On Monday, the Seattle version of $5 Cover premiered all twelve episodes to a SIFF Cinema packed with cast, crew, volunteers, MTV producers, and Seattle music fans. The installments, along with short documentaries about each of the bands and B-side films about Seattle, won’t start appearing online until June. Since everyone else will have to wait, I won’t say too much beyond reporting that the finished product is so much better than the long-circulating trailer (above) suggests.
When Audrey and I last discussed this matter, a map of band relationships had sparked delight and the preview footage had raised modest skepticism. Seeing the preview, I worried about how uncomfortable it might be to see musicians reading scripted lines to portray slightly more dramatic versions of themselves in service of thinly contrived plot devices. Happily, most of the moments of forced narrative are shown in the trailer itself, and the rest of the project quickly begins to feel more like a gently observed documentary than forced reality programming.
Writer/director Lynn Shelton and cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke make Seattle and its music scene look authentic, diverse, and full of love. The narrative is light and fittingly unsensational: the Moondoggies are supposed to tour with the Maldives but their van breaks down, a really drunk girl likes the lead singer of a band and can’t make it home, only a few superfans stay for the punk rock headliners after the Spits set their drums on fire, Dita Vox goes to shows and experiences romantic frustrations (as do many others), people like Sean Nelson try to figure out how to make a fresh start after their claim-to-fame bands call it quits, and there are plenty of after-hours performances attended by scenesters. Webisodes play at a relaxed pace and end with little revelations or minor frustrations. As the story progresses from meeting the bands to watching them play and seeing the interconnections develop, the project ultimately culminates into a valentine to the city and its musicians.
Seen in sequence, and in a single sitting, the series works really well. I hope that when webisodes begin appearing this June on MTV.com, people stick with it and follow the full arc of the story. It features smallish venues and surprisingly charismatic bands on the edge of various levels of fame. I know that I immediately started looking into some of the bands that were only vaguely familiar to me before seeing the series, but whether this catapults any of the participants to (relative) full-fledged fame is hard to guess. In any case, everyone who made this happen deserves to be very proud of the film on its own merits. It’s a generous and heartfelt look at the city, and it makes everyone involved look wonderful.