rseIn honor of Record Store Day, which takes place this Saturday, April 18, today’s post is dedicated to the best films that feature record stores or vinyl as a crucial part of their storytelling. At Independent Ethos we take vinyl seriously and love independent record stores, as one of those places that are a necessity for the cultural enrichment of any neighborhood. One of the most fun days of the year, Record Store Day is an opportunity to celebrate those independent record shops that many seem to take for granted most of the year. The day is filled with events, exclusive releases, and a gathering of people that appreciate vinyl and independent music. In short, if you have not yet experienced a record store day click here now, find your nearest independent record shop and get out there!

The link between film and music is undeniable, it can change the meaning of a narrative eliciting all kinds of emotional responses. These five films present characters who are deeply invested in music themselves, as it makes an important part of their persona. As someone who spent countless hours of her idle youth in record stores, it’s a joy to see that many others wonder what happens in that place, how our life stories cannot be told in the absence of those objects of affection — yes, I mean vinyl albums — and the music on them.

High Fidelity (2000)

A classic now, High Fidelity stands out thanks to its brilliant character development. The sardonic and comedic elements are modestly familiar to anyone who has made their record shop their second home. Rob (played by John Cusack) is a record store owner reeling from a breakup. His sadness comes with a soundtrack, and many an introspective conversation about what went wrong, how to get the former lover back and elaborate discussions about music minutiae that informs that. In short, a relatable tale that will leave you satisfied and amused. A perfect companion to an afternoon of unwinding after you unpack your record store finds.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)

The mother of all mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap documents the fall of the eponymous British rock band, as the band arrives to America to tour their soon-to-be released album Smell the Glove. To the surprise of the band, the album is released with an all-black cover, as the original cover idea, a naked woman on a leash with a gloved hand in her face, proved offensive. It’s just one of the elements leading to the unraveling of the band and many more deftly funny moments in the film, like when the band goes to a signing where only black Sharpies are provided.

The film relied on comedic improvisation, but had at least one hilarious moment of what comedians call corpsing, where they break character to laugh at a joke. Early in the film, the band sits down with documentary filmmaker Marty Di Bergi (a deadpan performance by the film’s director Rob Reiner), who probes the band members on their feelings about former album reviews, and the band’s history. For Shark Sandwich, one of the band’s earlier albums, the two-word review “Shit sandwich” catches Christopher Guest off-guard, as he can be seen laughing at the idea. I could go on about the merits of This is Spinal Tap, one of my most-watched favorite movies. It will be the perfect companion to your Record Store Day exploits, and really any day of the year.

Antoine and Colette (1962)

Antoine and Colette is the second installment in the series that follows the life of Antoine Doinel, of 400 Blows Fame. The film was part of Love at Twenty, a series of short films produced by Pierre Roustang. When we catch up with Antoine in this short film, he lives on his own and works at Philips Records, first packaging vinyl and later manufacturing each record by hand! The short film explores Doinel’s first love as he falls fast and hard for Colette, who he gets to know by stalking her with regular visits to a concert hall. They get to know trading books and, of course, records. In this short film Truffaut manages to capture the nostalgia and melancholia associated with that one first love, as well as the restlessness, yearning and infatuation that are part and parcel of that first love. A true gem, proof that a sequel can also be a great cinematic experience and how two people can connect through music.

Empire Records (1995)

In Empire Records, a cast of Gen-Xers who work at a record store experience a crisis as they are about to lose their jobs when the store is sold to record store chain Music City. The film encapsulates 24 hours of the lives of these store clerks as they go on about their adolescent what-the-future-may-hold indulgent conversations. The best thing about this movie is how it captures the quirky details of these music-centric characters, like the sardonic Lucas (Rory Cochrane), who doles out unrequested music advice to potential customers that might look for rock but should be listening to jazz, based on their violent tendencies.

Once (2006)

In Once, the story does not necessarily revolve around a record store, but it culminates with a recording. The film tells the story of a street musician (Glen Hansard) who meets a Czech immigrant (Marketa Irglova) that challenges his status quo. The exchanges between them are the most powerful when music is involved, as if for musicians language is a barrier and music is the best way to convey meaning. The two fall in love by just being themselves, the feelings are so visible and so impossible that it makes for a bittersweet ride. A surprising film for its subtlety and power. It may make you pause and wonder about the story behind the making of that killer independent album in your treasured collection.

