Directed by Tim Sutton
Currently streaming on Netflix
Blinked-and-you-missed-him 2012 indie rock savior Willis Earl Beal (an outsider musician in part discovered when Found magazine published one of his fliers looking for a girlfriend in Albuquerque) stars in "Memphis" as a fictionalized version of himself. The Beale in the film is a musician stuck in a rut while trying to complete an album. The nonlinear film moves slowly, spacing out images and sounds to establish mood. Beal's strong baritone voice is exhibited only briefly and his behavior swings from overly sensitive, lashing out at friends and his girlfriend, to shrinking under pressure, to just plain pretentious.
When he is questioned about his authenticity by older musicians, he has no response. When he tries to record with a group of session musicians in a studio, he provides limp direction as a bandleader. When the record-label executive talks about needing an album, he deflects and talks about wishing he were a tree. Then he drinks too much, attempts to dry out, and runs away to live in a swamp. The tropes of being a tortured artist are all touched upon, but the lack of seeing this genius just casts Beal as a talented guy who also happens to be a head case. Where the film should drift, it slogs. When it wants you to open up and accept the artist, it pulls back the art. Director Tim Sutton doesn't want you to root for Beal; he just wants you to watch the process, and by not showing you the finished product of the process, you walk away unfulfilled, which seems to be the breezy film's uncertain point. For anyone who is creative, or wants to be creative, it resonates with the difficulty of a creative process that exists in your home as well as your head.
"LFO: The Film"
Directed by Antonio Tublen
Currently streaming on Netflix
If "Memphis" is a light meditation on creation, then "LFO," a Scandinavian science-fiction film directed by the Swedish Tublen, casts sound as an ultimate power ("LFO" is short for low-frequency oscillation). Robert Nord (Patrik Karlson) tinkers away in his basement with an array of synthesizers that would make any noise bro drool. Robert tinkers so much he discovers, with the help of an internet group of like-minded steadfast folks, a frequency that can be used to hypnotize. A chance encounter with new neighbors, Linn (Izabella Jo Tschig) and Simon (Per Lofberg), as well as frequent visits from his wife (Ahnna Rasch) encourage Robert to expand the use of the hypnotizing sound.
For a film focused so much on the power of sound, Tublen utilizes silence to great effect and brings out the specific power of sound when it does appear: The crackle of the frequency, the low fidelity of microphones, and the rare time one of the pretty synths is actually played all burst from the soundtrack. Outside of that, there is no incidental music, and for a science-fiction film, Tublen keeps things simple and still. The camera never moves too much, static to the point of inactivity but comfy in the homes of its characters and maintaining intimacy. As Robert's real life get complicated, he uses the frequency as a weapon. At times supernatural but drenched in Scandinavian deadpan, "LFO: The Movie," like "Memphis," hints at the potential power of creativity by focusing on another artistic eccentric who can't get out of his own way.