John Mellencamp – It’s About You (2012)
(Featuring John Mellencamp and his band; T Bone Burnett; Dr. Cornell West; and others) Chapters: It’s About You, Pink Houses, Paper And Fire; Deep Blue Heart; Clumsy Ol’ World; Thinking About You; Don’t Need This Body; Save Some Time To Dream; Easter Eve; West End; No One Cares About Me; Coming Down The Road; No Better Than This; If I Die Sudden; Room 414; Right Behind Me; Small Town; Crumblin’ Down; End Credits; Epilogue
Studio: MPI Home Video [6/5/2012]
Directors: Kurt and Ian Markus
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9, originally shot in Super 8 color
Audio: English Dolby Digital stereo
Length: 80 minutes
Rating: Audio *** Video ***½ Overall rating ***1/2
John Mellencamp may not be the ideal subject for an in-depth documentary film. As an aspiring pop star, his identity was altered to John Cougar. His no-nonsense Midwestern attitude pervaded hits like “Hurt So Good”, “Jack And Diane”, “Pink Houses” and “Small Town” established his universal acceptance. Like Bruce Springsteen, he stayed connected to his roots (in this case Seymour, Indiana). His cantankerous nature and hometown loyalty created a dichotomy that resulted in the singer being regarded as inaccessible and detached. The hits kept coming, but Mellencamp was searching for a different songwriting vision.
In 2010, Mellencamp went on tour with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson. During that time, he would record the tracks for the critically acclaimed album, No Better Than This. Filmmakers Kurt and Ian Markus completed a documentary of this period, titled, “John Mellencamp: It’s About You. Shot in grainy Super 8, the film (color and black&white), this is a spotty portrait of a controversial performer. Supplemental still pictures are interspersed with the live action. Due to Mellencamp’s aloofness, there is no real glimpse into his psyche. Markus becomes the narrative spokesman and is prone to some meandering about the social inequities of modern America. There is sprightly concert footage (especially in St. Louis) of classic songs (“Pink Houses’, “Paper & Fire”) and a surprise appearance by Dr. Cornell West rocking off stage. The filming is a bit choppy (due to hand-held cameras), but it holds together.
The documentary picks up steam when the singer visits three historical landmarks to lay down tracks for No Better Than This. The first stop is the First African Baptist Church in Savannah, Georgia (one of the stops on the Civil War era underground railroad). Mellencamp gets baptized in the church and we begin to hear some of the new material. The use of black and white still photography adds a genuine feel. A certain highlight is the trip to Sun Studios in Memphis. Home of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, ubiquitous producer T Bone Burnett joins the sessions. Also present are two veteran rockabilly musicians. The vintage equipment is fascinating, and benefits from the black and white footage. The final recording stop is the room at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio, where bluesman Robert Johnson made history with his iconic recording. Hearing the various compositions (“Clumsy Ol’ World”, “Thinking About You”, “Easter Eve”, “West End”) in these renowned locations is sublime.
Even without a sound engineer the sound is clear. The film has a herky-jerky style that is perplexing at time. But the old school discipline suits the performer. John Mellencamp: It’s About You makes a valiant effort to give insight into the Indiana everyman. Perhaps the effort is best summarized in “The Epilogue” where Mellencamp gives facial mugs and head shakes to interview questions. [I gather it’s lip sync; that certainly is something that didn’t exist when I shot my Super 8 epics. It’s also available in Blu-ray at a higher price, but would you necessarily want that just to see the grain better?..Ed.]
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