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‘Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr.’ Review: A Volatile Band

This documentary opens with a credit sequence that will immediately bring nostalgia to its intended audience of alt-rock hounds: titles in a prefab type style in garish purple against a bright green background. The effects are redolent of the D.I.Y. videos of the late 1980s. The title song is an emblematic one for Dinosaur Jr., the movie’s subject. The band’s pre-grunge specialty was infectious tunes sung in a nasal drawl, nearly submerged in fuzzy guitars squalling and squealing.

Directed by Philipp Reichenheim, the brother-in-law of the band member J Mascis, the movie delivers exactly what the second half of its title promises: The story of the band. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, three punk-rock-besotted teenagers from Western Massachusetts, wend their way through various post-punk combos, until hitting on a distinct and ultimately influential sound. In interviews, luminaries from the era, such as Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) and Bob Mould (Hüsker Dü, Sugar), contemplate the band’s talents and its members’ quirky personalities.

In keeping with their time and its mien, these fellows were very anti-rock star. Describing the style of a similarly inclined musician, Donald Fagen, back in the 1970s, the critic Robert Christgau said Fagen looked “like he just got dressed to go out for the paper.” For Barlow in particular, going out for the paper seems Napoleon-level ambitious.

For all that, the trio’s volatile history is the stuff of alt-rock lore. Stranded in a motel in Idaho on a tour, their fellowship melts down; the group loses Barlow, then Murph, and years later, in 2005, the guys all mend fences for a productive and still ongoing reunion.

There’s nothing here about the later soundtrack work Mascis embarks on with the director Allison Anders, or about his side project Sweet Apple; Barlow’s own highly regarded band Sebadoh is barely mentioned. The movie is nothing if not relentlessly focused on Dinosaur Jr. itself. The band is a noteworthy one. But this treatment feels skimpy.

Freakscene: The Story of Dinosaur Jr.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 22 minutes. Rent or buy on Apple TV, Google Play and other streaming platforms and pay TV operators.

Source: NY Times

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