Docs That Rock

Wilco Will Love You…but not Blu-Ray

wilco-3My recent post wondering if the super-res treatment for some music films are worth it has an ally in Jeff Tweedy. As I first caught in the LA Times, the Wilco front man sent an email to fans that protested the release of the film’s documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart on Blu-Ray. Tweedy complained that it costs twice as much as a regular DVD and wrote:

We’re unsure as to the rationale for the release, given that the film was shot in beautiful grainy B&W and has a stereo-only audio track… there is, in our opinion, not much to be gained by spending the extra cash. It’s your money… and in this case you should probably hang onto it.

To his credit, Plexifilm’s Gary Hustwit posted a response saying that the quality of the film is significantly greater in Blu-ray.

If you’ve got a film that was shot on super-16mm, like the Wilco film, a high-definition transfer on Blu-ray disc is going to look better than a standard-definition transfer compressed to DVD. Watching the Blu-ray disc is the closest you can get to actually sitting in a theater and watching the original film

Yet to his credit, Huswit has postponed the release until he can talk to the band about the issue and show them both cuts of the film. On its website, Wilco now has posted a call for volunteers to help settle the issue:

…the facts that the film was shot in 16mm b&w and, to our knowledge, the audio was not remastered makes us continue to question whether the potential incremental increase in audio/video quality is worth the price for THIS PARTICULAR PROJECT. For the time being, we’re sticking with our caveat emptor. When the new DVD is released, we’re going to purchase several copies and ask for a select few volunteers among you, dear readers, to A/B the original DVD release with the Blu Ray to further the discussion. So look for information re: this in the coming weeks. This is one of those rare cases where we’d actually love to be proven wrong.

This discussion is an fortuitous post script to this film which has been sort of neglected. A few years back, I got a call from a Canadian distributor, saying the U.S. broadcast rights were basically available for free (I forget the exact circumstances, but the original rightholding company has dissolved.) We didn’t purchase it for VH1 because as much as we all like Wilco, it seemed another hard sell for our audience (broadcast wise…no doubt that a DVD to rabid fans is appropriate for this project.)

But in truth, as much as I love the band’s music (since A.M.) and as much as I thought the film was beautifully shot by Sam Jones, I thought the slow paced doc was a lost opportunity. Two fascinating things happens to Wilco during production: the band fires its lead instrumentalist Jay Bennett and it basically gets fired from its label and has to secure a new label deal. Neither of these moments were caught on tape (or, if they were, they were never put in the film.) Both situations were addressed in the film but after the fact. I’ve always wondered how Jones could have missed being there during these two moments when the action was happening that must have been full of high drama.


Below, enjoy the opening credit sequence from the film, which has an outstanding acoustic version of I Am Trying to Break Your Heart and some great shots of my old stomping ground in Chicago.

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November 4, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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