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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
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  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
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  • Additional footage
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette
  • 2 Music video
  • Booklet
Wilco - I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Stomp/Stomp . R4 . B&W . 92 mins . M15+ . NTSC

  Feature
Contract

It all had the air of such simplicity. With an apparently supportive major record label behind them, one quite happy to leave them to their own devices in their Chicago loft whilst creating their fourth long-player, Wilco went about their business concocting what was to eventually become known as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Ah, but when two of the most disparate forces in the universe meet – business and creativity – any relative of the word ‘simple’ has no place in proceedings, well unless you’re describing record company decision makers, of course...

After emerging from the split of ‘alt-country’ pioneers Uncle Tupelo back in 1994, Wilco and their sheriff, Jeff Tweedy, both steadily built a fiercely loyal following and spread their wings from the confines of twang with ‘tude into more experimental fields. A continual evolution is evident from their debut A.M. through their follow-ups, including the superb Mermaid Avenue collaborations on Woody Guthrie tunes with the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, arriving at a sound not a million miles removed from what you may get if Mercury Rev and Radiohead were to hop into bed together (now there’s a scene we’d rather not witness first hand!)

After quite a successful career as a photographer, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart is director Sam Jones’ first foray into film, which probably explains the use of grainy black and white – Americans still seem to be labouring under the misconception that this automatically makes anything treated as such a piece of art. Granted incredible access to all things Wilco over a period of around two years, he and his crew were basically present from the album’s gestation right through to all the many shenanigans which engulfed it, and one can only ponder as to what incredible footage he must have captured.

But hang on, this is a 90 minute film – why ponder? Well, obviously one of those fiercely loyal fans (and there’s nothing wrong with that per se), Jones’ documentary gives the impression that there was much tip-toeing around more sensitive/interesting stuff that was going on in the world of Wilco during its editing, leaving us with a result that’s, well, quite boring really. Despite breaking in a new drummer, obvious hints at raised tensions within the band, the eventual sacking of original member Jay Bennett (which is just dropped out of the blue, treated with a quick bout of overblown wank as the remaining four members tromp around in slow motion and then promptly forgotten) and facing up to their carefully created epic being dismissed as having “no commercial potential” by cloth-eared record execs then left in label-free limbo, the film just pretty much potters along quite uneventfully.

This isn’t to say there’s not a lot for established fans to savour here. With generous chunks of live footage, access to early and often radically different versions of songs which eventually graced Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and the omnipresence of the somewhat obsessive, hair-trigger vomiting overlord of Wilco in Tweedy, anybody already privy to the band will most certainly get what’s going on. But if you’re an outsider looking in, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart offers up little to engage the attention or indeed interest in the way classic docos of a similar ilk did – the Let it Bes, the Gimme Shelters that this has been compared to favourably by many – leaving one with the distinct impression that there should have been a wholly more interesting tale left to behold.

Still, at least it all has a happy ending... unless your name’s Jay Bennett, of course.

  Video
  Audio
  Extras
Contract

Despite claims by some that this was shot on 16mm, the film appears to have started life on nice clean videotape – at least as evidenced by some of the bonus footage - however it’s all ended up as a sea of extremely grainy black and white. The 1.85:1, 16:9-enhanced DVD transfer has been done well, however, without any further nasties being introduced to proceedings.

On the other hand, the sonic side of things is quite disappointing, with only a Dolby Digital stereo mix on offer. It does present the generous chunks of interview footage and general non-musical goings on quite well, however when the music arcs up – which it does a lot – you can’t help thinking it could have been so much more.

Spread across two discs, an extremely generous helping of extras is on hand for a music release. Disc One features a commentary from director Jones, who is also joined by the remaining four Wilco members, of who Tweedy is the only one to really pipe up with much of interest. Fairly scene specific, this retains that air of a good deal remaining unsaid, especially when it comes to footage of he who was jettisoned, Bennett, when the entire band literally walks out of the room! Rounding out the first disc’s extra goodies is a fairly perfunctory trailer, a two minute affair which makes the film look a lot more engaging and exciting than it actually is.

The second disc sees quite a bit more action, with just under an hour’s worth of extra footage. This further chunk of monochromatic matter consists mostly of live performances, but with generous hunks of further studio footage and the odd interview or two interspersed – and in some cases we mean ‘odd’ in the very literal sense. Two Jeff Tweedy uncut solo performances ensue, simply two songs, also in black and white, recorded at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall in March 2001. A brief (seven minutes) peek behind the scenes is next, in the shape of a Featurette entitled I Am Trying to Make a Film. Sam Jones gets the camera pointed at him for a change, to chat a bit about his creation – be warned though, after so much black and white the sudden outbreaks of colour here may come as a shock to jaded retinas. Finally, there is apparently a “deluxe 40-page booklet” included in the decidedly chunky mega-case. Ours must have fallen out somewhere along the line...

Whilst undeniably a slice of heaven for existing fans of Wilco, anybody looking within this nicely presented two DVD set for the next truly great music documentary may find their expectations unfulfilled, in what hints at much, but in the end doesn’t follow up on it.


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  •   And I quote...
    "Offers up little to engage the attention or indeed interest in the way classic docos of a similar ilk did..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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