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Clip: Bringing Down the House

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  • Carl Zimring
    January 28, 2005 Bringing Down the House What do you do when someone hands you the keys to a house slated
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 28, 2005

      January 28, 2005

      Bringing Down the House
      What do you do when someone hands you the keys to a house slated for
      demolition? If you're Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, you start calling up

      It's not yet eight in the morning, but a demolition crew is already at work
      tearing down the frame house at 1304 W. Ardmore. Fugazi drummer Brendan
      Canty, carrying an umbrella to keep off the December drizzle, watches a
      backhoe rip out a chunk; bits of debris flutter slowly to the ground amid a
      billowing cloud of dust. As the 95-year-old building is reduced to rubble,
      filmmaker Christoph Green directs a three-person camera crew recording the

      Three months earlier Canty and Green shot nine local bands playing in the
      living room of this house -- including Wilco, Tortoise, the Ponys, and
      Shellac -- for the second volume of their DVD series "Burn to Shine." Now
      they're back to film the conclusion of the Chicago installment. The first
      DVD, Washington DC 01.14.2004 (Trixie), released Tuesday, features eight
      bands from in and around D.C. playing in another doomed house in Maryland
      -- burned down as part of a fire department training exercise before it was
      finally demolished.

      Canty says the project aims to present live band footage without the
      cliches of a typical rock video or concert film. "What we're trying to get
      away from is the idea that music always has to be presented on giant stages
      with a bunch of lights and tons of people," he says. "We're trying to put
      these bands in a context that actually focuses on the playing, on the
      songs. . . . That's the backbone of this whole thing, to release us from
      the bullshit."

      The opportunity to film in a building about to be demolished fell into
      Canty's lap. His friend Pat Paddack had bought a house in Bethesda from the
      estate of a longtime neighbor, intending to raze it and rebuild on the
      site. "He was feeling really ambivalent about tearing it down," says Canty,
      "so he wanted to do something good with it, make some use of it." In
      December 2003 Paddack decided to donate it to the fire department, and
      asked Canty if he wanted to do anything with the house before the firemen
      had their way with it.

      Canty called Green, whom he'd met through his work composing scores and
      sound tracks for TV, advertising, and film. "The first thing he said to me
      was, 'A friend is giving me a house, let's have a happening,'" says Green.

      Green, founder of a production company called Tangerine Studios, had been
      fascinated with filming bands for years. "It's one of my obsessions. But
      it's really hard to do it in an interesting way, because concerts and
      videos are limited mediums."

      Canty and Green decided to shoot all the bands in the living room of the
      house in a single day, with each act playing only one song. "You don't have
      to go through the filter or process of dissecting the good stuff out of the
      big disgusting concert environment," says Canty. "It's a much more
      microscopic presentation." There would be no audience and no overdubs, and
      the filmmakers hoped to get a final take from each act in one or two tries.

      Thrown together in a little more than a week, the D.C. event was "very much
      a let's-see-who's-gonna-show-up kind of thing," says Canty. He recruited
      artists he thought would make up a snapshot of the city's scene: the roster
      includes his own band Garland of Hours; the Evens, a new project from
      Fugazi front man Ian MacKaye; Weird War, fronted by Nation of Ulysses vet
      Ian Svenonius; Ted Leo, currently a New Yorker but a longtime D.C. fixture;
      and recent transplant Bob Mould. Green assembled a small crew and rented
      two $125,000 high-definition video cameras, whose crisp, high-contrast
      images supplement the regular video footage.

      In May 2004 Green and Canty showed a rough cut at a couple D.C. festivals.
      Despite the video's arresting visuals, its lack of exposition vexed early
      audiences. "It seemed kinda confusing as to why there were fire engines at
      the end of this film about bands playing," says Canty. "At one of the
      screenings this woman asked me, 'Did Bob Mould get out of the house in
      time? What happened?'" Canty soon added a voice-over to the beginning of
      the movie to fill in the backstory.

      This summer, with the D.C. project in the can, Canty and Green decided to
      expand "Burn to Shine" into a series. They've jointly founded a company
      called Trixie (trixiedvd.com) to release the DVDs, and in October Touch and
      Go agreed to distribute them.

      The Chicago property was offered up by Edgewater resident John Gorlewski, a
      program manager for a local research company and longtime Fugazi fan who'd
      seen a Craigslist posting from the filmmakers. He'd bought the house next
      to his own, and it was scheduled for demolition. (It was too close to
      neighboring buildings for the fire department to burn it down first.) Canty
      enlisted his friend Bob Weston, the bassist for Shellac, as curator and
      recording engineer. Weston picked a wide range of artists, including the
      Lonesome Organist, Tight Phantomz, Pit Er Pat, the Red Eyed Legends, and
      Freakwater. "It was complete mania, back and forth between styles," says
      Canty. "But I love that. The common thing is that all these people are
      genuine artists and you get a real sense of the community they're a part

      Green resisted the urge to listen to the bands' songs ahead of time, so
      that his visual thinking would be more spontaneous. At the Chicago shoot,
      on September 13, the crew tore out part of the ceiling in the living room,
      allowing what was dubbed the "drum cam" to capture some striking overhead
      angles, and Green floated one of the conventional video cameras over the
      building by attaching it to a large helium balloon.

      Green and Canty are in postproduction on the Chicago "Burn to Shine," which
      they plan to screen locally in May and release on DVD in June. Meanwhile
      Jason Noble (Rodan, the Rachel's, the Shipping News) is looking for bands
      for a Louisville edition, and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney and Quasi is
      handling a Portland event, tentatively scheduled for March and likely to
      involve another burn.

      --BOB MEHR
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