and that whole nomad revolutionary movement." And I was getting really stoked. "Yeah, somebody should make a documentary about that!"
ALLISON: If they make it, we want it!
TIFFANY: If it's a good documentary or a good fiction film on music, if it's a good film, if it's got a lot of passion...
Even if it was about, like, Vanilla Ice?
TIFFANY: I think if it was really passionate about Vanilla Ice...
ALLISON: Ha ha ha!
TIFFANY: Like, if it meant so much to this person, Vanilla Ice's music, and it's like "Oh my God, my heart strings were pulled..." And you're like, oh my gosh, and it was some brilliant movie, yes.
ALLISON: And if it had the same... you know, a lot of times we're showing the same film over and over again. That's the amazing thing. Because rock is the same story over and over again. It's often the same sort of quest, you know? It has the same sort of rhythms in a person's career, or in a scene's career, or in a record label's career. So often you're going through the same things. So, yeah, if it was doing that! And that's basically what it is. It's gotta have that narrative for us. It doesn't even have to be a perfect movie. I don't care if it's a perfect movie. If it's really documenting a scene very specifically, then I care about it. We'll both care about it.
TIFFANY: Yeah, I think so, if it means something to the filmmaker. If it's something that somebody's very passionate about. If it's Britney Spears, and they're super passionate about it, and it comes from a real place, I think it's worth showing. Even though we're not fully commercial, but if it's something that means something to somebody.
ALLISON: (laughing) Yeah, with Britney Spears, it would have to be beyond...
TIFFANY: It might have to be a twisted, passionate luuuuv, I dunno!
Don't Knock the Rock continues tonight with If It Ain't Stiff, a documentary about Stiff Records label featuring appearances by Elvis Costello, Tracey Ullman, Devo, and others, that will be followed by a Stiff Records tribute band playing live. Tickets are available at The Cinefamily.Silent Movie Theatre
Neighborhood: Fairfax District
611 N. Fairfax Ave.
Hollywood, CA 90036