In what turned out to be a case of right place, right time serendipity, photographer-turned-filmmaker Sam Jones began making this suitably gritty documentary long before there was a whiff of trouble between alternative country rockers Wilco and their label, Warner/Reprise Records. His object was simple — to capture a great American band as they hammered out their fourth album, the record manager Tony Margherita hoped would prove to be the not-quite-mainstream Wilco's breakthrough. Jones first catches the band in their Chicago rehearsal loft, full of optimism and feeling confident about the new record, their future and their relationship with Reprise, a label Bennett himself commends for their hands-off approach to dealing with the band. In fact, the main source of static at the beginning of the film comes from within the band itself: Guitarist Jay Bennett, who had been playing with Wilco's frontman and primary songwriter Jeff Tweedy since the dissolution of Tweedy's first band, Uncle Tupelo, was developing into a major pain in the ass. It's only two weeks after the band delivers "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," a sprawling masterwork filled with swirls of noise, eerie radio transmissions and a number of Tweedy's greatest songs, to the honchos at Reprise that the problems start. They're put off by the record's experimental spirit, and Reprise's "younger, cooler" A&R guy doesn't hear a hit. They request a number of changes; Tweedy and company politely give them the finger; Reprise suggests Wilco end its long-standing relationship with the label and shop their album elsewhere. It's a dark moment that will hopefully live on in infamy in the annals of major-label A&R screw-ups, but the tale has a great ending that suggests that great, uncompromising bands don't necessary finish last. There's something deeply satisfying about the outcome of the whole Wilco vs. Warner fiasco. It not only confirms every music fan's worst assumptions about who's making the decisions at top heavy, corporate-owned record labels, but offers proof positive that such companies are actually a hindrance to the distribution of great music. Shot in grainy black and white, the film features tons of entertaining footage of the band in the studio as well as an enlightening commentary from music critics Greg Kot and David Frick. And with much of the Wilco songbook played live and in the studio by the band, as well as a number of Tweedy solo performances, you really couldn't ask for a better soundtrack.
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- Released: 2002
- Rating: NR
- Review: In what turned out to be a case of right place, right time serendipity, photographer-turned-filmmaker Sam Jones began making this suitably gritty documentary long before there was a whiff of trouble between alternative country rockers Wilco and their label… (more)