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With: Jeff Tweedy, John Stirrat, Leroy Bach, Glenn Kotche
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Sam Jones
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/21/2002

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Trick or Tweedy?

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I always get a charge out of experiencing bands on film. While seeing music live can be fun, you're always either far from the stage, peering over the top of someone's head, or pushing and shoving and fighting for a little breathing room.

Movies offer a more personal experience; you can see expressions the band members' faces, and their techniques, up close. Among my favorite titles are A Hard Day's Night, (even though the Beatles lip-sync), Gimme Shelter, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Stop Making Sense.

Not being familiar with Wilco's music, I was at a slight disadvantage seeing the new documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, which opens today. (However, I had heard Jeff Tweedy's music in Ethan Hawke's film Chelsea Walls.)

Shot in gorgeous black-and-white, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart follows Tweedy's band Wilco and the controversy behind its latest album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Wilco thought the CD would be on Warner/Reprise, the label that released its previous few albums. But executives turned it down because it didn't promise radio hits. The band went on to buy back its own album back and sell it to another bidder for a higher price -- strangely enough, to Nonesuch, another company owned by Time/Warner.

While that conflict gives I Am Trying to Break Your Heart a major push, Wilco's more interesting story is in the details. Watching the band making the record is far more interesting than the corporate shenanigans.

The studio work has plenty of drama. The decision to self-produce the album turned into a fiasco. Guitarist Jay Bennett stormed out, claiming that Tweedy alone wanted to be "the center of the circle."

In focusing on the big blowouts, the film leaves out fascinating stuff. For example, in one scene, Tweedy announces he's going to throw up. He goes to the bathroom, does so, and offhandedly tells the camera he throws up all the time from constant migraines. Whoa! Isn't this detail as important as the fact that the label doesn't share the band's creative vision? Are the migraines the source of Tweedy's aching songs? What causes them? The movie doesn't follow up.

We also get a teasing glimpse of Tweedy with his wife and two kids. The family enters a restaurant, only to realize that neither adult has any money. Tweedy leaves to get some, but we never return to the scene.

There's a long sequence of Tweedy on his solo tour, including a show at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Sporting a shaggy beard, Tweedy sings spare, lovely little tunes -- but the movie doesn't acknowledge that he hushed the audience so his masterly songs wouldn't be tainted by the crowd's common sounds.

In the film, Tweedy doesn't come across as arrogant, bossy or conceited. He appears a shy, truthful artist, and his songs back up that image. But is the movie a promotional device that's hiding the real thing? Could be.

While Rolling Stone editor David Fricke raves on and on about the band and the new album, the film ends with a quote from the magazine's April review of "Yankee Foxtrot Hotel," which called the recording a masterpiece. Do you suppose the reviewer was under any pressure?

Director Sam Jones is an admitted Wilco fan, and his bias comes through. Still, anyone with a good pair of ears -- anyone who understands that N'Sync or Creed or Mariah Carey sucks -- can tell that Wilco makes very good music.

But the final test for a music film is: Does it make you want to buy the album? The recent Nick Drake documentary A Skin Too Few did just that.

After seeing I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, I briefly considered picking up Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but the urge wore off. I suspect that the movie's false face tainted the experience for me, even though I liked the music very much. Fans, on the other hand, will probably love the whole package.

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