“We are the best damn Black Owls parody band in the land!” shouts Bun, the drummer for Liberty Mean, a band of hapless Millenials from Columbus, OH.
This line pretty much sums up ‘Mock and Roll’ in a nutshell. The movie begs as many questions as it answers and it spoke to me on many levels at its Columbus premiere at Gateway Theater this past Sunday: It took a few pages from the theatre of the absurd, sprinkled it with a dash of comic tomfoolery and marinated it in pure goofiness.
Mock and Roll is a mockumentary film about the band Liberty Mean, a four-piece unit of clueless Millenials—comprised of Robin, Tom, Rick and Bun (do you get the joke yet?)—who parody another local band, The Black Owls, for a tiny crowd of followers at various dive bars around Columbus. The band is basically using their minimal fame to cobble together a documentary that Robin’s brother—Sully—is filming for the band’s archives.
[Again, this begs more questions than answers, such as: 1.) Why would a local band parody another local band; and 2.) Why would anyone DOCUMENT a local band parodying another local band?]
Such is the theme of ‘Mock and Roll.’ In the spirit of ‘Spinal Tap,’ ‘Best of Show,’ ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’ and ‘Fargo’—‘Mock and Roll’ follows the life of the band, who come up with insane ideas on how to expand their audience (and revenue). At first it was parodying bigger acts—such as Foghat and Cheap Trick—but those never got off the ground. Then they decided to parody their favorite local band, The Black Owls (read: minimal fan base), and rewrite lyrics to the band’s tunes.
Like most bands, Liberty Mean (who get their name from a lyric from The Black Owls) want to expand their fan base by playing to larger audiences, so they come up with the crazy notion that they should attend South by Southwest (SWSW), the largest music festival in the US. They have no plan other than to attend the event in Texas: they aren’t booked for the event and have no contacts there. But they feel they have to go, as if Austin was Mecca and all other details would miraculously fall into place.
The band makes several failed attempts to raise money for the cause: their crowd-funding page (managed by the guitarist’s girlfriend) only raises $27.50, and their gigs pay slightly more than that. They decide to lend their bodies (and minds) to science in an attempt to raise quick cash, but the ensuing acid trips administered by a local quack only have negative effects on the band (especially Bun). Bun has a bad trip, quits the band, and considers a solo career (“I can sing too!” he bellows). After a brief hiatus, Bun rejoins the band and comes up with a third plan: his cousin needs help delivering art, so he talks the band into taking on these shady courier jobs.
This is where the movie takes a page out of ‘Fargo’—but you’ll have to check out the movie to see what I’m talking about!
The writer and producer, Mark Stewart, says he has no political or social message to convey to his audience, but after sitting in the theater for two hours I came away with plenty. The first message conveyed to me was the fact that many Millenials use ‘magical thinking’ in pursuit of their artistic dreams. I’ve seen this many times in my career: I’m a professional musician/instructor and have worked with dozens of Millenials. They think that technology alone will make it possible for them to attain their goals in five easy steps. Many think they can write/record/produce an album, put it on Spotify and become instant millionaires without ever leaving home. Or they could show up at open mic, play a couple tunes, and hundreds of people will buy their EPs. Or this: Go to SXSW, play a venue on Sixth St. and get discovered by the next Phil Spector (true story).
Liberty Mean has plenty of these ideas, yet none are given proper reflection by its band members. All of them are consumed with one thing: THIS idea will make us money! Yet they somehow forget to learn the lessons from their decisions and ultimately pay the price. Very Seinfeldian in that regard.
There are too many absurd moments to reflect on all of them, but I think my favorite is when the band meets a couple of future fans that are curious about the band. They tell them all about their parody act. “I’ve never heard of them,” says one female fan, when asked about the Black Owls. “Well, they’re from Ohio,” says Rick in response. Another absurd moment was when the band finally reached the conclusion that they won’t be able to make the trip to Austin due to limited funds to buy plane tickets. [Hint: struggling bands don’t FLY—they rent vans!] The absurdity is endless, and those who like pure silliness will find plenty in this film.
Without intent, Mark Stewart has something profound to say about the DIY movement and Millenials, but I’m sure those messages simply seeped through the movie unintentionally. As a musician—and colleague to many Millenials—it spoke volumes to me. Even the casual music—or mockumentary—fan will find this film a treat; it is definitely worth checking out. There’s a profound morality tale built into the absurdist notion of these clueless characters.
Of particular note, it was great to see a local filmmaker pay homage to Columbus in so many ways. As a proud native, I was happy to see so many familiar places—and faces—scattered throughout the film. I’m sure audiences throughout the country might appreciate the satire even more than its homegrown ones—it’s definitely making some noise outside of I-270.
If you like music, comedy, satire and goofiness then this is definitely the movie for you. It’s winning awards at all the film festivals and is planning on premiering at many more in 2018—definitely take in this flick and enjoy the ride.
Congratulations to Mark Stewart on a wonderful movie and a wonderful homage to a great music town: Columbus, Ohio. And congratulations to local band The Black Owls, whose music is peppered throughout the film. It’s always a treat to see kudos granted to local artists. And it’s a rare treat to see filmmakers making their debuts in their sixth decade—pursuing art is pursuing the fountain of youth. I am reminded of Glen Hansard’s two-word comment after winning the Grammy for Best Song from the indie movie ‘Once.’ He simply said: “Make art.”
Make art, indeed. Make it. Make it.
Pete Vogel is a musician and filmaker who happens to write for Pencilstorm too. Learn more at Petevogel.com .