If you think music documentaries are only about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, this year's Sound Unseen festival will surprise you.
Among the topics covered in the Twin Cities' 24th annual film fest for music lovers are: anorexia (in a new Karen Carpenter documentary), Ukrainian identity (via punk band Gogol Bordello), burglary (Judee Sill), and the best $5 concert ticket fans could buy in the 1990s (Fugazi).
A collage of themes — including women's freedoms, fashion and LGBTQ rights — are covered just in Wednesday's opening-night film, "Let the Canary Sing," about 1980s-star-turned-icon Cyndi Lauper. That's one of the movies we had a chance to preview in private before this week's more than two dozen public screenings, which continue through Sunday at Minneapolis locations including the Parkway Theater, Trylon Cinema, Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Main Cinema.
New this year: Festival organizers are also hosting an offshoot Sound Unseen with some of the same films Nov. 17-19 at Pop's Art Theater in Rochester. The full schedule for that run and this week's Minneapolis screenings can be seen at soundunseen.com.
Here's a review of the Lauper doc and a look at some other Sound Unseen highlights.
'Let the Canary Sing'
You'd think a documentary celebrating the singer of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" would be a lot of fun. This one does have its moments, like footage from when Lauper used pro wrestling telecasts to help launch her solo singing career.
With heavy input from Lauper herself, though, this portrait from veteran rock-doc filmmaker Alison Ellwood ("History of the Eagles," "The Go-Go's") paints a serious and often emotional picture of her triumphs. She fought her Catholic family's expectations of becoming a homemaker to go on to fight for respect in the music industry.
Some of the best scenes in the film come from her post-MTV heyday, like when she kicked butt on Broadway with "Kinky Boots." It also shows how she became a hero within the LGBTQ community and did real hands-on work helping discriminated youth. Serious thanks are in order after seeing the film.
7:30 p.m. Wed., Parkway Theater, 4814 Chicago Av. S., Mpls.
"I'm shy. Very shy." Adam Weiner says that at the very start of this ride-along-style movie about his very high-energy rock band Low Cut Connie. Those words might echo through viewers' brains as a blatant lie for the rest of the film, since we repeatedly see the curly-headed singer/pianist climbing his piano and ripping at his clothes in the many performance clips. He also opens up about deep and personal stuff in candid interview footage, including his Jewish faith and mental health struggles.
A favorite in the Twin Cities thanks to bouncy singles such as "Boozophilia" and regular First Avenue appearances, Weiner's band puts on famously rowdy and intense live shows. The film literally shows the blood, sweat and tears poured into those gigs behind the scenes. Sounds bleak, but Weiner clearly loves dealing his art, and it comes through extra clearly in the many performances captured here.
7:30 p.m. Fri., Parkway, followed by Q&A with director Roy Power and Weiner, who also DJs the Sound Unseen after-party 9 p.m. Sat. at Moxy Hotel Uptown.
'Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection'
The punny title isn't the only questionable way this proudly "unauthorized" doc handles the difficult topic of anorexia, which led to Carpenter's death at 32 in 1983. In lieu of experts, we hear other celebs like the recently deceased Suzanne Somers simply calling it "self-sabotage."
Co-produced by Carnie Wilson of Wilson Phillips fame (also a talking head in the film), the documentary does have a stronger side that focuses on celebrating Carpenter's talent and hard-earned career — from her and her brother Richard's roots as a jazzy cabaret act to being on top of the pop world as the Carpenters. Some of the old TV footage is cornball delightful. The singing clips are straight-ahead beautiful. Best of all are the many scenes of her bashing her beloved drum kit.
1 p.m. Sun., Parkway Theater.
And three more
"Lost Angel: The Genius of Judee Sill." Minnesotan Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief is among the many cool musicians seen fawning over the cultishly adored '70s-era Los Angeles singer/songwriter Sill, who rebounded from jail time to become David Geffen's first signee but still fought too many demons. (7 p.m. Thu., Trylon Cinema, 2820 E. 33rd St., Mpls.)
"We Are Fugazi From Washington, D.C." Timed to the 20th anniversary of the altruistic DIY punk band's last gig, this concert doc is made up largely of fan-sourced, adrenaline-riddled concert footage, including some from future music-video director Lance Bangs. (4 p.m. Sat., Parkway, with director Q&A.)
"Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story." This career-spanning documentary on Ukrainian-immigrant-turned-rock-wild-man Eugene Hutz seems well-timed, since he has stepped up as an unofficial U.S. ambassador for his war-torn homeland. (7:30 p.m. Sat., Parkway, with directors Q&A and Hutz mini-set.)
When: Wed.-Sun., Nov. 8-12.
Where: Various Minneapolis theaters.
Tickets: $15-$20 per screening, soundunseen.com.