Mailing List Archive/2003-06-03
Want to tell everyone TMBG will be performing a special free show in Atlanta GA THIS FRIDAY through the kind sponsorship of 99X. This is their website with directions to this most excellent of evenings: http://99x.com/
"Gigantic" is opening in cities all over the country. Thanks to all who took part in the massive turnout in DC last weekend. We want to tell fellow NYC-ers that "Gigantic" is only at the Cinema Village til this Thursday, so make sure to make your way out to the theater before it's gone. For all the listings go to www.giganticfilm.com.
If you haven't checked out TMBG's Cartoon Network tunes yet, check them out at this superior quality link:
They Might Be Giants, Fit for The Big Screen
'Gigantic': Long on Johns (
They Might Be Giants, Fit for The Big Screen
By Ann Hornaday
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 30, 2003; Page C04
If you look up the rock band They Might Be Giants on Allmusic.com, you'll find the following words used to describe them: Irreverent, Energetic,
Humorous, Fun, Freewheeling, Playful, Witty, Cheerful, Quirky, Campy, Silly, Whimsical, Carefree, Ironic, Wry.
John Linnell and John Flansburgh, aka They Might Be Giants, could fairly be described as all of the above, even if "silly," "whimsical" and, God forbid,
"quirky" don't begin to capture the dark ambiguity of their lyrics, or the multilayered fusions of their music. Happily, "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns," A.J. Schnack's documentary about the Brooklyn-based duo, does ample justice to the complexity, even profundity, of a creative collaboration that has brought deep joy and meaning to generations of fans throughout a career
that just entered its third decade.
Appropriately enough, "Gigantic" opens with former senator Paul Simon, who delivers a characteristically nasal disquisition on Abraham Lincoln, all by
way of introducing Linnell and Flansburgh, who met each other as middle school students in Lincoln, Mass. It's appropriate because the Giants have always had an abiding interest in political history (they wrote what must be the only pop song about James K. Polk), and also because they're famed for taking the long way around an idea rather than hitting it on the nose.
After forming They Might Be Giants in 1982 and moving to New York, they became known and loved by downtown art fans for their spare staging (the
bespectacled, outgoing Flansburgh on guitar, the more subdued Linnell on accordion, and a tape machine), catchy tunes and cerebral, often elliptical
lyrics. Influenced by the do-it-yourself, anti-rock-star aesthetic of punk as well as the purity of the three-minute pop song, the Giants sang about
mortality and heartbreak and putting hands inside puppet heads. Their songs had titles like "Youth Culture Killed My Dog" and "Hope I Get Old Before I Die." As Flansburgh explains, "There's a relentless thread in the text of
our songs that's . . . earth-shatteringly dour."
They were seriously funny. And they quickly garnered a devoted cult following, which they rewarded with a never-ending stream of fast, literate,
dance-friendly songs. By the late 1980s, the Giants were self-releasing their eponymous first album, getting airplay on college radio and having
their videos shown on MTV. They soon signed a major-label deal.
"Gigantic" traces the Giants' rise, as well as a denouement, of sorts: Just as they were cresting, grunge took hold with its cheerless, anti-pop snarl.
After a corporate reshuffling, their label set them adrift; like so many of their alt-pop colleagues, they were homeless. (The official break came when
Flansburgh resisted corporate pressure to renege on a promised day off for his band and crew while on tour.) But because they never aspired to stardom,
they were also resourceful: Linnell and Flansburgh simply kept doing what they were doing -- to the delight of their by-now solid and growing cadre of
fans -- and they became early innovators in releasing music on the Internet, where they're now huge stars. They've also hung around long enough that some
of their early fans are now among the chief purveyors of mass popular culture: The Giants' music appears in "Malcolm in the Middle" and "The Daily
Show" and was featured in the last "Austin Powers" movie.
Director Schnack has structured "Gigantic" pretty conventionally, with Linnell and Flansburgh telling their story on easy chairs in front of the East River and a host of fans -- from fellow alt-rock pioneers Frank Black
and Syd Straw to writers Dave Eggers and Robert Krulwich, radio legend Joe Franklin and NPR stars Ira Glass and Sarah Vowell -- delivering testimonials
in front of the band's portrait. Interviews are intercut with past- and present-day performances, which burst with energy and contagious glee. The
most electrifying moment comes when Linnell and Flansburgh perform their masterpiece, "Birdhouse in Your Soul," with Doc Severinsen and his band on
"The Tonight Show" in 1989; the most moving scene is a performance of "New York City" in a downtown Manhattan record store on Sept. 10, 2001, a
poignant confluence Schnack wisely underplays.
