LOG: All My Friends are Funeral Singers

Musicians sometimes decide that they want to make movies. It just happens. There are at least two approaches they must first consider when this urge strikes. The musician can either step out of the band and away from their music to make a film (or films,) or they can create a film designed to compliment their previous work in the music world. Of this first approach, a few have come away with some mild success (Rob Zombie?), but more often they flounder in this new world of clapboards and boom mics (see: Ice Cube, Madonna, Prince, et. al.)

The second approach, whereby a musician creates a film to in some way accompany their own music, has proven a somewhat more lucrative and safer bet, and many fine examples exist (True Stories, Christmas on Mars, The American Astronaut, etc) All My Friends are Funeral Singers, a film by Tim Rutili, main brain of the uber-venerable Chicago-founded rock band Califone, falls into this latter category, and ranks fairly highly within it.

The film's star power (if you can call it that) comes courtesy of Angela Bettis, whose name rings strangely familiar, considering she has never really had any kind of 'breakout' role (her claims to fame would be her major role in Girl, Interrupted and later her starring role in the recent lo-fi horror favorite May.) Bettis plays Zel, a youngish woman earning a living as a psychic, inviting her sparse clientele into her home, which she shares with a ramshackle collection of (unseen to all but her) spirits, whom it seems play some part in her clairvoyance. The part is well cast and well acted, and her performance is memorable and rings true. As writer and director, some of Rutili's ideas play marvelously well (I love the idea of a widowed woman summoning her dead husband from beyond just so she can bicker with him the way she did when he was alive,) and some fall more flat (the mockumentary-style 'interviews' with the spirits felt strange and unnecessary.) But he is a gifted visual artist, and truly every frame of this film is thoughtfully crafted and gorgeous to look at. Fittingly given his band's rootsy, Americana foundations and tendency toward fiddles and banjo blues, Zel's woodsy old house gives off a southern gothic vibe. And although the film does not even for one frame break free from the house and it's immediate exteriors, the effect is not claustrophobic, but rather intimate and alive. Indeed, even though the film at times suffers from a lack of narrative propulsion, the same could be said of Califone. Rutili has transplanted the entire aesthetic of his band into this film.

In a mild spin on the traditional forms of the idiom, Rutili and the members of Califone are featured, quasi-Greek Chorus style, as characters in the film, a faction of Zel's in-house coterie of benevolent spirits. It is hard to say whether the film is better or worse for the inclusion of Califone, both as the music composer and as 'characters' in the film. I am tempted to believe that, with a little tweaking (which the film is still fairly likely to receive) and even minimal music, All My Friends could stand up fairly well on it's own as a sturdy little piece of festival fare. However, much as I truly enjoyed the visuals and the character of the film, I can't exactly guarantee that non-Califone fans would get as much out of the film as others. Though Rutili clearly wants the film to exist separately from his band (and their concurrently released album of the same name,) there's no way that they can, really; nor should they, as neither piece is as strong without the other.

As of now, the film is flying way below the radar, with no specific release or festival appearances yet announced (not even a measly IMDB page,) apart from the band's current tour, which features screenings of the film accompanied by a performance by Califone, playing (in remarkable sync) with both the incidental and song music in the film.

Califone have been accused of making the same record over and over again (see HERE.) If Rutili has another film in him (and I hope he does,) perhaps we'll find out how one note he really is.

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