A Chicago music documentary without the music

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This might be a poster for Parallax Sounds
  • This might be a poster for Parallax Sounds
Saturday's screening of the documentary Parallax Sounds (part of this weekend's Chicago International Movies & Music Festival) is billed as an "exclusive work-in-progress preview," and I sure hope that means that the film's Italian director, Augusto Contento, is far from finished—because as the film stands now, it's a mess. From everything I've heard the documentary is nominally about Chicago's underground music scene in the 90s and how it was affected by the city's architecture, but if you were to walk into a screening blind it's hard to see how you could figure that out. None of the subjects interviewed—Ken Vandermark, Steve Albini, Damon Locks, David Grubbs, Rick Wojcik, and Ian Williams—are identified until the closing credits. Even more puzzling, aside from a couple of grainy videos of Shellac, Gastr del Sol, and Storm & Stress, there's not a trace of the music the film is supposed to be about.

There is a lovely original score, written by Vandermark and performed by most of the doc's principal subjects, but for 90 long minutes we hear people speak about music we almost never hear. Most of the film uses footage of lakefront picnics, livestock butchering, people in the Loop bundled up against the cold, and most often, modes of Chicago transportation—I don't think a minute elapses without either external or internal shots of el trains, regional commuter lines, or airplanes. Most of the interviews occur on trains, in cars, or in boats—yes, boats (which is how most of us get around Chicago, after all). Some of the footage of Locks, for example, shows him behind the wheel of a car, something he hasn't owned for as long as I've known him. All of the subjects are articulate and make interesting observations about their own craft and the scene at large—with the exception of Williams, who praises Chicago's "unlimitless potential," and who only lived here for about two years anyway—but this was a chore to get through. If you want to know what Chicago music was like back in the 90s, you won't get much of an idea from Parallax Sounds.

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