Jonathan Caouette (right) is a Houston success story. He turned home movies into the award-winning 2003 autobiographical film Tarnation, receiving some encouragement from Hedwig and the Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell on the project. His latest film is All Tomorrow's Parties, a documentary on the music festival of the same name.
Rocks Off had a chance to sit down with Caouette recently while flipping through a collection of pictures chronicling the 1981 Houston premiere of Shock Treatment, a semi-sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and ask the auteur some of his thoughts on what make a great rock and roll movie.
RO: There are many kinds of rock and roll movies. Biopics, documentaries, rock musicals, concert films, original stories. If you had to pick a favorite type, which would it be, and why?
JC: I have a soft spot for rock operas from the 1970's.
RO: What is more important, the compelling portrait of artists and characters, or the music that those artists and characters play?
JC: I think music is the most integral part of any film . It's highly manipulating in terms of what the filmmaker is trying to get across emotionally. Music can literally make or break any film. Good music should always be carefully chosen for any kind of film.
A film usually - unless it's highly experimental and doesn't need music - needs music to thrive. Without it, a film feels pretty naked unless you are doing something that feels dogmeish and it's specific stylized choice. Most porn these days doesn't use any music, because it seems more "real" I guess... ha.
RO: When telling an original rock and roll story, is it better to have blatant real-life parallels (Velvet Goldmine, Rock Star) or to strive for more original characters?
JC: Oh man... I guess it depends... I think it would be cool to see something as terrible and foreboding and tragic as the Jonestown Massacre be turned into a musical that features gospel songs and soul tunes that sound like they were derived from the Stax Label.
RO: What makes a great documentary of an artist? Is it the journey they go through, or realism, or the feeding of a legend, or what?
JC: I think these days, that "reality" is so relative and compartmentalized and forced (it's really the norm now even on prime-time TV).
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With that said, I also feel that to try and go down the road of making a traditional documentary requires more work and invention to tell the story by finding new and weird cool devices to tell the stories. I think "traditional" docs with talking heads are not as interesting to watch these days.
I am really interested in going down the path of making fictional narratives that are blurred with "real life" situations and the real people that are a part of those real situations..i.e. a fictional story line using real people and their real circumstances to still tell the fictional story..but I think even alot of that has been done quite a bit.
RO: When talking about rock operas and musicals, which one stands out to you as the best done?
JC: Jesus Christ Superstar still excites me to this day ..In particular, The Simon Zealotes song. I am off to Canada now!