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Where are you going on Record Store Day 2015? Our favorite local record shops we plan to hit are Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale (the best “just-in” bin in the region) and Sweat Records, who is celebrating 10 years tomorrow with a 48-strong line-up of bands playing into the night. Click their names for details.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

final2.inddAmong our favorite film genres is the mockumentary, and one of the best is This is Spinal Tap. There is something so pure and funny about an actor earnestly adopting a seemingly real character to deconstruct their persona and re-imagine its possibilities. In What We Do in the Shadows, a camera crew presenting themselves as objective observers follow four vampires ranging in age from 183 to 8,000 years old in a style very similar to the portrayal of a rock band in This is Spinal Tap (Not long into the film we learn the crew is safe from vampiric impulses because they are wearing crucifixes). The foursome share a house in suburban New Zealand and have to cope with all the mundane problems of flatting together, such as sharing chores and dealing with different personalities. The squabbles between the vampires are reminiscent of the early days of “the Real World,” with humor drawn from vampire movie classics, from Nosferatu to Twilight. For instance, when a house meeting is called by one of the roommates, the topic of conversation is dish washing. “You have not done the dishes in five years,” complains one about the other. This acute awareness of the minutiae in daily life juxtaposed with the idea of eternal existence is one of the brilliant recurring themes of the film.

Taika Waititi Jonathan Brugh Jemaine Clement WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Photo Credit Unison Films

The script comes from two of the lead actors in the film, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement, of “Flight of the Conchords” fame, who also co-directed. With What We Do in the Shadows, they take on a familiar narrative and question its assumptions to make a smartly winking film to hilarious effect. The camera introduces us first to Viago (Waititi). His character is 379 years old and dresses in frilly shirts and waistcoats like Tom Cruise as Lestat in Interview with a Vampire. The 862-year-old Vladislav (Clement) derisively refers to him as a 17th century dandy. Viago is a neat freak and a romantic. His heartbreaking story-line involves following a love interest to New Zealand by cargo, many decades ago, but getting lost during shipment.

Vladislav, also known as “Vlad the Poker,” is labeled the “pervert” of the group. His characterization channels an oversexualized vampire that will remind many of Gary Oldman’s version of Dracula from the Vlad the Impaler myth in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Jonathan Brugh’s Deacon is the youngest of the group. At 183, he is the cool kid or “the bad boy,” as the others refer to him. Then there’s Petyr (Ben Fransham), aged 8,000. Petyr is the “classic” vampire with a look and feel that stems from that first vampire movie: F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. He sleeps in a stone crypt in the basement riddled with human remains. He is exempt from household chores and meetings. You’ll also meet a newbie to the group, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who, while trying to pick up women at a bar, can’t keep from boasting, “You know the guy from Twilight? That’s me.” 

Jemaine Clement WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Photo Credit Unison Films

The mash-up of vampire influences in each character is not only a tribute to the vampire movies across the decades but also allows for each personality to standout. It’s similar to recognizing a favorite member of a boy band, wherein the characters fulfill their stereotypes and play with familiar tropes that we have become accustomed to from popular movies and reality shows.

Though What We Do in the Shadows sometimes takes a turn into black humor (there is going to be death in a vampire movie), much of the gags deliver great laughs, like the ongoing rivalry between the group of vampires and a pack of werewolves. For those vampire genre connoisseurs that may not easily be amused, the film also includes montages of storytelling that use vintage images of the character’s story lines. Since there were no video cameras when these characters were turned into the undead, besides old photos, we also get paintings and archaic woodcarvings to illustrate their early years, which achieve a different level of humor. There’s one great running gag of Vlad’s arch nemesis “The Beast,” seen in a primitive woodcut as a rotund creature with the head of a bird, small arms and possibly a penis protruding from its chest. When Vlad finally has an opportunity to confront “the beast,” the reveal of the monster will surely get hearty laughter in a most unexpected way.

Taika Waititi  WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS Photo Credit Unison Films

The characters take on modern life, with all the vicissitudes it poses to the undead. Another of the great jokes among the roommates is posing for each other before they go out at night. As one of the symptoms of being a vampire means they are prevented from using mirrors, the vampires look to each other for fashion advice. There is also a couple of humans in the mix, Jackie (Jackie Van Beek) plays a subservient role to Deacon, a modern type of Renfield who craves the promise of eternal life. Jackie helps lure other humans for the gang to feast on, and that’s how they meet Stu (Stuart Rutherford). In another running gag, the vampires are so taken by Stu, a computer analyst who teaches them about Googling and Facebook, they make a pact to spare his life.

What We Do in the Shadows was awarded the People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014, and the Audience Award at the Hawaii International Film Festival; an indication of the crowd-pleasing qualities of this film. This is one of those movies that can easily become a repeater, as soon as we finished watching it we were ready for an encore. What We Do in the Shadows is one of those independent films that will have crossover appeal from art-house theater-goers to avid TV watchers. For us, this was a gem, and we were happy to have been invited to preview it.

Ana Morgenstern and Hans Morgenstern

What We Do in the shadows runs 86 minutes and is not rated (expect violence, language, sexuality, gore and some scares but most of it for humor’s sake). It opens in many U.S. theaters on March 6. In South Florida, it’s playing at the Regal South Beach in Miami Beach and the Gateway in Fort Lauderdale. For listings around the world click here. The film’s PR company provided an on-line screener for the purpose of this review. Clement, by the way, self-funded the movie’s U.S. distribution via Kickstarter.

Update: O Cinema Wynwood in Miami will now host the film. Sreening details here.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana and Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)