REEL MOTION: Wilco’s worries and wonders in black and white

Jan 25, 2019

Welcome to Reel Motion, a series of blog posts that examine the Northrop Film Series selections. Find out more about the I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco screening Wed, Jan 30 at 6:30 pm before Ate9 performs calling glenn  on Thu, Feb 7.

What happens when a group of musicians reaches a point in their careers where they are given complete creative freedom, the money to make the art they want to make, and no corporate babysitter to tell them how to make it? 

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco captures the band on the cusp of being pushed into a newer, different incarnation at just that pivotal moment. This celebrated indie-rockumentary, directed by Sam Jones in his feature-film debut, preserves a moment in time that can't happen again. Filmed in the summer of 2000 while the band created and recorded their seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album, this movie is now a period piece.

Shot in black-and-white on 16mm film, it is one of the last of its kind to be shot on actual, physical celluloid.

For the band, it captures them unexpectedly in the grips of the age-old conflict between art and commerce. At a time just prior to the digital music revolution, getting dropped by their record label with no way to know if their music will ever be heard by their fans may not play in our streaming on-demand world of 2019 like the anxiety-inducing development that it was to Wilco back then.

If behind-the-scenes business drama isn't your cup of tea, Jones captures moments of internal creative and interpersonal conflicts that make this film more compelling than anything on reality television today. Ultimately, what makes this film a must-watch example of the rockumentary genre is simple: Wilco's music shines through, preserved in iconic, grainy black-and-white imagery. 

Shayna Houp is Northrop's Artist Services Manager and curates the Film Series each season.

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