Some deliberately idiosyncratic touches -- like Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Janeane Garofalo delivering dramatic readings of Giants lyrics,
or an incidental history lesson about James Polk -- are a bit
self-conscious, and "Gigantic" could easily have lost 10 minutes, especially from Glass and Vowell. But "Gigantic" is nonetheless an absorbing and
inspiring portrait of two musicians whose unerring sense of what's right -- both artistically and ethically -- has not just held them in good stead but
driven their particular brand of success. They Might Be Giants took their name from an obscure 1971 George C. Scott movie, but as Straw suggests, by
now there's no doubt about it: They Are.
Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (102 minutes, at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring) is unrated.
from the Weekend section:
'Gigantic': Long on Johns
"Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)" captures John Flansburgh and John Linnell
of They Might Be Giants at their quirky best. (Cowboy Pictures)
By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2003; Page WE58
AJ Schnack's documentary about They Might Be Giants may not create new converts among those unfamiliar with the cerebral and playful pop music of
John Flansburgh and John Linnell, or those poor, benighted souls who know but remain unsmitten by the band. "Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns)" is really
a gift for those already in the fold, for those who get the joke and just want to savor it with other like-minded fans. But for them -- or rather for
us, since I include myself among the cognoscenti -- the movie is a must-see.
After all, who goes to see documentaries about bands they don't like -- except those who feel they might somehow become better, cooler people if
only they were hip enough to understand bands such as They Might Be Giants?
Structured as a minor chapter in the last 20 or so years of rock history, "Gigantic" consists largely of interviews with TMBG's devoted if not
particularly multitudinous fans, smarty-pants folks such as author and McSweeney's editor Dave Eggers, news correspondent and "Brave New World"
co-host Robert Krulwich and host-producer Ira Glass and monologist Sarah Vowell of National Public Radio's "This American Life." In addition to the
requisite live performance footage (including an early, unforgettable rendition of "Lie Still, Little Bottle" featuring vocals, keyboards and a giant, percussive stick), the film also offers dramatic readings of the
group's surreal lyrics by the likes of Janeanne Garofalo and Andy Richter; an occasional cartoon; a passage from a mock documentary about James K. Polk
that serves as introduction to the band's paean to the 11th president of the United States; and plentiful insights from Flansburgh (the beefy,
bespectacled, nasal-voiced showman) and Linnell (the thin, floppy-haired, nasal-voiced introvert) themselves, musical polymaths who only in recent
years have taken to playing with a backup band, all of whose members, in a bizarre but appropriate twist, are named Dan.
By turns hilarious and somewhat less hilarious (at least to the initiated), "Gigantic" is a kind of meta-documentary, a tongue-in-cheek smirking at the conventions of rock hagiography that buys into many of those same
conventions, following the Johns backstage, for instance, at one of several tapings of "Late Night With Conan O'Brien." It is fitting, given that many
of the band's songs seem to comment on themselves even as they are what they are (well-crafted pop ditties that turn pop songcraft inside out), that the
film is both serious and a goof. Even as singer-songwriter and friend of the Johns Syd Straw brings a healthy dose of acerbic wit to her on-camera commentary, implying at one point that Flansburgh and Linnell are not the
nice guys they appear to be, "Gigantic" at times runs the risk of becoming too precious, as precious as some, no doubt, would find such lyrics as
these, from one of the band's all-too-rare bona fide hits, "Birdhouse in Your Soul," a song about, that's right, a night light:
I'm your only friend
I'm not your only friend
But I'm a little glowing friend
But really I'm not actually your friend
But I am
Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you
What does any of this nonsense mean and why should you care about the strange yet deceptively average- looking men who came up with it? Why indeed,
unless you are already head-over-heels gaga for They Might Be Giants and their brand of loopy and banal yet startlingly beautiful poetry.
' 2003 The Washington Post Company
Washington City Paper:
GIGANTIC: A TALE OF TWO JOHNS They Might Be Giants' John Flansburgh and John Linnell have spent 20 years dreaming up, dressing up, and laying out dream
fodder in CDs, videos, stage shows, and such miscellaneous media as their Brooklyn answering machine. Gigantic doesn't explain why they do it; instead, the film lets the Johns and the people who love them make the case.
Director AJ Schnack deploys the expected concert clips and talking heads, but he also gleefully tosses in one surprise after another. TMBG novices
will appreciate the portrait of Flansburgh and Linnell's stubborn refusal to capitulate to the demands of the music industry. They'll also enjoy perceptive and sometimes hilarious commentary from celeb fans and friends
such as erstwhile touring partner Syd Straw: "You're probably wondering whether there was sex exchanged.... Oh, this isn't like a Pennebaker documentary?" But for TMBG's nerd-radio fan base, it's--what else?--This
American Life that will offer the film's most memorable verbiage: An unintentionally funny Ira Glass belabors every point like the kid who has to explain every joke, and longtime fan Sarah Vowell sums up the band's appeal
to the well-scrubbed college-bohemian fringe. "You didn't have to pretend," she says, "to be more messed-up than you are." (PMW) (AFI Silver Theatre andCultural Center--Fri., 5/30-Thu., 6/5)